Using Social Media to Engage Volunteers Around Social Issues

Using Social Media to Engage Volunteers Around Social Issues

Guest post by Tom Szaky

Consumers increasingly report a willingness to pay a premium for companies dedicated to sustainable causes, but they haven’t been as willing to pay it forward with more of their time.

Despite an increased awareness of the need for more resources placed toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and social action, the challenge for the consumer (and volunteer managers) has long been a question of what they can do for sustainability, rather than showing what sustainability can do for them.

To engage volunteers in a successful way, volunteer managers and organizers must effectively communicate an alignment with the volunteer’s personal values.

When it comes to communicating an alignment with personal values, it doesn’t get more personal than on social media. Today, two-thirds of millennials — the most technologically inclined generation in history — use social media to engage around CSR issues. For advocacy groups and nonprofits, social media is an invaluable tool for reaching conscious consumers (including the more than nine-in-10 millennials reporting a willingness to switch brands to one associated with a cause) with targeted, effective calls-to-action.

For example, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a group on a mission to build the capacity of organizations working to alleviate poverty. Using social media, VISTA members have the opportunity to communicate the parameters of their respective programs, as well as provide real-life examples of their community impact to inform and recruit potential volunteers. This is done particularly well on the AmeriCorps VISTA Tumblr, which features engaging, visual photo and text posts that are short, to the point and have high visibility; the microblogging platform had 332.8 million blog accounts as of January 2017, 69 percent of whom are Millennials.

At my company, TerraCycle, we too have continually seen the value social media can bring to our partners’, and our own, sustainability and activism efforts. Schneiders® Lunchmate®, a TerraCycle Canada program partner, is using social media to increase recycling collections and signups for its free, national recycling program by pushing out its new sign up promotion and a first shipment promotion online. Strategic cross-promotion via both the TerraCycle and Schnieders social media platforms communicates how easy it is to sign up and recycle through the program, and that participants have an opportunity to earn money for charity, incentivizing participation and adding value.

Standard marketing says that practical, emotional, and social benefits are types of values consumers look for when buying a product. Similar principles apply to “selling” a cause. Where matters of time, money, and energy can be deterrents to getting involved through volunteerism, consumers must see activism as important, accessible, and relevant to their lives.

Social media puts social responsibility and its benefits in the palm of our hand (often literally), and is a powerful tool in its ability to tell a story and allow consumers to see themselves as being a part of it. When leveraged strategically by identifying top priorities in your organization and communicating directly with stewards for social good, the value of volunteers will be made clear to the people you are trying to reach: the volunteers themselves.


Author Bio: Tom Szaky is the founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a global leader in the collection and repurposing of otherwise non-recyclable pre and post-consumer waste. TerraCycle operates in 21 countries, working with the world’s largest brands and companies to create national platforms to recycle products and packaging that currently go to landfill or incineration.