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Ten Ways to Change the World Through Social Media

May 25th, 2008 by Max Gladwell · 11 Comments

Max Gladwell LogoEditor’s note: Originally posted on Sustainablog.org.

If you’re reading this blog, then you’re on board with social media. There’s a good chance you belong to social networks like Facebook or MySpace. It’s likely that you Digg stories and even possible that you Twitter. These technologies and services, together with a growing number of others, make up the social web. It’s much like the regular web, but more interactive. More…social. It invites and even demands active participation from everyone. It has a global reach with viral capacity, and yet it’s bringing local communities closer together. It enables people to connect, organize, and make a difference as never before. Indeed, social media is a powerful force, one that the world’s CEOs are starting to acknowledge and take seriously.

Many entrepreneurs, activists, and marketers are leveraging the social web for positive change. In the process and by its very nature, they are giving each of us the tools to change the world and make it a better place. There are thousands of examples, which is precisely why Max Gladwell exists. Here are 10 worth exploring.

causes_logo.gif1. Do-Good Widgets: If you’re Facebook page was a car, these would be your bumper stickers. Only these do more than spread the message. Widgets are standalone web applications that can run inside any web page. They take many forms, ranging from the absurd to the truly useful and socially valuable. The best ones engage us in ways that lead to action, awareness, and even fund-raising. Facebook was the first to offer them, and MySpace recently followed. Other social networks offer widgets, but these two have a scale that gives them unrivaled potential. Causes is the 800-pound gorilla in the do-good widget space with millions of daily active users on Facebook alone. If you support a cause, chances are you can find it in Causes. We support 14 ranging from “Recycle not Waste” to “Ride Bikes” and “GREEN“. Each Cause enables you to recruit others and make donations.

A new suite of widgets from Dank Apps called Social Change offers widgets for three main initiatives: Stop Climate Change Now, which raises funds for The Nature Conservancy; Earn For AIDS, which raises funds for the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative; and Earn for Breast Cancer, which raises funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Each of these allows you to send karma points to friends and play games, all of which generate donations from sponsors.

I’m sure I’d get hate comments if I didn’t also mention Lil Green Patch, which has helped to save over 20 million square feet of rainforest.

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2. Get a Green Job: The business networking space is currently dominated by LinkedIn, but JustMeans has a new social media platform that “rallies both companies and individuals around social responsibility.” As you make your way through the registration and profile-building gauntlet, you are posed with two unique questions: What kind of change do you want to create in the world over the next 12 months? How do you plan on creating this positive change? The site encourages networking between members by recommending matches based on shared interests. Plus, you can network with companies themselves as “stakeholders”. Companies as well as nonprofits set up their own profiles, similar to Facebook Pages, where they can post content about initiatives and CSR efforts. An entire section of the site is dedicated to job listings. This is business networking with a purpose.

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3. Greenstream: Twitter is a way to stay in touch with friends and keep up with breaking news. It is a source of both cutting-edge news and unchecked banality. It all depends on how you want to use it. You can follow CNN, BBC, GreenOptions, and MaxGladwell as “micro-blogs”, where you receive bits of news and links in 140 characters or less. Or you can track the musings of iJustine and Aubs for pure entertainment value. Recently, we started a new Twitter channel called the “greenstream.” Whereas Twitter asks, “What are you doing”, this adds “that is green?” So if you’re shopping at a farmer’s market, drinking fair trade coffee, or carpooling to work, these qualify as Tweets for the greenstream. Just tag your Tweet with “#greenstream”, and it will be indexed for viewing by all. Alternately, if you want to Twitter a green tip, just enter “#greentip” and check the index page for those.

hugg.gif4. Hugg a Story: Hugg.com is the green counterpart to the wildly popular Digg.com. These are social news sites that enable users to vote and comment on what’s important (and what’s not). This process places the power in the hands of real people who, collectively, determine which issues get attention, rather than leaving it up to the major news organizations to tell us what’s important. The great thing about them, though, is that they get better and more accurate as more people participate. So it’s your civic and social duty to Hugg and Digg stories that matter to you.

