Social Media, A Social Movement

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We’re old enough at Savvy HQ to remember when colour TV and push-button phones were high tech (at least some of us). ‘Back in the day’ when a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti occurred, we would have sat around the family room and watched images delivered to us on the 25” screen with horror. There might have been someone on air encouraging us to call in a donation, but more likely we would have had to take down an address, write a cheque and mail it to that unknown destination if we wanted to help.
Flash forward to 2010. News of the quake in Haiti hit the ‘Twitterverse’ as the quake actually hit Haiti—that’s real time, not after the six o’clock news.

Preliminary data from Nielsen Wire indicates that Twitter posts are the leading source of discussion about the quake, followed by online video, blogs, and other social media. Some estimates show that nearly 150,000 posts containing both “Haiti” and “Red Cross” have been sent through Twitter since the quake. World Vision says more than 18,000 Canadian Facebook users are taking part in a viral campaign to donate $10 and pass onto friends for more.

What’s different about this is not just the speed at which news is delivered through social networks, but more importantly, the ability of the networked audience to absorb and react—on impulse—to this news. In the case of Haiti, the impulse reaction has been overwhelmingly generous.

In one week, Salvation Army Canada raised $120,000 via mobile texts alone, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the charity’s total amount raised for its Haiti campaign, national spokesman Andrew Burditt said. Americans contributed more than $355 million in the nine days after the Haiti earthquake, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

US President Barack Obama and Bill Gates have both joined the discussion on Twitter—just this week. For Haiti. Two of the most powerful men in the Western world. Both on Twitter. Both for the same cause.

All this made me think. I used to view social media as a tool or even a medium to help spread my message quickly. But now I am beginning to accept the real power behind social media and understand that it has become more of a social movement than just a medium or a ‘network’. It has the power to harness the collective human spirit, and it’s demonstrated that with Haiti. It’s a social movement because people are rushing to join the party, to participate and give (like the President and Bill Gates).

Don’t get me wrong, I am clear that social media is not the hero here, we are. Because like any tool, it’s useless without a good craftsman.

We will learn all kinds of lessons from this tragedy. I hope that one of them will be to ensure that we continue to harness the power of social media responsibly in the future, as any good craftsman would do.

Donate online to the Canadian Red Cross for Haiti Relief here.

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