Can Social Media Make a Real Difference?

My friends who don’t understand social media dismiss it as a fad. “I don’t do Twitter,” they say. Or, “I don’t have a blog.” They shrug dismissively, and that’s the end of the conversation.

I honestly don’t know how to respond. I don’t think everyone needs to be on Facebook or share photos of their family on Instagram, but this attitude bothers me. It seems short-sighted.

Because I’ve seen how social media can make a huge difference.

Social Media Makes a Difference
Photo credit: Johannes Fuchs (Creative Commons)

Sure, social media can be another channel for people to promote themselves. But it can also bring out the best in people — I’ve seen it.

The social web teaches us three simple values that we all need to be reminded of. We would do well to follow them.

1. Story over information

Social media is not a fad. It is a new way of communicating, and it’s not going away, quickly replacing traditional media outlets as the means by which people get much of their news and information.

Every day, people are using tools like Facebook and Twitter to incite rebellions and stage revolutions. They’re launching discussions about things that matter and gathering adherents along the way.

How are they doing it? By inviting people into a deeper story.

For me, using this potent tool is not an option; I’ve seen the good can that can result. I’ve been amazed by how much a simple story can be shared by ordinary people and, in effect, change everything.

Not too long ago week, I saw this when over 10,000 people signed a petition to tell the world about a small orphanage in Haiti that was trafficking children.

We invited people to be a part of another story, one that didn’t end with seventy orphans being trafficked, and they responded. A few days later, the Haitian government intervened. The orphanage was shut down, and the children now have a new home.

Apparently, this social media thing can make a difference.

2. Community over self-centeredness

While the Internet can be a place for showboating and promoting your own personal brand, it’s best used as a one-to-one medium (as opposed to one-to-many).

Ever noticed how few companies and products thrive on Twitter? Whereas leaders like Chris Brogan and Ashton Kutcher thrive? Why is that? It’s because social media connects people to people. It’s all about relationships and connection, not how awesome your widget is.

Shaun King saw this when he started tweeting about child trafficking, and celebrities like Eva Longoria took note. Even movie stars want more than a stage and microphone. They want to make a difference. They long to play a role in a story worth telling, to be part of the global community.

And social media allows them the outlet to do just that.

3. Hope over despair

The world is a dark place. At times, it can even seem hopeless. But when you connect people together through social media, they stumble upon another story.

Alece Ronzino saw this when she started blogging the gritty parts of her story, including her painful divorce, and others joined the redemption chorus. Now, every time she shares a thought on her blog, hundreds of people stop to listen.

Why? Because transparency brings hope.

A well-put phrase, a potent blog post, a provocative tweet. These can make people feel like they’re not alone, like someone understands. Your words can give purpose to others’ pain and bring significance to their suffering.

So don’t waste this opportunity.

We have a choice

Online, people are looking for more than someone who wants to show off. They want to be understood. And it’s up to you, all of us really, to give that to them.

A “following” doesn’t have to be just another stroke of the ego. It can be an opportunity to be part of something bigger than yourself. And social media makes this possible like never before. Of course, it also makes it easier for marketers and anarchists to misuse such tools for short-term gain. But that’s the risk you take anytime you tap into something powerful.

The question is what will we — what will you — do? Will you harness the power of social media and use it for good? Or dismiss it as irrelevant, stupid, and pointless, because you’ve seen it abused and exploited?

The choice is yours.

How have you seen social media make a difference? Share in the comments.

62 thoughts on “Can Social Media Make a Real Difference?

  1. Love this, Jeff. I’m with you, equally irritated when people who have no experience with social media diss it.  You probably already know about Sara Frankl, otherwise known as Gitzengirl. Beautiful young woman who went to be with the Lord a couple of weeks ago, but for the past 9 years she has been coping with a dreadful auto-immune disease that kept her confined to her condo. Social media was her only real outlet to the world beyond her walls, and our only way of knowing Sara and her story. The ripple effects of her motto: Choose Joy, and her social media presence has made a huge impact on the lives many. Her blog is still up here:  https://gitzengirl.blogspot.com/

  2. Twitter, Facebook, and the comments found in people’s blogs have been a huge connection tool.  In fact, I’m sure I discovered your blog through one of these tools.  I love that I can find great resources this way.

    Additionally, I know that people have connected to my blog through these tools.  I’m friends with people all over the country thanks to social media.

