Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Emerging Social Media Themes from Rio+Social

June 25, 2012

Rio+Social, the UN Foundation and Mashable’s one-day social media conference for social good, got underway last week on the eve of Rio+20. There, notables from leading nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the UN, and the private sector dissected how social media plays a role in the global fight for good. Two emerging themes that rose out of the discussions were the ways in which social media plays an increasing role in awareness about pressing global issues and how social media for social good will change immeasurably in the coming years.

Always up for debate is the notion that social media, while raising awareness, does not do enough to solve real problems. While that point does have validity, as Pete Cashmore, the founder of Mashable, admits, and is the reason Mashable connects with their readers locally around the world, social media is a useful tool that everyone can use to raise awareness about issues they care about.  “Everyone can have a voice, be an author, a maker of a story that can make a change in the world,” said Leonardo Tristão, Business Director, Facebook Latin America.

In order to use social media for good effectively there must be a coordinated effort from both individuals and organizations. “There needs to be a lasting function; a way to coalesce as a group,” said Pete Cashmore. “People need to use organizations, groups, and hashtags to keep the conversation in one place.” In fact, as evidence of this organized approach to social media, the collective actions of the Rio + Social conference attendees generated enough tweets to ensure the #rioplussocial hashtag trended on Twitter in Brazil as well as worldwide throughout the day.

Relying on future generations, Kumi Naidoo, the Executive Director of Greenpeace, said young people have the power to change the world through social media. “Young people should bring a new vision. Come up with new ideas. Come up with a new world. We need fresh thinking.” While Georg Kell, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, agreed with Naidoo’s vision of a future that young people will champion, he did not want to dismiss the wisdom of the current and older generations. “I hope we don’t forget the lessons from the past.”

Anthony Lake, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) brought to everyone’s attention that while the tools we use today are effective to spread awareness, change behaviors, and raise resources, these social media tools will largely be obsolete in the coming years.

“I think that even though at UNICEF we are using social media in a number of ways, I have no doubt that in three, four, or five years we’ll say how we’ve been so backwards.”

Most importantly, as Kate James, the foundation’s Chief Communications officer, said, “What really excites me about social media at the moment is the power of the global conversation. It’s the power of social media to connect global decision-makers with some of the people in the poorest communities in the world today.”

And that is what is most important—a connected society of people around the world in various countries and circumstances that can converse, share, collaborate, and connect through social media.

You can still follow the #RioPlusSocial hashtag and read more about the event on the UN Foundation’s blog.

 
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