Social media enabled Justin Bieber -- a pretty kid with a nice voice -- to become an international star. Every day, it enables all kinds of people to make a name for themselves and gain attention. More than that, it enables brands to measure and activate the kind of marketing and advertising that resonates most effectively with their target audience.
Now, however, it has the potential to do something far greater: to help improve the lives of people all over the world.
If you're at all into social media, you know the subtle feelings that these platforms can draw out of us when the conditions are right. Whether you post a picture, share a link, or post something of your own creation, you've likely felt the tingle of excitement as you noticed you had 4 (or 50!) new Notifications alerting you of friendly support, just begging to be clicked.
We can thank dopamine -- a simple yet powerful chemical -- for these feelings. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved with reward-driven learning and action. It's responsible for feelings of pleasure, motivation and cognition. Both the anticipation of something favorable, and the direct stimulus itself, increase dopamine levels.
The question is whether we can use social media to harness dopamine more effectively and use it as a mechanism for social good.
A few weeks ago I conducted an experiment on Facebook. My post was simple:
For every "LIKE" this post gets in the next 24 hours, I'll give a dollar to Ellen's Heart and Soul (a friend's charity that promotes healthy living for women with breast cancer).
Within hours I had racked up over 150 "Likes" (along with a friend who offered to match my donation) -- the most "support" that I've ever gotten for anything on social media -- and I post entertaining pictures of puppies fairly often.
The take away: my friends want to do something good, and are willing to "Like" my status to enable me to do so for them.
But what if a big company tried this? Skittles, for example, which has over 24,000,000 fans, gets anywhere between 2,000 and 20,000 "Likes" on any given post, everyday. Such as this one:
Now imagine if, for just one week, Skittles did something similar. Whether they chose to give money to a charity, meals to hungry kids, or school supplies to a non profit, this one page could have tremendous impact in the real world. And for a company this size, this donation would be pocket change -- marketing dollars likely already being spent on Facebook ads. Now add a few more big companies into this social experiment. Soon, the amount of money and social impact available is in the millions, if not billions (See Justin Bieber's Twitter). Corporations can show their customers what they stand for and the causes they support. It might even lead to new customer acquisition and higher revenues.
There are websites that make donations for actions performed. FreeRice.com, for example, gives 10 grains of rice for every answer you get right to simple questions. Tab for a Cause is a charity that donates money to your favorite causes just by surfing the web. Brands have used this concept before, but the goal has been to rack up page "Likes," not to have a significant impact on a particular cause or organization. This concept of 'clicking to give' is clearly powerful, and has the potential to be a huge engine for giving if the right organizations gave it a try. And this model can only help charities, because fundraising alone isn't enough. Customers can choose the companies they purchase from based on the causes that resonate most.
Play with Facebook a bit. Ask questions to your community, post quotes and pictures -- write something controversial. For you sociology students, this is an incredible platform to try social experiments. If we can begin to harness the immense, online physiological power of dopamine, the possibilities for doing good-- and making Facebook users start to feel good about their clicks on multiple levels-- is enormous. Your "clicking" support of friends statuses, brand pages, articles, pictures and videos could create a whole new online community (and perhaps economy) of neurochemical-do-gooders.
This is for the daring, creative and socially-minded. What is next for these social platforms? What if Facebook made a donation for every "Like" platform wide for just one day (2.7B "Likes" per day)? We need to collectively recognize the need and opportunity to give back to those who don't have the luxury of Liking a status, Sharing an article or Commenting on a post. The conversation needs to start right here. Let's turn on the dopamine machines, and put our heads together to figure out how best to use this incredible tool for good.