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From the classroom to the boardroom, there are very few aspects of life that don't include an element of social media.

The ability of social channels to generate buzz around brands and connect companies with their audiences is well understood. But what can often appear more challenging, or a bit of a mystery, is how organizations can use social media to help drive a movement – the kind of social movement that takes on a life of its own and has an effect far beyond initial expectations.

Just last week, Facebook was home to a timely campaign in support of marriage equality that went viral almost overnight.

In advance of two upcoming gay marriage cases appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, a large civil rights organization – Human Rights Campaign – launched its digital call to action, asking supporters to replace their profile pictures with a white equal sign on a pink background.

The call to action resonated with millions. On March 26, 2.7 million users changed their profile picture, a 120-per-cent spike in profile picture changes from the same day the previous week. While the legal impact of this campaign remains to be seen, it clearly demonstrates how social media help facilitate large-scale movements and global conversations about important causes.

Here are three examples of social media-driven movements from different sectors that we can learn from:


Individuals around the world are turning to social media in hopes that their campaigns will go viral and reach a wider and more influential audience than previously possible.

A Lung Story is one such example. When 20-year old Hélène Campbell was diagnosed with a rare disorder, a lung transplant was her only chance for survival. Using social media, she promoted #BeAnOrganDoner, an online campaign encouraging Canadians to register as organ donors.

Leveraging the online support of Justin Bieber and Ellen DeGeneres, the digitally driven " Hélène Campbell effect" contributed to a significant spike in registrants and a growing awareness of pulmonary disorders. On April 6, 2012, Ms. Campbell received her lungs, and, a little more than a year later, she sat down on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show to share her story.


Many non-profit organizations are turning to social media to help drive fundraising efforts and awareness campaigns. Others are using it to launch non-profit initiatives.

A perfect example of the latter is the It Gets Better Project. Concerned with the high suicide rates among gay teenagers, best-selling author Dan Savage and partner Terry Miller launched a social media campaign aimed at supporting young gay people around the world.

The 'It Gets Better Project' is an innovative campaign driven by audience-generated video content. The idea is simple: Users submit short videos of themselves discussing how they overcame the challenges of coming out as teenagers, and these videos are widely shared on a range of digital platforms, including YouTube, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

The interactive nature of social media has enabled the It Gets Better Project to inspire hope among millions of people around the world – a huge victory in the struggle for equality.


Many corporate-driven, pro-social online movements have been making headlines recently, including Bell's Let's Talk and Campbell Soup Co.'s The Most Colossal Casserole campaigns.

Another example is Durex's #1Share1Condom campaign. Last December, Durex launched a unique social media campaign aimed at drawing attention to World AIDS Day; for every tweet using the #1Share1Condom hashtag, Durex donated a condom to HIV prevention charities worldwide. This campaign encouraged users to spread awareness of the fight against HIV/AIDS and enabled them to contribute to the movement.

As a result of this social media movement, more than two million condoms were donated and countless people have been introduced to World AIDS Day.

Long known for its effectiveness in driving business objectives and facilitating audience interaction, social media is increasingly being recognized for its ability to support movements and campaigns. Although campaign virality does not guarantee success – think the ill-fated Kony 2012 – social media's potential to help build a movement has never been greater.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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