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Sparking Change Online: The Challenges and Strategies of Non-Profit Social Media Exposure

In the past few years, I have been increasingly drawn to the non-profit sector. As a marketing and communications professional, being a "voice" for those less fortunate strikes me as an intriguing career and life path. In the digital media age, we often take for granted the fact that about two-thirds of the world doesn't have regular access to the Internet. It is estimated that only 16.6% of the world surfs the Internet. Approximately 18 countries still don't have Internet connection and many countries like North Korea and China still censor Internet browsing (source:InternetWorldStats). 

So the question becomes: how can non-profits and organizations spark change online?

It seems to make no sense that non-profits operating in countries with no Internet connection would need to rely heavily on the Internet to brand their organization. 

However, sparking change online requires 3 actions: Educate, Encourage, Re-communicate.


This is probably the most important responsibility a non-profit has online: educating the people online about the world around them. The Internet provides an ideal example of how Habermas' public sphere of communication is supposed to work. Information is being filtered in to a mass of people who are free to comment and participate in the discussion. Through social media outlets, the Internet has the chance to reach a wide range of people. 

This is the perfect way for non-profit organizations to educate the public on their cause. In my communication classes on global advocacy, I learned that your message should appeal to people's emotional side and then deliever them the facts and stories. Social media outlets are perfect for this this theory. Sites like Facebook and Twitter allows organizations to educate with facts and quotes, and then provide links to the stories. 

Education on the Internet comes in two forms: research and experience. Many large organizations like the United Nations, World Bank, OECD and more educate people with facts and research. This appeals to a certain audience. For example, seeing a fact like "53 million girls in developing countries are denied access to primary school" (source: Plan International) is a shocking fact. On the other hand, there is another audience drawn to stories of experience. For example, on 27 February the UN held the 56th Commission on the Status of Women and shared on its site, via video, stories of 17 girls facing harsh realities around the world from arranged marriages as pre-teens to domestic violence. Both are forms of educating an online public.


Once a non-profit has taken the steps to educate its public, an online presence can encourage action. Encouraging participation can be anything from contributing to an online discussion, donating money or volunteering time. Social media is making this step increasingly easier for non-profits. There is now Facebook and Google for non-profits where organizations can set up donation forms. Having donators and volunteers "share" their work on social media inspires others to do the same. 

One example is the World Food Programme's WeFeedBack initiative where you name your favorite food, determine the price and calculate how many children that would feed and donate. Last week, I the WFP calculated that my favorite food (Italian pizza) at a price of €5 would feed 25 children. I then shared this on Facebook.

Social Media Exposure is pushing our society to become more socially conscious.


Copyright PlanUSASocial Media Exposure allows non-profit organizations to communicate about the work being done around the world and give a voice to those who don't have Internet access.

Firstly, those who donate or volunteer their time want to know how their participation is helping. Social media and the Internet allow organizations to show real-time results and progress. 

Second and more importantly, it allows these organizations to give a voice to those who aren't yet able to communicate on the Internet. The UN conference was an example of giving a voice to young girls around the world who face harsh conditions and life or death situations daily. Other organizations publish stories, art and dreams of people in the poorest and harshest corners of the world. 





How can we spark change online?

  • Educate the 16% online about the world around them, the offline world
  • Encourage people to take action, but make it easy for them to get involved. Lay out instructions for how they can participate
  • Re-communicate: Give progress updates and share the voices of the offline world 


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