Voluntary sector organisations must "seize control of social media" in order to produce social change, delegates at the International Fundraising Congress have heard.
Speaking at the opening plenary session at the conference in the Netherlands yesterday, Bill Toliver, executive director of the Seattle-based communications and branding agency Matale Line, said that even the humblest organisations could create social movements.
"It is our job to seize control of social media, embrace it and let it reach its potential as a medium for social change," he said. "What would Nelson Mandela have done with the internet? Martin Luther King with a smartphone? What would Gandhi have done with a Facebook page? We are still struggling to mobilise people the way they did."
Toliver gave recent examples in which social media and the internet had been used to bring change, including the Arab Spring, Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory and anti-corruption campaigning.
Toliver said the future of the internet was in mobilising people and questioned the current trend for charities to promote the number of Facebook ‘likes’ a campaign had gained.
"A like is the least someone can do to show interest in a cause," he said. "It is the first little indication of interest. Them joining, taking action and becoming an advocate – that is profound and powerful."
"Nothing ever changes until some catalyst brings a critical mass of the right people to commit to that change," said Toliver. "You don’t have to have the whole world, just a critical mass."
An example of such a catalyst was the Peace One Day organisation founded by British documentary maker Jeremy Gilley in 1999, he said. In 2001 the UN adopted a resolution for a day of non-violence and ceasefire, which is marked on 21 September.
Gilley told the conference how he used film to campaign and achieve the day of peace and how the organisation was now working to institutionalise it.