Making Social Media Do Good

Last month I attended Social Media Week New York. As most of my career has been spent in non-profits, I registered for panels on non-profits, international development, and using social media for social good. There was a good deal of discussion about events happening in the Middle East, and opinions were divided on how much (or how little) social media like Facebook and Twitter were influencing the democracy movements.

Friday around noon I returned from an early lunch break for a panel discussion. Every venue (that I know of) had wi-fi, so after finding a good seat I cracked open my laptop to check e-mail and Twitter. Twitter was alive! Reports that Hosni Mubarak had resigned were lighting up my timeline, so I switched briefly to my News list, which was also crazy. But this is a new medium, and the contradictory reports of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in January had shown me that misinformation can propagate just as easily as reliable information. So I quickly looked at the websites of the New York Times, the BBC, and Al Jazeera English. All of them reported Mubarak’s resignation, so I accepted it as true.

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My Proudest Moment

In case you didn’t know, March is American Red Cross Month, as it has been every year since 1943.

On March 1 the Cape Fear Chapter tweeted an intriguing question: “What is your favorite experience with the Red Cross?” After almost nine and a half years, it’s difficult to think about a favorite experience. Perhaps handing out hot chocolate at the Brooklyn Bridge on the last day of the 2005 New York City transit strike. We’d just heard that the strike was over and transit would be running again the next morning, so it took on a party atmosphere. It was cold that evening, but the hot chocolate and the end of the strike made it better. Then a young woman came down the ramp from the Bridge, cell phone clasped to her ear, and squealed into the phone, “It’s the Red Cross… and they have hot chocolate!!!” (We don’t always get such immediate gratification on the larger disasters.)

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Rubber Walls, Infinite Chairs

Think of a really good presentation you attended recently. What made it good?

For me, the top criteria are an interesting speaker (or panel) and lots of relevant audience participation. There are lots of other things that can enhance the event, but if the featured speaker(s) aren’t knowledgeable and engaging or the audience looks like they’re dozing off, not much is going to help.

Let me introduce you to Twitter chats. The idea of holding an online presentation on Twitter is so ridiculously simple that I participated in my first only two days after signing up for a Twitter account. And it was huge! It introduced me to people I wanted to follow on Twitter and a bunch more who followed me. I even discovered a former real-life colleague in the stream! It made me think that Twitter chats might be the best thing about Twitter; almost four months and more than 2,000 tweets later, I’m convinced.

Here’s what happened: Immediately after joining Twitter I heard that the American National Red Cross would be holding a conference in Washington, DC, with live video stream and a Twitter chat. (It was officially called the Emergency Social Data Summit, but is usually referred to by its hashtag, #crisisdata.) Being new to Twitter, I thought the chat might be interesting, but expected the video would be most useful. Ha!

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If my Mom were still alive today, she’d be fascinated by the concept of crowdsourcing. It was Mom who really taught me how to ask for advice, give advice and (perhaps most importantly) ignore advice.

I’ll be honest: I had a horrible adolescence. Hormones and being the nerdy, bookish girl at school made me miserable, and I responded in ways that made people around me miserable. Looking back, I’m not inclined to blame anyone; I just had a more difficult time than many others I knew. But around the time I turned 16, I “began to be human again,” as Mom phrased it. Things got easier.

One of the big changes in my relationship with my parents, especially Mom, was that they gave me advice instead of instructions. Instructions are necessary for children, and sometimes for adults, but when people trust each other’s judgment, advice works best.

Giving advice is not the same as telling someone what to do.

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