Creating Meaningful Dialogue and Change Through Social Media

By Rebecca Ogle

Can social media create meaningful dialogue and change? If you doubt it, you’re forgiven. Plenty of problems contribute to a negative outlook: fake news, Twitterbots, information warfare, flame wars in the comments, sensational reporting, flawed algorithms, and so on.

Nevertheless, we persist. We want to use our digital profiles to make positive change, despite our negative experiences and trepidation. In an oft-shared meme, Mister Rogers says it best:

“Always look for the helpers. There’s always someone who is trying to help.”

So, I looked to Jonathan Perri, the director of North American Campaigns and Partnerships for Change.org, for insights on being a helper.

Change.org is an online petition platform with more than 200 million users. Perhaps you’ve signed a Change.org petition yourself. It’s so easy, but is it effective? In short, yes. From pressuring companies to mobilizing Congress, Change.org’s social media-driven campaigns exemplify how individuals and organizations can make a difference.

Q: How does Change.org leverage social media platforms to create positive change?

A: Sharing drives a lot of our traffic and signatures, so we make it easy to share petitions on Twitter and Facebook by making that part of our “post-sign-flow” (the actions you can take after signing a petition). It’s important to provide those who take action with a simple and clear way to share with their networks.

We maintain our own social media profiles, with over 1.5 million followers on both Twitter and Facebook. We also have smaller profiles for some of our more popular issue communities. For example, I manage a criminal justice reform program called Changejustice, which has its own profile separate from the main Change.org. This allows me to engage a specific audience more easily.

Q: Can you share some successful campaigns and how they leveraged social media to achieve success?

A: Recently, the website hosting company Squarespace agreed to drop Neo-Nazi and white supremacist websites after 60,000 people signed a Change.org petition. The petition was a few months old, and Squarespace had already told the petition starter they wouldn’t be taking down the sites. But following the events in Charlottesville, the petition went viral.

Every Change.org petition has a “sharing headline,” which allows you to include your target’s Twitter handle. So, every time someone signed and shared on Twitter, they were tweeting directly at Squarespace. With 40,000 people signing the petition in less than one day, that added an incredible amount of pressure on Squarespace. Within 24 hours, they agreed to take down the sites.

Q: What are some real-world effects that have resulted wholly or partly from Change.org campaigns?

A: There are so many, and from all around the world. People have used the platform to change state or federal laws, get companies to change or adopt practices, bring TV shows back — all sorts of things.

One of my favorites was Sara Wolff’s campaign to pass the ABLE Act, landmark disability rights legislation that helps people with disabilities save money for their futures. Sara has Down’s Syndrome and championed the bill with the National Down Syndrome Society. Nearly 300,000 people signed her petition, and she brought it with her to Congressional hearings. It was one of the most successful bipartisan advocacy campaigns in history. The bill passed with 480 members of Congress cosponsoring.

Q: Social media platforms provide tools for people who want to make a difference – from hashtags to groups to paid ad campaigns. Where do you think an individual who wants to make a difference should start?

A: Every campaign needs to start with a story. In my opinion, being able to tell your story in a concise and compelling way that inspires people to take action and join your cause is the crucial first step, regardless of which platform you use.


Rebecca Ogle is the Content Marketing Specialist at Fasturtle. She can be reached at Rebecca.ogle@fasturtle.com. Fasturtle can be reached at Fasturtle HQ, fasturtle.com/contact, 480-348-0467, Facebook facebook.com/Fasturtle, Twitter @fasturtle.

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