Harness Twitter, change the world

September 6, 2011

The advent of social media has fundamentally changed the landscape of philanthropy and charitable giving. Today, merely giving money or time is just the beginning. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, allow individuals to spread ideas and information faster and in a more targeted fashion at almost no cost. “Social entrepreneurship” — the act of recognizing a societal problem and applying entrepreneurial principles to solve it – is rapidly gaining popularity. And social media is playing an increasingly large role in making these endeavors possible.

Claire Diaz Ortiz leads social innovation at Twitter Inc., and she has a few pointers for those trying to use “Twitter for good” – whether it be in support of a charity, philanthropic initiative or for-profit effort with the aim of solving a long-standing social problem. We asked Ortiz five questions about Twitter and the innovative ways in which she has seen it used to advance causes and promote organizations.

This is one in a periodic series called “5 Questions,” where we ask industry, thought and academic leaders about the latest in innovation.

1) What is the most innovative use of Twitter you have seen so far?

I’m lucky that, in my line of work, each day brings with it new stories about an individual or organization using Twitter in a unique way to make a difference in the world. That said, I have a particular fascination of late with the way one African social enterprise, R Labs, is using Twitter in South Africa and beyond. In brief, Marlon Parker, founder of R Labs, has been running a series of “twitter schools” in South Africa’s Cape Flats. The schools have allowed them to teach former gang members the tools of Twitter and provide them with valuable work opportunities. As Parker describes it, hearing an ex-gang member in South Africa brag that he now has “more followers” on Twitter than he ever did as a local gang leader showcases the positive result of using the platform in a fresh way.


"Twitter for Good" by Claire Diaz Ortiz. (Claire Diaz Ortiz)

2) Regarding your TWEET five-step framework, can you describe what your process was in creating it?

I’m a knowledge junkie. I read 100 books a year (mostly all non-fiction). I listen to Tony Robbins and motivational speakers with the same regularity that I watch “The Real Housewives” (read: a lot).

I’ve spent years attending conferences as a participant and have (in more recent years) transitioned to being on the stage. On both sides, however, I have noted the same problem about knowledge consumption whether it is at conferences, in books, or in life: It’s hard to get anyone to remember anything.

I have spent hours prepping for a presentation, only to find that an audience member forgets most of it by the lunch break. I have often read a business bestseller only to come away unable to relate much beyond a few salient points. Obviously this is part of a larger discussion on personal productivity that you’re not asking me about, but I’ll summarize and simply say that I developed the TWEET framework for one reason: I wanted people to be able to instantly come away from a speech, training session, article or book with an implementable, tactical plan to help them succeed on Twitter. Even better, I wanted them to actually be able to remember said plan.

People have critiqued the TWEET model for being “too simple” (I mean, how original am I being when the acronym is “TWEET”?), but I would bet those same people criticized Twitter in 2007 for the same reasons.

It’s simple, and it works. Case closed.

3) What do you wish Twitter did that it does not do now?

One of the most visible ways in which Twitter helps to change the world is in its large scale fundraising campaigns during times of crisis. As such, it would be incredibly useful to have a fluid way to make donations on the platform. There are a handful of third-party solutions currently out there but none is quite robust enough (or has the users behind it yet) to have hit mainstream. I’ll be excited to see when that changes.

4) Twitter, on its own, is an effective tool for outreach. But are there other social media or legacy media platforms that you feel complement a Twitter outreach strategy best?

Absolutely. Organizations looking to get their message out to the world should make use of other great new media and social media platforms as well, including, but not limited to Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn. These are all complementary platforms that offer different things, and combining them increases your ability to truly galvanize a movement and gain supporters. As an early blogger, I have to also throw my hat into the ring in support of blogging — or at least a dynamically updated Web site — as a critical part of movement creation online.

Overall, though, it’s all about creating an online strategy that brings together the best tools to help you win.

5) What new innovation are you currently most interested in and want folks to know about?

Ten years ago, I had a MySpace page that listed “cheese in a can” as just such an innovation. Somehow, I bet that’s not what you’re asking me.

In all seriousness, I’ve spent much of August traveling around Southeast Asia, in countries I hadn’t been to since I spent a year traveling the world some years ago. At the time, my father lovingly referred to me as a “wandering delinquent.” But I, apparently, have improved my professional credentials in the years since, because everyone was telling me of late that I very much needed this vacation.

This time around, I was convinced I would see the world with different eyes (and with slightly cleaner accommodations). And things were, indeed, different. I sought out Twitter, not fax machines. I Skyped folks in London from beaches with ease and navigated international time-zone differences with iPhone applications. Most importantly, I was able to share things I saw and learned with the rest of the world using new media.

Amazingly, though, my time spent in serious travel mode in Southeast Asia made me feel the same self-awakening that I felt when I first left home at age 16 to live in Central America for a summer.

Like many professionals in our global economy, I travel all the time. I’ve lived on four continents, speak multiple languages, and married a man who visited the United States for the first time in his 20s. But rarely do I really immerse myself in new and different cultures on a regular basis. And that’s a mistake.

Innovation – at its core – relies on this.

Ultimately, we are only able to truly innovate when we surround ourselves with the unknown and then create something brilliant out of newness.

Organizations and companies that do this are what excite me most right now. For example, I’m a huge fan of Global Citizen Year, a non-profit organization that is sure to churn out incredible innovators in the years to come. The organizers and participants believe that providing simple, long-term international experiences — especially in the developing world — to high school graduates before they head off to college is an important tool in changing the face of our world as we know it. I agree.

The oldest, newest, and best innovation out there is cultural understanding. Open your arms and we’ll change the world. Tweet about it and you’ll convert a legion of other world-changers.

Or something like that.

Diaz Ortiz is the author of the new book “Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time,”a free chapter of which is available on her Web site. She can be found on Twitter via @claired.

Read more news and ideas about innovation or follow Ideas@Innovations on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr.

Read more from the Five Questions Series:

Exploring innovation in the game of love

The fundamentals of innovation

3-D Printing: Past, present and future

The case against college

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