These are notes to the presentation prepared for the No to Knives and Crime Coalition symposium in London, UK, 7 July 2009 - it includes case studies and some guidelines for creating strategies that leverage social media to empower youth to participate in shaping their lives and communities.
Hello. My name is Amy Sample Ward and I’m the
Global Community Builder for NetSquared, a
nonproﬁt organization focused on the intersection of
technology and social change, speciﬁcally
innovation in technology that beneﬁt social impact
work. I’ve also been a blogger, facilitator, and
consultant for the past few years.
Today I’m going to cover a few case studies and discuss two very important
elements to any campaign or project using social media to engage and
The ﬁrst case study looks at SexInfoSF, empowering youth to take control of
their lives by anonymously receiving answers and information about their
sexual health questions.
SexInfo is an sms-based system targeted at youth in San Francisco aged 12-17
In 2005, rates of gonorrhea among African-American youth, ages 18 to 25, had
gone up over 100 percent, with African-American women being infected by the
disease at 12 times the rate of American women of Caucasian descent. With 85
percent of the city’s youth owning a mobile phone, a text-based approach
simply made sense.
Deborah Levine, executive director of internet Sexuality Information Services
(ISIS-Inc.), a nonproﬁt she founded that develops “high-tech solutions for
sexual health education, was approached by the San Francisco Department of
Public Health (SFDPH) to develop a website to address rising rates of sexually
transmitted diseases among at-risk youth. As the project developed, additional
partners became involved including community organizations, schools and
universities, churches, and more.
HipCricket, Inc., a mobile marketing ﬁrm in Australia, was hired to develop the
mobile service, then they had to acquire the short code. Once that was all in
place, it was a matter of letting youth know about the service and use it.
During the ﬁrst 25 weeks of the project (April-October 2006), 4,500
individuals accessed the service, with 2,500 taking the steps to retrieve content
and referrals. The top three messages accessed were: “What 2 do if ur condom
broke,: “2 ﬁnd out about STDs” and “if u think ur pregnant.”
Youthnet.org in the UK operates Brook, an online sexual health resource for
teens that added a text messaging sex information service. Similar to SexInfo,
users can text a keyword to a short code to receive a menu of options. Very
usefully, users can also text in a keyword and their postal code to 81222 to
receive detailed information about health services in their geographic area
The next examples if of YouthForce, empowering youth to include their voices
in the global conversation about HIV/AIDS.
YouthForce is a coalition of youth‐led and/or youth‐serving HIV/AIDS organizations who are working to
empower young delegates and promote youth participation around HIV/AIDS before, during and after the International
AIDS Conference – which takes place every two years in different locations around the world.
The impetus for YouthForce came about at the International Conference in
2000 where only 50 youth participated. In 2002, YouthForce ran a visibility
campaign that asked “where are the youth?” that made such an impact on the
international event that former US President Bill Clinton included it in his
remarks at the closing ceremonies, point to it as an example of the type of
advocacy effort that can bring real change to the way global decision-making
about HIV/AIDS priorities are made.
Advocates for Youth and Family Health International joined forces with over
40 other organizations to form the ﬁrst YouthForce, focused on increasing
youth participation for AIDS 2002 in Barcelona; and it continues to grow as
new partners come on board for each conference.
After the visibility campaign, following conferences saw the development of
youth programing and a youth pre-conference event. All the work is tied
together though the online YouthForce site and calls to action powered by
TakingItGlobal. Through the partnership with TakingItGlobal, YouthForce is
now a partnerships of hundreds of organizations with thousands of youth
participating online and off, moving from visibility of youth to the inclusion of
youth voices and others in the policy discourse around HIV/AIDS work
Last year, the Chain Reaction event brought together social leaders,
community activists, policy makers, business leaders, and young people from
around the globe to share learning and to generate new ideas for social change,
locally, nationally and globally.