    1. We take so much of it for granted, now. The thing is, if you don’t use social media, you have to wait until somebody recommends something to you to find out if you’ll like it. With social media, you find recommenders who are just recommending things in general.

      It’s a fast moving world, and finding what you like is easier than ever.

  3. Yes. Absoluely. 2 years ago my wife and I visited family in Kansas. I had connected with @david_norman:twitter  via Twitter and blogging before hand but didn’t really know him.  We decided that we wanted to visit the church that he attended.

    When we visited my sister in law, who hadn’t been to a church in years, came with us.  Long story short she became a member of that church and she is on fire for Christ.  All because of a social media connection.

  4. I love Twitter because it reminds us we have something worth sharing. I’m with you on advertisement as well – if only used for promotion, we miss out on the real value of this medium.

    I’ve gotten to encourage some friends about blogging recently, going to include these points next time. As always, great resources Jeff.

  5. Great points, Jeff.  Blogging, twitter and facebook have opened up a whole new world. I have met so many amazing people.  I’ve come across helpful advice and articles I never would have seen had I not been a part of it.  It brings a big world closer together.  Love the ability to connect with people in my own state and then the next moment connect with someone from South Africa or Thailand.   It’s cool.  🙂

  6. For those who use the 3 values, yes, all of these platforms give a voice to a story. You can become your own record label, TV station or publisher. 

  7. So very, very happy to hear that the orphanage in Haiti was shut down! Appreciate you getting the word out, Jeff, so we could help by signing the petition and sharing on our own social media avenues.

  8. Thank you for the update about the trafficking. I recall responding to that on FB but never heard what happened.  It DOES make a difference and isn’t going away, as you said.  No one has to “live” on FB 24/7 but keeping up with people and blogs can be fun if you don’t allow it to become a time suck.  We’ve all seen the good and the bad, but looking on the bright side of it, I think social media has brought people together who wouldn’t have done so otherwise and connected old friends who would not have ever communicated with each other.
    Patti

  9. I quit Twitter about a month ago because I was finally honest enough with myself to realize that I had become a self-marketing sleaze bag.  It wasn’t my only reason for being on there.  I genuinely wanted to connect with others, start conversations, etc.  But I also genuinely wanted to make a name for myself and that’s not who I want to be.

    I counted the cost and decided it wasn’t worth it for me to create meaningful conversations or even start a revolution (I never did) if it meant I compromised my character in the process.Maybe some day I won’t be so egotistical and can use social media without become narcissistic.

    1. I will say this, though, just to add to the conversation and perhaps comment on a trend I see happening with bloggers and social media users.

      Whether one would explicitly agree to this or not, I seem to notice the message being communicated that if something is worth sharing (like an idea or story) it SHOULD be made available to the masses so as to garner exposure and thus change the world (or whatever the end in mind is).  Or how much connection social media has made possible between people or ideas that wouldn’t otherwise be possible and so it must be good.

      I wonder whether we’ve lost belief in the local.  The slow.  The value for an idea taking root in the life of a small community long before it ever ends up in a book or on a blog and without concern about whether someone else beats us to the punch of making money off it.

          1. i think what you’re doing is good: developing a deep inner life. the other temptation is to judge those who seem to be living like you used to live. that must be overcome, as well. because everyone is different.

            1. That’s a good word about judging others, Jeff.  And one that I always need to hear (since, you know, I’m a prideful jerk!).

              But lest I am misunderstood, I want to clarify why I quit Twitter: it wasn’t to develop a deep inner life.  

              It was because I saw myself using Twitter in such a way that I would eventually become what I did not want to.  And I don’t think it was just a matter of shifting my perception (as I heard one very good writer put it recently).  It was a matter of justifying prideful behavior by slathering it in talk of otherwise good motives like creating conversations or initiating change.

              And I think that’s what makes it hard for me to not judge others.  When they express their own struggle with social media and the dueling motives of building a personal platform and serving God, there’s almost a shrug of the shoulders.  It’s like they’re saying, “Well what am I supposed to do?  My revolutionary ideas aren’t going to make an impact if I’m not getting them ‘out there.’ This is just the world we live in.  If you want to serve God well, you need an audience who is listening.”

              Or is that just my own inner dialogue?

