Spring 2015 Winning Essay

by: Emma Browning

Social media is the glue that holds society together. Ten years ago, it was inconceivable that the majority of human interaction would take place through posts on the internet, but today it is as much a part of everyday life as reading the news or going to work. Consequently, marketing on social media has exploded, becoming an almost surefire method to get information about a cause circulating the web. However, for those unaccustomed to the difficulties of making an article “viral,” social media marketing can seem downright impossible. Thankfully, I already have a great deal of experience in promoting charity groups through social media across as many platforms as possible with the charity group I helped found at my high school, “Simple Charity”.

Simple Charity’s purpose is simple: to raise $100,000 over the course of the next year to fight poverty around the world. The entire year is split into seven themes, which include topics of hunger, clean water, education, healthcare, and so on. Each theme lasts approximately a month-and-a-half and consists of many events and fundraisers. We have had school-wide car washes for donations, sold used clothes at yard sales, orchestrated a “Battle of the Bands,” and even had a Frozen movie night for our clean water theme.

We only give to charities that use 100% of their proceeds to actually help people, charities like Just One Africa and Literacy Translations. For example, our campaign for Just One: Africa involves selling bracelets made by women in Kenya. Each bracelet can provide more than 200,000 gallons of clean water, which is clean water for one person for life. Factoids like this make great sound bites for social media! So far, the club has had great success within our school, with more than 60 members and almost $20,000 donated. From our first car wash to our most recent meeting, our leadership team has been impassioned and dedicated, putting hours of time into planning, creating T-shirts to sell, and actively promoting our causes. We have the cure for hunger: food. We have the medicine these people need, the clean water they should have to drink, and the education and skills they can use to escape the vicious cycle of poverty. Society often takes the privileges we have for granted, but realizing the effect a few dollars can have to save lives is an eye-opening experience. Yet without using social media, there is no way we can share this message, besides through the slow process of word-of-mouth communication.

Our first few events, while relatively successful, lacked the turnout we initially expected. We had done everything we were supposed to: put up flyers, told all of our friends, and tried to spread the word within our parents’ circles of friends. Nothing seemed to bring out the excitement in others that we were all brimming with already. We could never actually make a difference without the incredible tool of social media. As soon as we realized our mistake, we took to the web, posting information about our new organization on every possible website: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, every site populated by teenagers who would want to make a difference. With our efforts, we have made our Twitter page the third result on Google when searching “Simple Charity!” We regularly post on our blog with updates on our newest events, philosophical articles on the psychology behind charity, and messages from our members on why they believe in our cause. By flooding our followers’ feeds with opportunities to donate, we have raised over ten thousand dollars through online donations. My job specifically within the organization is to create our video promotions. With the help of a friend who can create animated effects, I edit videos to promote our latest efforts, as well as upload them to YouTube.

Social Media is not limited to just Facebook and Twitter. Everything posted online counts as social media, whether it be a picture on Instagram or a video on YouTube. As an active member of the YouTube community, the media I release communicates with my many subscribers in various ways. So, too, do the videos I post for Simple Charity. Media is not limited to just text communication; there comes a point when one more tweet cannot help a cause because its followers have become apathetic. Videos, on the other hand, bring a sort of energy to the cause, tying together visuals and music in a way that speaks to each individual viewer. In a society focused on instant gratification, sometimes a message condensed into a few pictures, graphics, and sound bites can reach a much broader audience than a dissertation on the effects of poverty on the world.

Simple Charity is far from perfect when it comes to using social media. Many members of our leadership team have yet to realize that while advertising primarily inside our high school can help raise awareness, it is nearly impossible to squeeze  $100,000 from 2,000 teenagers who balance their time and money between school, friends, a job, and family. Within our community, there are many, many small businesses and generous adults who would love to help us with our goal to save lives, but instead we have focused on trying to motivate the teenage population. Were I to start my own charity and advertise it with social media, I would focus on getting the attention of the local people who are more invested in the community and helping the charity succeed. I would use social media to contact these people directly and ask for a simple post on their pages to advertise our cause. Instead of relying on my own social media presence to gather donations, I would use as many local resources as possible to maximize our voice.

Social media can make or break a charity. It can provide an easy, free, and most importantly, simple method of getting word out about a charity’s cause, but a lack of social media presence can destroy a charity’s reputation and ensure that people’s money will stay securely in their pockets, rather than be used to change lives. With Simple Charity, I have exercised a few of my skills at using this remarkable innovation as an advertising tool, rather than just a medium for socialization. As social media becomes even more integral to society, this talent will become remarkably useful in promoting causes and changing the world.