By Sheilah Powell

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool that can be a catalyst for community organizing and social change. Historically, social media revolutionized communication by allowing a person to connect and converse whenever and however they want in an unfiltered and potentially anonymous way. Live Streams, live blogging, and round-the-clock posts create a limitless movie screen where wrongdoing and injustice can be projected and watched by millions of people with just a few posts or tweets. On the flip side, social media can also be used to elevate oft-silenced voices and highlight the work done by marginalized communities. As change agents, it is important to embrace social media as a powerful community mobilizing mechanism.

Since its inception about 20 years ago (gulp!), social media has quickly grown to be an integral part of everyday life. We use it for everything – communication, connecting with loved ones, entertainment, consuming news, etc. Social media also quickly became essential for elevating voices and creating awareness and social change. From our homes, at our desks, or laying in bed scrolling, we can easily support causes we are passionate about, and also we can advocate for change where we see fit. Social media allows people to communicate like never before and removes barriers for budding advocates to easily call out injustice, voice their opinion to elected officials, organize like-minded folks as a united front, and convey a powerful message quickly.

When talking about advocacy and creating social change, social media is vital to getting necessary information out there quickly and to a large, possibly widely-diverse population. If used strategically, tools like hashtags, tagging, or word usage in caption copy help to target audiences more accurately. The variety of social media platforms also adds to its effectiveness. For example, a person can tell a story about social injustice on Facebook, post a powerful image on Instagram, share a blog from a noted industry expert on LinkedIn, and retweet a video from a well-known advocate on Twitter. Each post is powerful yet unique and will reach a whole separate set of eyes to create an emotional response, and hopefully, social change.

So, what does this look like in real life?? Let’s take a look. Scrolling through socials while procrastinating, I see an urgent call for blood donors from the American Red Cross, a post on my town’s Facebook page about the Board of Education seats up for grabs in November, an event invitation to an MLK Boulevard Clean Up and Community Day in Trenton, NJ, and a tagged post by a community center for their annual fundraiser benefiting people experiencing homelessness in Paterson, NJ – all within a minute of scrolling. If necessary, I could message each person or organization, and most likely receive a response from someone within seconds or minutes. The lines of traditional business hours are continually blurred as social media allows for instant, real-time communication.

While 24-hour online access certainly can have downsides, it can also increase dialogue, eliminate irritating time zone scheduling issues, and lessen the amount of time it takes to do, well, anything! The amount of accessible information in our palms is mind-blowing, and if used correctly, social media can be the ultimate community organizing tool.

So, does it work? Well, let’s go back to my socials and see.

So, my O- blood type is in demand, and the American Red Cross was very successful in its attempt to create a powerful emotional response that resulted in me taking action (an admirable feat considering my ADHD and extreme executive dysfunction). I am now signed up to donate blood at the end of July for the American Red Cross, and they also are going to give me a free tee shirt as a token of their appreciation – which is another way social media can be used to incentivize folks to join your cause.

But there’s more! I also may run for one of the four open Board of Education seats and already made plans to attend the next Board meeting this Tuesday. I chatted with two local women via Facebook messenger about the vacancies to gather more information. I am also checking my schedule to see if I can make the cleanup and Community Day in Trenton, and I already planned on attending the annual fundraiser. So, yes I think social media works very efficiently to organize, inform and enact change – both on the micro and macro level.

We live in a technological society and social media can be used dynamically to our advantage. It allows us to think, engage and advocate globally while also acting locally. Further, a new social media platform takes over the world every few years, so it is imperative that we listen to, and learn from, the younger advocates, change agents, and Mobilizers. Culture-shifting trends always take root with the younger generation first, and it is vital to never be so set in something that we aren’t open to change or learning a new tool. Social media is here to stay, so let’s use it to make the changes we want to see in the world.

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