Make The Difference Network Logo5. Join the “Make The Difference Network“: Actress Jessica Biel, in a collaboration with her father and brother, just launched a social network that connects people and businesses with charitable organizations. Make The Difference Network already has a number of prominent celebrities signed up as members, complete with their favorite causes. Each of the site’s constituencies has a profile platform, and it’s free for all to participate. The “Find Your Wish” section gives people some direction in matching their personal interests or passions with charities ranging from addiction and animals to labor and literacy.

Alonovo Logo6. Go Shopping: Your purchasing decisions matter. Though presidential elections come once every four years, you vote with your wallet every day. Combined with the tools of social media, you get social shopping. Alonovo describes this as “the power of millions of informed, aware and caring people acting in concert. For a better world.” The company provides a platform in which to interact with fellow conscious consumers, to research products based on a range of social and environmental criteria, and ultimately make informed purchases through Amazon.com. You choose a charitable benefactor, and 50-100% of the commission paid to Alonovo is donated on your behalf.

OsoEco, which is currently in private beta, takes a different tact. Using a bookmark feature for the Firefox browser, you can pull products from any retail site and import them into OsoEco with one click. It’s much like a wiki in this way (more below). Then you review the product for others to see and rate. According to the company, they “created OsoEco to answer our own questions about what’s green, what’s sustainable, and what kinds of things we should buy and do that are good for our communities and, not to sound completely cheesy and cliche, our world.”

Playgreen Logo7. Contribute to a Wiki: Most are familiar with Wikipedia. It’s a fantastic resource for information and an even more incredible phenomenon of collaborative creation on a global scale. What’s incredible to consider, though, is that it’s just the beginning. As author Clay Shirky points out, it’s a drop in the well compared to the untapped potential of our cognitive surplus. PlayGreen.org is one example of how wikis are being built for specific topic areas. Anyone can contribute or edit articles such as How to build a green PC and RecycleBank. Imagine an entire Wikipedia of knowledge and human experience dedicated to specific issues like global warming, cancer, autism, and renewable energy. That’s where we’re headed.

Ning Logo8. Start Your Own Social Network: Ning has made starting a social network as easy as signing up for an email address. For an example, see the Max Gladwell network or any one of more than 100 networks tagged with “green”. The platform guides you through the customization process, where you can add features like a blog, news feed, videos, calendar, and assorted gadgets (widgets) to give it more utility. This is perfect for organizations on a tight budget that want a place to aggregate information, organize, and keep its members connected. With a bit of coding skill and a premium account, you can customize however you’d like and integrate your own sponsors or advertising.

SocialVibe Logo9. Get Sponsored: SocialVibe is leveraging the traffic we generate from our social networking pages to fund various causes. It works quite simply. You sign up and select from a list of sponsors to endorse, ranging from PowerBar and Cherry Coke to Adobe and Apple. Next, you select a cause to support. We picked an environmental index of sorts that includes “water quality, global warming research and preventative measures, wildlife, agriculture, rainforest preservation and sustainable production of food and building materials.” SocialVibe places your ad on your social networking pages and can also generate code that you can embed most anywhere. When it’s viewed, you generate donations for your cause and also earn points and other perks for yourself.

Ustream Logo10. Broadcast Your Message: The cost of web broadcasting (webcasting) has effectively dropped to zero. A number of new technologies are making it possible for anyone to have their own live online TV channel. Indeed, signing up for Ustream.tv is like renting your own production studio. While you’re broadcasting live, viewers can communicate with you and other viewers through a chat interface, and you can even add a co-host. Your “shows” can be archived for later playback, and you can post them to YouTube or your personal pages for further distribution. Ustream also provides a social networking platform and a number of ways to promote your shows, such as through Twitter alerts.

Seesmic has a much different approach with “video conversations”. It’s similar to Twitter in many ways, only instead of posting text entries you record video clips. Other users respond, which forms a thread of video clips that become a video conversation. These clips can be embeded anywhere you want, such as your MySpace page or blog. In fact, Seesmic offers a plugin feature for blogs where you can leave video comments. While there’s nothing particularly green about these video technologies, they represent a next step in communications and an efficient means for producing and distributing green messages.

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Tags: Green Living · Web 2.0