What social media means for charities


From San Fran to Sao Paulo, London to Istanbul, Social Media Week has landed worldwide and here at We Are Social Towers we’ve been hosting a series of events covering a range of topics all week.

I kicked things off on Tuesday with a breakfast briefing on how the social web has changed the campaigning landscape for the non-profit sector.

The first half of my presentation built on my keynote presentation delivered at the Media Trust’s spring conference last March and then started to think about organisations can begin to create effective campaigning strategies in a networked environment.

I started by recapping how the emergence of the social web is changing the way organisations function across all areas of their operation, from communication and campaigning to fundraising and service delivery.

Drawing on an excellent report published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations I made the point that traditional “organisations are increasingly being by-passed and power is shifting away from top-down hierarchies and towards more fluid and participative networks”.

This means that passionate individuals with shared-values can use low-cost technology to easily find similarly-minded people, plan action for social change and work together to achieve it – all without the need for formal involvement by traditional organisations.

Having established the current campaigning landscape as one facing an increasing growth and diversity of bottom-up, self-organised networks built around social capital I then moved on to think about how organisations can start thinking about planning effective campaigning strategies in this new environment.

Using the work of Spanish sociologist, Manuel Castells, as a starting point we start to develop a framework based on Castell’s idea that power in networks can be exercised through ‘programming’ and ‘switching’.

We suggest that campaigners need to programme networks by assigning specific strategic goals that will build a networked movement of individuals focused on achieving an organisations long-term objectives. For example, an environmental organisation may programme its network to raise awareness of and take action against climate change.

At the same time, organisations can also identify broader networked movements that have shared goals and ‘switch’ these networks to help meet shorter-term tactical goals.

For example, an anti-poverty organisation trying to prevent global hunger by reducing the use if biofuels may identify climate change networks as potential allies.

Although each organisation/network is focused on different issues in the long-term, there is the potential for strategic cooperation (i.e. switching) to prevent the spread of biofuels which both exacerbate global hunger and climate change.

Our thinking about what this means for developing strategic frameworks for campaigning organisations is laid out in the presentation above – enjoy!