This article was published on May 30, 2012

Technology + Purpose = Social Change

Technology + Purpose = Social Change
Drew Olanoff
Story by

Drew Olanoff

Drew Olanoff was The Next Web's West Coast Editor. He coined the phrase "Social Good" and invented the "donation by action" model for onlin Drew Olanoff was The Next Web's West Coast Editor. He coined the phrase "Social Good" and invented the "donation by action" model for online charitable movements. He founded #BlameDrewsCancer. You can follow him on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, or email [email protected]

This post is sponsored by Chase — a strong supporter of Good360, a program that embraces the sustainability of the recycling of technology. Learn more here.

Without a doubt, technology can be used to cause real social change in the world. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been used to push movements, connect people, and make a real impact in the way people see the world around them.

Facebook is a perfect example of this idea, since its co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that he’s not interested in just having a job or making money, he truly wants to change the world. Whether you believe this or not, it most certainly sets the tone for all of Facebook’s employees and users.

When you log into Facebook and bring up your News Feed, you could see something that changes your views on the world as well as give you an opportunity to dive right in and make change too.

Not all companies have this altruistic view on technology, though. I believe that they should, and here’s why.

Technology alone doesn’t facilitate social change

I’ve seen numerous technology companies, that I won’t point out by name, who try to incorporate a “social strategy” that includes “charitable causes and movements.” Most of the time this is merely a press and marketing ploy. I see them all of the time.

When you see a site or app that clearly has no true purpose, it can never create true social change. If a company has a purpose at its core, much like wanting to connect everyone or turn everyone into a seller with a white square dongle, the technology that it creates can be used for a million and one things that the company never imagined could be done in the first place.

When you’re creating a product that clearly has no purpose, much like the fifty me-too photo-sharing apps that popped up after Instagram sold, nothing wonderful can happen.

Purpose alone doesn’t facilitate social change

Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean that you can make a massive impact just by setting up a Twitter account. You have to do your research, know who else is passionate about the same things you are, and make your cause something that anyone can understand.

I’ve witnessed some people complaining about laws or regulations that are happening in their town on Twitter, hoping upon hope that “someone” will “hear” them. Unfortunately, just because you’re passionate doesn’t mean that everyone else is. You have to use other tools at your disposal to gather like-minded people together. Sometimes this is pretty hard work, but it’s worth it of course.

By creating a website, along with setting up portals on Facebook and Twitter to spread your message, you can set yourself up for success. Building something with the hopes that people come isn’t enough, because you have to turn your passion into persuasion. Yes, just because something seems outrageous and obvious to you doesn’t mean that the next person will feel the same way.

Companies can help

By setting up your company to allow people to leverage it to find like-minded people around topics that they care about, you can indirectly drive true social change.

For example, Twitter has introduced its new “stories” functionality, which groups together tweets and news that interest you based on what you tweet. For me, that’s technology. For others, that might be cancer research and trends.

While Twitter doesn’t cater to one specific cause, or any at all really, its technology allows people to connect and make a difference. The Twitter platform is a perfect blend of technology and passion.

When you hear its founder Jack Dorsey talk about the product’s evolution, you can tell that it was built with passion in mind and in execution. It shows.

My suggestion to anyone writing a lick of code for a product that they’d like people to use is: Think about what amazing things could be done with what you’re building. If you’re building software to help you manage money, see it as a way to help people spend wisely to assist the economy. Don’t just build something to build something, build something that makes a difference in the world.

If you take a look around you, the companies that are the biggest and most successful are the ones that have changed the way we see the world and access information. Can you picture trying to start a non-profit organization without Google search, Facebook Pages, and a WordPress blog? I can’t.

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