Blogging to Change the World: Insights from BloggersUnite.org

Filed as Interviews on April 3, 2009 2:23 am

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As the G20 Summit convenes today in London, many bloggers across the world may be wondering what they can do to bring about change in the offline world through social media.

As a community outreach coordinator for BloggersUnite.org and a veteran of the Blog Action Day 2008 organizing team, I can personally attest to the colossal power that blogs and social media tools have to spread ideas and change human minds.

I asked BloggersUnite.org’s Richard Becker and Antony Berkman about their attempts to inspire social action by harnessing the power of the blogosphere. Here’s what they said.

How did Bloggers Unite start? Whose idea was it?

Antony Berkman, CEO, BloggersUnite.org: I noticed that Internet social networks from MySpace to Facebook were receiving a ton of media and Internet attention in 2007, but we had yet to see an online social community come together to raise funds for a good cause. So, I saw what would later become Bloggers Unite as an opportunity to empower and recognize bloggers who collectively focus their blogs for good rather than writing about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears all the time.

Why did you move Bloggers Unite from BlogCatalog.com to its own domain?

Antony Berkman: We listened to the BlogCatalog members. Over the last two years, some bloggers wanted us to coordinate more events and some wanted less. To meet the needs of both, we opened up Bloggers Unite on its own network so that anyone to develop and promote their own event while allowing non-bloggers an opportunity to do good as well. At the same time, we’re still going to coordinate three BlogCatalog member-driven events every year on BloggersUnite and BlogCatalog.

What does Bloggers Unite have to offer bloggers?

Richard Becker, consultant, BloggersUnite.org: The majority of social media is structured around people having an opportunity to meet people with similar passions and interests. Bloggers Unite works because helps bloggers find other bloggers with a similar interests in specific social causes, and introduces them to new readers at the same time. Since the very first initiative, we’ve also built in recognition opportunities that range from highlighting select posts to being featured by major media. The entire program promotes bloggers as good people with good intentions, which wasn’t a popular view when the initiative first started.

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Why do non-profit organizations such as Amnesty International USA, Charity Navigator and Heifer International find Bloggers Unite useful?

Richard: For nonprofits, Bloggers Unite helps them promote their specific event while gaining exposure from people who already care very deeply about the social awareness issues they support. There are many bloggers who have specific interests in social awareness issues; they’re always looking for new ways to help.

Before the launch of the site, we asked BlogCatalog members and Twitter participants to submit several local events that we could include on the site. Part of the goal was to demonstrate that we could promote social awareness globally while bloggers could take action locally. One great example is Aid for AIDS of Nevada, which is hosting an AIDS Walk on April 19. Since the local event was listed, several bloggers committed to write about the event because they care about HIV/AIDS. Some of their readers reside in Las Vegas, and have since enrolled in the event.

What has been your greatest challenge facing Bloggers Unite thus far?

Antony: The greatest challenge has always been turning nonprofits away because we felt it was important that BlogCatalog members chose the campaigns that they want to support. I wish I could support everyone at the same level we’ve supported Amnesty International and AIDS.gov. Of course, that was our other motivation for opening up Bloggers Unite to everyone. Thanks to Daniel and Oscar Tijerina, we don’t have to say no to anyone.

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What’s your overall vision for Bloggers Unite and where do you see it a few years?

Richard: We see Bloggers Unite as becoming the premiere social network for social awareness, a social media-driven network where anyone help change the world for the better locally and globally.

What about social media venues besides blogs? Do you have any plans to branch out and have Bloggers Unite exist across multiple social media sites?

Richard: In many ways, it always has. You do not have to be a blogger to join Bloggers Unite. This was one of the advantages of evolving the initiative into becoming its own network. We recognized it as an important next step while working on the Bloggers Unite For Human Rights campaign. Working with Amnesty International, Oscar Tijerina developed a Facebook page that did remarkably well in attracting interest. Personally, I’ve always promoted Bloggers Unite, including specific bloggers who participate on Twitter.

What are some things bloggers can do using Bloggers Unite?

Richard: Bloggers can visit the site, search for topics that interest them, join the group, and submit a link to their post as soon as it’s complete. Depending on who is spearheading the event, Bloggers Unite also provides bloggers with resources, links, videos, and event/cause information that makes writing about and supporting the event easy.

What have been one of the greatest triumphs of Bloggers Unite so far?

Richard: While some people who have heard me talk about Bloggers Unite as a social media campaign might immediately think of the CNN coverage, the greatest triumphs happen on a much smaller scale, one person at a time. I’ve read comments on thousands of participating blogs where readers have personally shared how the post or campaign has personally touched their lives. I remember one comment specifically during Bloggers Unite Against Abuse where the courage of one blogger to share their story of abuse promoted one of their readers to seek help.

So, to answer your question, there are millions of triumphs that occur every day because of the campaign. You only have to look for them.

What advice do you have for bloggers looking to gather others around a social cause?

Richard: Contrary to what some social media experts think — that social media somehow spontaneously occurs — social media and online awareness campaigns do not happen by accident. It is very much like a rush of water.

Without a channel, it will make a puddle that doesn’t go anywhere. With too narrow of a channel, most of it spills over sides and goes nowhere. With just enough direction to capture the energy of the water and enough freedom that allows people to shine, social media is an amazing communication tool.

That said, bloggers who want to develop their own campaign or help a nonprofit will see the best results if they provide enough resources, but allow bloggers to write what they want about that subject. It’s the single most important lesson I’ve learned since working on these campaigns over the last two years.

Thanks to Richard Becker and Antony Berkman from Bloggers Unite for this enlightening interview. I love that last answer from Rich and agree completely that giving up control of the message is one of the most important things a non-profit can do when seeding viral or social media campaigns.

What do you think about the potential that blogs have versus traditional media to bring about lasting social change? Do you have any questions for Richard or Antony? Please share your ideas and questions below.

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  1. By Rich Becker posted on April 7, 2009 at 3:24 am
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    Thanks for the great article Easton. It was a pleasure to participate.

    I look forward to working with you on Bloggers Unite For Hunger And Hope on April 29. Heifer International has been great to work with already.

    All my best,
    Rich

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