The growing influence of social networks
World Economic Forum

  1. “How are social networks changing society?”
  2. “What are the most important implications and risks for society?”
  3. “What should individuals and institutions do to leverage the power of social networks and improve society?”

A very pertinent question, for which I have mixed replies. For example, within Northern Ireland I use the service for a campaign for a cohesive society (“Our Future Together“). This works well, in that it is attractive to a younger generation (who are more ready to embrace online networking) and is in a place (Europe) with relative high computer usage.

In contrast, another project I am responsible for, a Forum for Cities in Transition, which brings together municipal councillors, officials, and civil society representatives across cities in Iraq, Kosovo, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland, has posed a greater challenge in social networking terms, because it asks participation among busy people, some of whom aren’t accustomed/willing/able to exploit online social networking tools. Consequently, I use another service, Wild Apricot, to manage membership and participation, particularly opt-out discussion forums and email (akin to listserv).

Indeed, I think this is a neglected dimension of using social networks for social change. The risk of slick Web 2.0 technology is welcomed but superficial endorsement by individuals of numerous campaigns. The desire is to leverage support into meaningful action. Just as before Web 2.0, the best campaigns have meaningful, suggested actions that people can take (or how directly their donation makes a difference).

I’m working to stay true to this, working with local volunteer organisations on a strategy for the way forward. I’m encouraged by the likes of Idealist, Ammado, and, which use social network features to bring people actually together, whether for casual social events or more serious purposes.

Strategic plans, including strategic communications, is as important as ever. In this day, it would be fool-hearty not to incorporate social networks as part of the mix. But you need to consider how you’re going to encourage your social network supporters to contribute to your objectives, in a fun and rewarding way. #DavosSocial

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