Attendees included over 1,000 people from 16 countries, at least 200 of which
were aged under 21; Chain Reaction used an online community portal (called
Crowdvine) to create a space for delegates to connect before, during and after
The last example for today is YouthNet’s TheSite.org – empowering youth to
take control of their lives and decisions by providing easy, private access to
information and answers to their questions.
TheSite.org provides online support and guidance to young people aged 16-24
in the UK.
YouthNet believes that young people have the capacity to make their own
decisions and life choices, provided they have access to high quality, impartial
information and advice, so TheSite includes everything from health to travel,
drugs to school.
YouthNet also runs do-it.org.uk which connects users to volunteering
TheSite.org launched just over ten years ago, with the community features
included in 2000 and askthesite (the expert Q & A) launched in 2003.
YouthNet has seen major support from government, foundations, and the
voluntary sector, all helping to fund and grow the services provided on TheSite
By 2006, YouthNet’s do-it.org.uk offered over 800,000 volunteering
opportunities, and had over 150,000 registered volunteers. Here are just three
examples of the many similar projects focused on connecting young people
with something positive to do – do something.org, taking it global, youth noise,
Now to highlight some of the lessons you should keep in mind as your turn to
small groups this afternoon to think strategically about opportunities to use
these technologies and others to empower our local youth.
Who is the audience? There are many different reports available, including
Danah Boyd’s extensive research, that indicates our ofﬂine or “real world”
social dynamics are being replicated online – white ﬂight, ghettos, and so forth
are visible problems and patterns ofﬂine, and are so online as well. Be sure to
know who it is you really want to connect with, as their demographics can do a
great deal to inform the kind of technologies appropriate.
Where does that audience go? If it’s a group that falls in the 17 million in the
UK without internet, maybe a mobile approach is best. If they have access to
the internet, where are they going online? You can ﬁnd statistics that details the
demographics of different social media tools, but you can also ask your
community. Go straight to the source for the information about where they go
online and where they would want to connect or learn more. Asking the
audience invites them to immediately take a stake in the development and
eventual product or outcome which can be key to adoption.
Now that you know where they go online, identify what they want to do? If
the audience is often visiting social networks, is it because they want to
connect with their friends or they want to share content? If they are visiting a
video site like YouTube, is it because they want to watch videos, upload their
own, or start conversations in the often long comment threads? These different
options can greatly impact a campaign or project online – after you identify
where they go, it’s important to know why they go there.
How does your audience talk online? You don’t want to show up or create a
space and then inherently exclude or turn visitors off to your content or
services simply by the way you explain things or talk. Invite members of your
target audience to contribute content and help shape the space so it is an
appropriate match to the end users. Again, inviting participation will increase
the audience’s likelihood of participation.
How does the audience want to be involved? If your users want to get
involved in a local volunteering project the content and calls to action will be
dramatically different than if they want anonymous advice about their sexual
health. Identify the core ways the audience will want to take action and craft
the opportunities and content around these options.
The questions about goals of the project, as we saw in the three case studies,
are just as important as the questions about the audience.
Do the goals of the project match the vision of the work? If you want to
eliminate youth crime, the goal the campaigns or projects center on shouldn’t
be anything less than supporting youth communities to be free of crime.
Do your goals empower the audience? This is similar to inviting participation
from the outset – are your goals ones that empower the youth community to be
involved, make a difference, change their lives?
The tools are not the center of success – the goals, people, and engagement
opportunities are. Do the tools you choose to use help achieve the goals? If
not, don’t use them, even if they are shiny, or cool, or new.
Lastly, are your goals measureable? Identifying from the beginning of the
goals will be measured will help continuously measure the work, evaluate it,
and iterate to further develop the most appropriate messages and options for
the community you are targeting and the social change you’re after.
Thanks so much for your time! There are so many more case studies I could
have included here and will try to do so when I put these slides up on my blog.
Here are the links to the speciﬁc cases mentioned here if you want to look them
up online. Thanks again!