              1. “If you want to serve God well, you need an audience who is listening.”  You are right, this is how the world would want us to think.  The big problem, I think is that with all the social media and electronic gadgets around, the soulful life had been almost forgotten.  Many of us  live from the head, not the heart. Even serving God is now oftentimes equated with showing the world, and telling the world that we are serving God.  I believe that serving God is a very private affair, because first and foremost it should start from the heart, and is always a slow, intimate dance with the Divine. 

    2. It’s never easy to admit to our flaws but it is always very healing.  I wish more people would take the time to examine their motives just as you did.  Then venues like social media would really be a great way to share, care and connect with the world.

  10. I would be nowhere without social media. Blogging has made a TREMENDOUS difference in the number of visitors to my site. I get as many or more visitors through blogging as I got through Google AdWords (I dropped that service).

    But it’s much more than that. I have really niche interests. Normally it would be very difficult to find other folks who are interested in the same things I’m interested in. Twice I have used the internet to create communities for these niche interests and I’ve met wonderful people and done things I never would have done. I’ve been able to develop abilities and talents and people in the community have been tremendously supportive. To dismiss social media and the internet is just plain foolish, but if you don’t understand its potential, then there’s no point getting involved with it.

  11. Social media is a far better networking tool than it is an advertising tool.  Networking is about connecting with other people.  Learning, growing, sharing — helping.  I agree Jeff, it’s a powerful tool and powerful tools attract the spammers and those looking to get rich quick. 

    I will take your advice and keep connecting with real people. 

    Thanks for writing this!

  12. Social media has made a huge advantage in me promoting my book and website, it’s how I got the word out. Personally social media has helped me connect with old friends that I thought I’d never hear from again. You really can make some aweosme connections.

  13. Jeff, this is an absolutely brilliant post! Not too very long ago, I was one of those people who shrugged off the value of social media. And then I jumped in to meet the most amazing people and learn so much about the art and craft of writing. You are so right. This is not a fad, but our new way of making meaningful connections by reaching out and communicating our stories. We are all enhanced when we share our stories.During our recent power outages caused by weather disasters in the northeast with Hurricane Irene, Twitter and Facebook became our main links to information. Your Haiti rescue story says it all, very heartwarming. Thank you for your relevant, informative posts that resonate.

  14. I think social media is good.  But in general it is a, “Hey look at me, look what I’m doing” kind of thing.  I guess it may stem from our loneliness inside us and wanting to be acknowledged.

    1. Hi Charlie, thanks for the comment. I think it can be that on the surface level, but most of the people I follow and engage with aren’t like that at all. It’s more like a community than anything for me.

  15. There are so many angles to this, but I agree that if we want it to be a good thing–with those values you mention–it can be.  But we’ll always be surrounded by the self-promoters, the voyeurs, and the petty small talk of people who no longer know how to have a long, deep conversation.  

    All new media brings about these clashes.  Think how radio must have offended the sensibilities of some.  “Can’t people sit through a whole concert?  What’s all this frivolous music?”  

    I’m still trying to wrap myself around how to use all of these tools, but you, Jeff, have actually been a hugely helpful example to me.  I didn’t want to dive into froth.  I wanted to make a difference.  Somehow Twitter connected us (I don’t remember who found who) and I have a glimpse into the possibilities of how to make that difference using social media.  

    Perhaps people like you are a tiny minority in a sea of self-adulation, but if you touch the lives of a few in meaningful ways, you’ve done right by God, surely?  

  16. My faith has grown leaps and bounds through social media!  I have been able to have so many conversations with friends {new and old} about topics that are not normally broached in daily chit chat.  I find that the relationships I have created through social media jump to deep levels of intimacy because we have a lot of common ground, and the story, the deep talking, is what drives the relationship.  It’s encouraged me and given me so much confidence to do the same in my face to face relationships.  As always, exellent post, Jeff! 

  17. In my own sphere, I have been encouraged in my faith by fellow Christians that I have met through my blog and theirs.  I pray I have been a blessing to them, as well.  We are spreading the Gospel message to those who may not hear it otherwise.  And just recently, because of your article and those of other’s, it helped close the orphanage in Haiti.  Yes, I would say it can make a huge difference!

  18. I have used social media to raise awareness of what God is doing in places like the Czech Republic, shared stories, posted pictures and videos and had people from all over the world join together to pray for and help support the work I’m doing there. We even had enough raised to donate money to a youth center there to help them effectively reach out to the ghetto community they are near.

