Tweeting for Social Impact

I just spent the last three days attending the 2010 Net Impact Conference hosted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan (incidentally an incredible piece of LEED architecture), immersing myself in all things “Sustainability”. For those that don’t know, Net Impact is a global organization that consolidates the combined passion of business students and professionals for sustainability into a cohesive voice for change toward developing sustainable business practices in everyday life. In attendance were over 2500 undergraduate and graduate level business students, as well as corporations wanting to share their message.

The sheer breadth of topics available to conference attendees was, in a word, immense. Topics included Corporate Impact, Urban Development, Cleantech, Social Entrepreneurship as well as a host of others. This is where social media entered the picture. Attendees were encouraged to actively use Twitter to share their thoughts on individual panel discussions they attended as well as the conference, itself.

What struck me was the power that tools like Twitter have for grass-roots movements like Net Impact. Net Impact doesn’t attract individuals interested in a single area of sustainability; they are interested in the advancement of the Sustainability Movement as a whole. As such, each attendee was forced to choose which of the 350 panelists were the most ‘valuable’ to their learning, meaning that there was a ton of information left on the table. Twitter gave conference-goers access to far more information than they otherwise would have been able to get.

Now this doesn’t seem like much, really. I mean, people have been using Twitter as a way of spreading information since its inception in 2006 and its followers now number in excess of 100 million users. There are, on average, 750 tweets per second (representing 65 million tweets per day); Twitter is firmly entrenched in social media and in Western society.

Contrast this with the Sustainability Movement in business. While it is gathering momentum you don’t have to go far to realize that it is still very much on the fringe; most schools don’t even list sustainability classes as an option in the program overview and those that do offer it as a stream are still refining the way they structure the classes. Twitter offers an opportunity to individuals who want to expand their awareness on the subject or spread its message. It also allows users to feel like part of a collective, not an insignificant thing when you consider the seemingly insurmountable challenge facing anyone trying to strengthen the voice of a movement.

I’m not a Twitter user. (Hell, this is actually my first independent blogging effort!) That being said, I somehow feel that I should be and am also somehow embarrassed that I’m not. It’s becoming a network externality in business; in order to leverage a company’s marketing efforts you have to stay in touch with opportunities at your fingertips. Figuring out how to do it effectively is why I’m in this course…

112,050 = the number of tweets posted since you began reading this post.

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