Social Entrepreneurs and Social Media
24 February 2014
On Wednesday the DO School welcomed visitors of the Hamburg Social Media Week to a talk about how our social entrepreneurs use social media during the start-up phase of their ventures. In preparation for this event, we hunkered down with seven of our Fellows to discuss their goals, contents and challenges in using social media. The full talk can be viewed online; this blog post highlights some of the learnings.
The most common – and obvious – goal for social startups who engage in social media is reaching a large number of people in order to raise awareness for the issues they work on and initiate behavioral change. Closely related, they also use social media to multiply their existing efforts. This can mean communicating about offline activities to gain supporters and enlarge their community, showcasing ongoing activities to increase their venture’s impact, or running a successful social media campaign to gain recognition from more traditional media, further increasing their reach. There are even ventures that would not have been possible at all without the opportunities that social and digital media offers! These types of ventures include those that share knowledge with a wider audience or create online communities. Allowing people to use geotagging, share information, and offer support through social media can empower individuals to change their behavior and raise awareness for issues in a way that the individual cases could not.
While it was clear that all Fellows wanted to be present on social media, choosing the right content and the right channel is challenging, even if they are engaged in exciting and inspiring activities. Often Fellows have to weigh considerations of privacy or security against the kind of content that they want to post. This is particularly difficult when their ventures aim to question or change conservative or repressive behaviours in society, and can also pose problems for Fellows operating in a country where the state is repressing civil society. Often the nature of the venture tells a serious and at times sad story, which presents a further challenge to using social media. The question then becomes how best to communicate the issue through appropriately light-hearted content while still drawing attention to the underlying, more serious problem.
When we talked about designing an effective social media strategy, our Fellows all noted that knowing their target groups well was vital to choosing the right channels and producing relevant content. With all the options out there, it is easy to lose focus and spend too much time and effort for too little reward. At the same time, many of our Fellows encountered a plateau in growing their social media audience. After an initial outreach to their pre-existing network of family and friends, growth in their follower-numbers often stalled and it took new and creative ideas to make a second push and keep growing organically.
Bottom line: It is very hard these days to start up a successful social venture without engaging in social media. We learned that in order to do it well, it has to be run constantly and consistently. Some of our Fellows spend up to one third of their time on researching and providing content on social media channels. Especially in the start-up phase and when working alone on their ventures, entrepreneurs’ own time is one of the most precious resources. As our Fellow Lee put it “If each tweet cost an organisation $100, they’d put a lot more thought into that tweet and why they’re tweeting it.”
The best way to ensure that social media activities support a venture’s mission is to approach it from a highly strategic perspective. Social entrepreneurs need to be aware of the opportunity costs attached to any hour spent running social media, and to constantly evaluate the effect of their efforts using available tracking and analytics mechanisms.
If nothing else, social media channels that attract high numbers of followers or gain reputable followers can give a young venture credibility and relevance in the eyes of potential supporters that would otherwise be hard to establish early on.
It has been a great experience for us to learn from our Fellows and we are delighted to be able to share our insights about the way our social entrepreneurs use social media to further their mission. A special thanks to the seven Fellows who helped us put together this first exploration! Feel free to go and check out their respective social media channels, you’ll find their links below.
Monique -The Far Fetched Project
The Far Fetched Project is a multi-disciplinary creative arts education project working with refugee children in Johannesburg. The project uses theater techniques to give the children a platform to express themselves while also cultivating self-esteem, self-efficacy and hope.
Check it out on Facebook & Twitter
Emily – amaSing
amaSing is a social music project based in the highlands of Scotland. It works to overcome the isolation associated with rural life by providing accessible collaborative musical opportunities to local communities.
amaSing is on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube
Momal - The Freedom Traveller
The Freedom Traveller is an online platform to promote women’s right to mobility. The site connects and empowers female travellers, especially from the countries where freedom of movement for women is restricted, and provides an opportunity for them to network, share knowledge and resources, and map their experiences of travel.
You can follow the project on Facebook & Twitter
Diego – Rescatemos Juan Fernández
Rescatemos Juan Fernández is a campaign to raise awareness of the threatened biodiversity of the Juan Fernandez archipelago. It aims to tackle the issue of invasive species both by raising awareness and by organising work parties and volunteers to physically tackle the problem.
Diego’s venture is on Facebook & Twitter
Shashank – Slapit
Slapit is an online platform to end street harassment of women in India, which will allow victims to geotag details of any incidents of harassment. This will create a support community, map hotspots which women may wish to avoid, and put pressure on local authorities to deal with the problem.
Website and social media will be coming soon!
Lee - Soften the Fck Up
Soften the Fck Up is an Australian based campaign to combat the stigma men often feel about admitting that they are struggling emotionally or mentally. Their campaigns aim to make it easier for men to take positive action than to take their own lives.
You can follow the campaign on Facebook, Twitter & Youtube
Mariia – Wonderful
Wonderful is a non-profit organisation which promotes positive social engagement in Ukraine. It aims to engage and motivate young people within Ukraine to take pride in maintaining and caring for their communities.
Find out more on Facebook & VK