  19. It was really cool watching the story of the orphans in Haiti unfold and being able to play a small part in it.  Like Mark Driscoll says, “When it comes to our culture we can choose to either redeem, reject, or receive it.”  This is a clear case of receiving.  There is nothing inherently wrong with technology in general or social media in particular.  It’s neutral.  And the power to harness it for good is exponential.  Great post.

  20. Jeff, you are an authentic inspiration who TRULY practices what he preaches. I’m honored to know you!

  21.  Yes!!!  Social media is the #1 way our church is connecting.    We have prayer going on in our church 24/7 through social media!!  I have made many of my best friends through social media who have become close friends up close and in person.  My life has been forever changed through social media.

    Jeff, your blog is such a great blessing.  I have been reading for a few months.  It has changed my life!  Thank you for what you do daily.  You make a difference.

  22. Amen! I think that church, too often, overlooks social media as a tool for evangelism. But there are probably more people “visiting” the church website, pictures, and blogs than those who “visit” on a Sunday morning. People are checking out Christ and the church from behind their computer screen and if we don’t capitalize on that, we will miss out on one of the biggest opportunities our generation has to share the Gospel. Thanks for writing this post!

  23. Like anything else, social media outlets can be harnessed to do incredibly positive and driven things, i.e; the Haitian orphanage petition. However, it can be equally wasted, i.e; the OWS support pages, whereby there is no organization, and just comes across like a digital bag of hot air. It’s all in the hands of the user.

    Not unlike guns, social media outlets don’t kill ideas, people kill ideas!

  24. Thank you for writing this article.  I had been wrangling with the issue of social media for sometime now – to tweet or not to tweet?  Although I have followers, I’ve always doubted if people still have enough time to read and take note, considering all the blogs, facebook pages and  tweets that people from around the world create each day.  Maybe e social media can be an effective way to help heal the world.  

  25. thanks Jeff – you’ve inspired me again! You have inspired me to start a new blog and I want it to be filled with passion and challenge and my own thoughts… and your post was ideal timing as I was impressed by the story of the teenager who started a petition as her employer would not let her wear her poppy at work – another example of social media making a difference.. so here’s my first real post… and here’s hoping it makes a difference too!
    https://thethoughtpalette.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/wearing-my-poppy-with-pride/

  26. I definitely agree with your opinion that social media is here to stay. While some people do exploit it for self promotion and such, it can be a great tool. I especially agree with #2 about creating a community. 

    I love the people I’ve met (notice I said people like you mentioned). I’ve created some lifelong relationships and friendships that help me with everything from personal advice, financial help and even random humor to brighten my day.

  27. Social media gives us an opportunity to connect with and learn from people we normally wouldn’t. Twitter is my personal favorite. I’ve started blogging regularly at http://www.tom-farr.blogspot.com, and I’ve enjoyed learning from people like you, Jon Acuff, and Bryan Allain through social media. It gives me great opportunity to grow as a writer and creator.

  28. I didn’t know about the Son of God orphanage until you posted about it and lead me to Seth Barnes.  I was able to post about it and tell my circle of influence.  I love social media.  I love connecting with my friends from childhood living over 1500 miles away. 

  29. In my pop culture communication class last semester, we had a very similar discuss on whether social media can be considered true activism or not. And as I hear stories like the one mentioned of the orphanage being closed, I completely agree that social media is activism. These mediums are bringing people together for bigger causes. 

  30. Absolutely! On a ministry level, social media is the main way we communicate needs of The Father’s House, a long-term holistic care facility/home for rescued child slaves that my husband and I and another couple founded in Ghana, Africa. Through social media posts, we’ve been able to quickly raise funds for one of our kids who needed surgery as well as ongoing support. Frequently posting updates and pictures helps keep people connected to their story and also raises awareness of the child slavery issue. We’re connected, worldwide, to people who otherwise would never have know the ministry exists. On a personal level, the Holy Spirit has used posts from friends, near and far, to prompt me to pray for them or contact them in times of need or has used my words in posts to encourage people I hardly know in “real life.” Sure, it can be abused if used irresponsibly, but there is a huge potential for social media to make a real difference in our world.

  31. We’re looking at ways a Public Housing Authority can affect individual change in our community fo residents. We want to encourage parents to adopt habits that encourage early literacy. National and international research shows that low income children sometimes arrive at school slightly behind their peers, and we think parents can be a big asset in their child’s school readiness. So far we have a FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/raisingchampions.bha

    But it is a first step. We’re learning, but feel like we have a way to go yet!

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