SMWDC: Smart Social Media

Social Media Week: DC was a bit like a DC metro wind tunnel: it came out of nowhere, blasted me in the face for a few days, then just as quickly as it came, it was over, leaving me to try to piece together the tidbits I’d learned throughout the week. A jam-packed work schedule caused me to miss some of the sessions I’d hoped to attend, but I was so impressed by some of the speakers I did have a chance to hear. Two sessions of note were the Innovations in Social Media in the Developing World at Powell Tate and Health Communication, Digital Media, & the Latino Community at NCLR. My most important takeaways from both sessions were great examples of “smart new media” programs. Though I haven’t blogged in ages, I wanted to jot down some of the conversations, ideas, and program examples that are still lingering in my mind.

My Social Media Week: DC kicked off with Innovations in Social Media in the Developing World at Powell Tate. I was expecting the usual: a panel of “experts” giving a broad overview of their start-up mobile applications. Instead, I was treated to a thought-provoking discussion on reverse transfer of knowledge and an exploration of the implications of “for and by the people” in a local, non-Western context. I found the conversation fascinating.

What is “reverse transfer of knowledge” anyway? Jon Gosier of Apps for Africa, Metalayer, & Swift River first raised and then clarified the question. As has been the case in development for many moons, new ideas and technologies to address social concerns are initiated in western nations and are then superimposed on developing nations. What @jongos, @scheuster, and @bencolmery4 discussed was innovation originating in (mostly) Africa: people developing the tools to address their own local issues, rather than importing these ideas.

I latched onto this concept for a few reasons. For one, I think the notion of “by the people, for the people” is an important one to keep in mind and occasionally revisit, regardless of which social innovation field you work in. We cannot claim to know the divots and quirks of anyone else’s backyards better than our own. As such, it makes logical sense to encourage people to innovate on their own behalf. This approach is something I think JSI does well, though, I think it is always helpful to be reminded that our own world views don’t always translate as intended to different contexts.

This “lost in translation” idea plays out, I think, in funding. One innovation that was discussed was a mobile application that uses weather radar to predict the health supply needs of health facilities following natural disasters. The application was developed in the field in response to a recurring issue, and at first glance, it seems to have important implications for supply chain management. However, the extent to which these entrepreneurial innovations can tap into and influence the behemoth, slow-to-adopt-or-adapt global cogs, such as supply chains, is limited. The conversation at Powell Tate touched on the idea of crowdsourcing funds for these ventures, but I think, more importantly, it is a call to action to open both lanes of the communication highway – make the cogs more flexible and explore more ways to connect the pilots to the existing infrastructure.

This session also touched on an issue that was further explored in the#Latism session on Thursday night: using the right medium for your audience. At Powell Tate, a speaker brought up the fact that Facebook and Twitter have a first-to-market advantage in developing countries; however, their growth will likely plateau if they don’t find a way to reach populations with limited literacy.

The#Latism session at NCLR offered several great examples of selecting technology and messages that were appropriate to the audiences. Each of the programs clearly had given careful thought to their broader goals and objectives, the audience they wanted to reach, what takeaway messages they wanted people to take away, and which social media platforms would allow those messages to resonate with the target population. In one example, an initiative to improve medication adherence among Latina females began with an understanding of where the women were online. Statistics showed that 80% had viewed a video in the last week, and many tuned in on a weekly basis to online novellas. The novellas were selected as the primary tool to deliver their messages, and a social media campaign was built around them.

In another example, an organization advocating for contraception in the midst of the recent debates on this subject struck an important political chord with their #with600 campaign. Noting that the out-of-pocket costs for women should contraception not be covered any longer could tally around $600, the organization structured a campaign around the economic value of this difference to many of the families who might be affected by the legislation. “With $600, I could…” began a host of tweets and Facebook posts, solicited comments such as “buy my children school supplies” or “plan for a future with my partner.” The campaign was successful because it had a clear goal, knew its audience well, and was simple, clear, and consistent throughout.

I am always excited to see good examples of social media campaigns that are well thought out and take the best advantage of the medium they choose. I look forward to challenging myself to remember some of these entrepreneurial and thoughtful campaigns in my own work.