Using social networks to leverage social change is not a new idea, but it has definitely become more and more popular with the increased attention on websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The only problem with the focus on Facebook and Twitter is that a person’s actual social network can look much different from their online social network. In general, a person’s Facebook friends are more varied than those friends and family that have contact with on a regular basis. Because in reality, we all have Facebook friends who we haven’t spoken to in months or even years. In my case, they are people I had one class with while in college, or we were on the same softball team in high school.
The challenge for innovators looking to use social networks to leverage social change is to move beyond the web-based idea of social networks. But, how do we identify a person’s social network without the help of Facebook and Twitter telling us who the person is connected to. One new idea is to look at who a person calls or texts on a regular basis. TechCrunch recently highlighted a new mobile phone based application that does just that. It uses a person’s mobile phone contacts to show what conferences each are attending. While this may not be useful for those looking to create social change, but what if it could connect people based on other social factors, like connecting people who were studying for the GED or people interested in becoming more financially capable.
The mobile phone application may not work in all situations, but it is one way to move past the idea of social networks existing only in cyberspace.