Reprinted from the 8/27/14 edition of The Platte County Landmark.

There’s still a lot of confusion about “social media.” When you hear it brought up in traditional media or among those who are not active on social media, it’s frequently referred to in a negative tone. “Those people on social media,” is the term I hear most frequently, like it’s some sort of smoke monster that appears as soon as you open up Twitter on your phone.

For those that are active on social networks, you immediately realize that there are as many segments of the population as there are in real life, and every social website reacts like its own suburb to a city. Facebook has its right and its left and they often clash in very raw ways. With even less punctuation. Instagram is a younger skewing group focused on selfies and Twitter has as many colors as a million rainbows.

But over the past two weeks, you’ve seen the events unfurl in Ferguson, Mo. and with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that proves how integrated these social communities are in our daily lives.

Everyone wants to have a voice and prior to Facebook and Twitter it seemed that people never really had a chance to show that voice. At its apex, Facebook might’ve had too many voices but it seems like we’ve all adjusted to the noise of Facebook and Twitter and as a population we’re starting to understand great ways to use it.

Let’s first start with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This is a perfect example of why social communities work. A single person doing a simple task and challenging others to do the same. It’s the same formula you see in sales organizations, communities of faith or even pyramid organizations. Last year, the ALS foundation raised just over $30 million dollars for the entire year.

In the first two weeks of the challenge, ALS raised over $50 million dollars. It takes a minor sacrifice by the participant and they look good doing it because the videos are posted to Facebook and YouTube. Brilliant.

You see the same kind of critical mass on the other end of the spectrum, with the tensions in Ferguson, MO. Amongst the police in riot gear and the protesters with their hands up you saw an equal amount of bystanders and journalists with cell phones. Those cell phone videos found their way to Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. This citizen journalism is being seen in other hot zones including Gaza and the Middle East.

People want their voice heard. Now that we’ve gotten past the newness of social media, people are learning to use those tools as forces for change in the world. Yet the monicker of “social media” still seems to travel with it–mostly because of all the political or religious ranting that goes on there. But you’re seeing it less and less as people realize Facebook and Twitter are less tools to add your voice to a pile but rather to add your unique point to the conversation. In many ways, those voices are changing the world.


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