Wire your cause

The ability to activate support by those in need or those wanting to help out those in need has never been more available than it is today. The connected cause movement is richly empowered by the Internet – from microlending to individuals through sites such as Kiva or Jasmin’s own page at ChipIn to grand scale movements such as Product(RED), ONE and Earth Hour.

The most popular application on Facebook, the online community of over 100M people, is Causes – an application to connect people to movements for change of all sorts and allow them to declare their affiliation. Indeed, I have several causes I identify with on my profile (the Causes app is proudly front and center on my profile), have declared them and donated to.

There are several parts to the online activism movement (if such a diverse collection of activity could be called a movement), and while not every online cause is the same, broadly, they fall into three categories:

  • advocacy – the raising of awareness for a cause
  • activation – the prompting of and creation of activity around a cause in those interested, and
  • action – the ongoing and followup activity in relation to a cause

In many cases, causes have elements of all three. One need only look at the incredibly successful movement to elect the new US President, Barack Obama, to see just how powerful each of these components can be. Well executed, an online campaign can move those interested in it through each of the three phases of involvement.

For those needing or wanting support for their cause, whether it’s a micro loan to start a small business or something much bigger, the hyperconnected world offers amazing opportunities to seek out interested like minds, to gather momentum around a cause and to ultimately act on its purpose. Finding a community of people who share your concerns, collaborating with them and engaging in a meaningful conversation around your cause is incredibly easy.

Let’s take a quick look at one option – microphilanthropy.

At its simplest, the emergence of microphilanthropy – philanthropic activity on a scale of small amounts – has made engaging with online causes almost trivial. Those of us who are in a position to engage with a cause we believe in can now do so in a way that was previously only truly available to the very wealthy. Sheer weight of numbers – potentially hundreds or thousands giving a little – means that the gathering community can provide just as valuable input as a Buffet or a Gates, with each giving just tens or perhps a few hundred dollars.

For those of us, largely in the West, who would like to engage more deeply in a socially responsible way either personally or on behalf of our businesses, the opportunities are equally significant and many. A simple Google search offers up several possbilities and a wealth of supporting information. Kiva is a perfect example, and one to which I’ve contributed. There are many more options.

Just recently, US-based author and activist, Tom Watson published CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World . It’s a well-considered look at online cause activism, examining joiner culture, the step beyond to action and a fairly significant number of online movements and how they came into being and gained traction. It’s well worth your time to read it if online activism is of any interest to you.

NOTE: This guest post is by Stephen Collins. Stephen runs acidlabs, an independent communications consultancy that focuses on collaboration, knowledge workers and social media.