Social Media: Communicating and Organizing Tools for Community Transformation

Throughout our nation, far too many communities have experienced a history of social exclusion and economic isolation. Limited private capital investments, restricted markets and high risks have led to an inadequate economic base and infrastructure, unstable incomes and low savings. Today, however, to support community transformation, citizens can add new tools to their arsenal: social media. Citizens of distressed communities now can leverage extraordinary communicating and organizing tools to create and connect with larger, more robust social, education and economic opportunities, thus helping to trigger desired community transformation scenarios.

I believe Archimedes, who wrote the earliest known rigorous explanation of the science and art of leverage, would have viewed the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as a good place to stand on; social media as an extraordinarily long lever; and collaboration as a remarkably strong prop, which, taken together, could enable him to “move the Earth.”

The same is true for community transformation. The best place for citizens to stand on is the wonderful freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment; social media can be employed as high-leverage communicating and organizing tools; and smartly collaborative efforts can enable us to “move the Earth,” or, more important, transform communities.

Community Transformation Progression

The community transformation process includes the following three stages:

  • § Dependent Communities: subsidized communities unable to optimally exist and socially and economically sustain themselves without unilateral assistance and direction from others.
  • § Independent Communities: self-sufficient communities that do not rely on others’ unilateral social and economic support to sustain themselves.
  • § Interdependent Communities: communities that reciprocally leverage each other to achieve enhanced mutual benefit, bilateral social support and economic vitality.

Effectively leveraging social media, as communication and organization tools, provides the ideal opportunity to help transform Dependent Communities into Independent Communities, and, ultimately, help them to become mutually Interdependent Communities.

Community Change Thresholds

As described by Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. and Sam Cole of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo, the concept of community change thresholds is based on the idea that communities have both tipping points and transformation points.

Tipping Thresholds

Malcolm Galdwell’s book, The Tipping Point, popularized the phrase; however, as applied to communities, tipping points suggest that when communities on a regressive or downward trajectory pass the tipping threshold, forces of decline can greatly accelerate, propelling them toward that point beyond which a reversal of conditions or revitalization becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Transformation Thresholds

Transformation points are the flip side of tipping points. Certainly, if communities have tipping thresholds, they also must necessarily have transformation thresholds. When communities on a positive or upward trajectory pass transformation thresholds, a set of multipliers and catalytic forces can activate to positively transform their physical, social, economic and political well-being and environment. In more colloquial terms, whatever goes down can surely rise up.

Triggering Community Transformation: Large Scale Communication and Organization

The solution then is to exert maximum leverage, pushing community social, political, education and economic development beyond the transformation threshold, triggering the desired community change. Achieving the necessary magnitude of leverage requires a communication and organization strategy that promotes and enables large-scale public and private sector planning, implementation and financial investments sufficient to trigger catalytic forces capable of radically, positively changing communities.

Large Scale Communication and Organization: Social Media Can Enable Smart CollaborationTM

Social media can be highly effective communication and organization tools to enable Smart CollaborationTM – defined as interconnected groups of citizens, institutions, organizations and businesses located in a certain area that are needed to achieve targeted, high-impact objectives. These efforts are distinguished from “altruistic collaboration,” collaborating without sound reason and clear necessity, or “political collaboration,” where biased or other misguided considerations determine members of the collaborative. Smart CollaborationTM is focused on who and what is needed for community transformation outcomes – nothing more, nothing less.

An important characteristic of Smart CollaborationTM is that it is centered on citizens, organizations and institutions that provide leadership and services primarily inside the community. These entities are driving forces to increase human capacity and capabilities, the most consequential of community assets.

The primary purpose for using social media to facilitate Smart CollaborationTM is to promote innovative, larger scale solutions to community challenges. Enabled by social media, in their myriad forms, Smart CollaborationTM may include government, philanthropic and not-for-profit organizations, educational institutions, businesses and business advocacy organizations, and others whose cooperation is a key to strengthen, and make more effective, such efforts.

The operational theory girding Smart CollaborationTM is that through the high-leverage communication and organization tools of social media, which can connect the market knowledge and expertise of communities’ leading and emerging citizens, organizations and institutions with the talents and resources of government, business, philanthropy, and education, large-scale, smartly collaborative efforts can further empower citizens to face and overcome the serious – and in some cases, gargantuan – obstacles to community transformation.

Social media can enable communities to rejuvenate under a new paradigm. A paradigm that fosters transformation through large-scale communication and organization, leading to Smart CollaborationTM among citizens, government, education institutions and businesses and others whose cooperation is essential to achieve the desired end.