We’re all a-twitter — why online communities matter: Lindsay Blackwell at TEDxWilmingtonUniversity


Translator: Dawn Theresa Suffling
Reviewer: Ariana Bleau Lugo I spend a lot of time online. And I’m here today
to tell you that that’s OK. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,
as Spencer has mentioned, these networks are a huge part
of my day to day life. And contrary
to what a lot of people think, the time that you’re spending
on these social media platforms is not time that’s being wasted. Communities are any social group
that might form around a shared value, a shared interest,
even a shared language or goal. The word community
has its roots in a Latin word that translates literally
to ‘together a gift’, because that’s what a community is. We as individuals all have unique assets
that make us valuable in this world. But when we combine in these communities
we have a much greater value. Communities traditionally formed
around geographic constraints. So before the Internet, neighborhoods would gather
at barbecues or a porch party. You might form a community
at church or at school, with your colleagues
or members of your own family. But since the Internet,
the ability to create these communities and mobilize change
is exponentially greater. There are an estimated
seven billion users on the Internet. Each of whom are waiting for you
to reach out and connect. Online you now have the ability
to connect with like-minded individuals on platforms like Facebook,
Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, to accomplish your goals. Whenever we post
to a social media network, whether we’re consciously
aware of it or not, we are constructing an identity. So, whenever I sign on to Twitter
and I send out a tweet, anyone who comes there
and reads what I’m writing, is going to get a sense of who I am
and what I’m offering the world. When we think about our identities, we really should be thinking
about our own value. What do we bring to the table? What do we want to accomplish? And what skills and abilities do we have
that can help us accomplish those things? Twitter is an excellent place
to look at how identities are created, not only for individuals
but for communities. So each individual community on Twitter,
some examples would be Media Twitter, so you have journalists,
you have news anchors, you have radio personalities, who bond together
and talk about their shared interests. Similar skill sets, you have Wonk Twitter,
policy people, DC types, folks who are interested
in current events in politics. And then you have Darth who is this little red panda
that I’ve put on the slide. Anyone who uses Twitter a lot
may already be familiar with him. He’s an anonymous character,
I’m referring to him as Darth because nobody knows his name. Honestly we don’t even
really know if he is a he. He’s never revealed a gender,
a first name, a location or a career. But he has over 17 thousand
dedicated followers on Twitter. And beyond that a huge reach
in media and online news. The reason I’m bringing up this example is because social media
can be intimidating. It’s intimidating to look at
putting your life online, putting your personality on display. But you don’t necessarily have to share
everything with the whole wide world. That can be not always
a great idea anyway. But Darth is a person
who’s used an anonymous identity to still reap some of the benefits
of community value. When we think about what we have
to offer the world, our own value, we need to think about
how the communities we belong to offer value as a whole. So we have strength in numbers, and our impact in exponentially greater
when we band with like-minded individuals who might complement
our own interests and abilities. An excellent example
of this is ‘crowdfunding’. A lot of you are probably familiar with websites
like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. These are sites that allow
individuals or groups to go online and try to fund raise. To anyone, anywhere in the world
who has internet access can contribute to your campaign. A TV show called ‘Veronica Mars’,
which ended in 2006, it was not a very popular show
at the time. You may have heard
that the movie just came out. I’m going to tell you how
an online community helped that happen. The show had three seasons,
it was on, I believe, UPN. It wasn’t a very popular show,
but it was about a teenage detective, it had a very interesting cast
and a great story. It had a lot of support
from a lot of different communities, especially online. When the show was cancelled
after three seasons the fans were riotous, they wanted more. And five years later, after this three-year show
had already ended, the director took to Kickstarter
with a goal of producing a movie, knowing that there was a lot of
online chatter about this particular show. He set a goal of raising
two million dollars to produce his film,
which is a lot of money. But he actually wound up raising
six million dollars, from nearly a hundred thousand
backers all over the world. Making it the number five
most successful crowdfunding campaign in the history of crowdfunding. And that movie is in theatres now. When we think about the value
that communities can bring, then we can start looking at innovation. Once we have identified
the assets of our communities, then we can start thinking
about what needs to change. So identifying the things in our world that we would like to change or
the things that we would like to create, and innovation is what drives industry. So when you look at the tech industry you see dueling communities
all of the time. So you’re a Mac or you’re a PC, right? You don’t belong to both
of those communities, usually. If you look at groups
like Twitter and Facebook, they have community supporters
that duel against each other too, to help those companies
continue to innovate and grow. So in January of the last year
Twitter launched Vine, which is a mobile application that allows you to share
a six second video. There was really nothing like it
on the market at the time, when they launched. Six months later they had
13 million active users. Which was incredible
for a start up mobile application. In that same month, Instagram
a competing network obviously, launched their video feature. And the day that Instagram video
launched to compete with Vine, shares of Vine links on Twitter
dropped by 40 percent. And since then the communities
supporting both of those distinct groups have continued to produce innovations
in both of those applications. So by looking at what the users
are demanding of each platform, what Vine users dislike about
Instagram video, and vice versa, they help those tech companies
continue to innovate, to add new features, and to keep improving their platforms. And with innovation comes influence. So once we’ve identified the things
about our world that we want to change, we need to think about
actually creating that change. Many of you might be familiar with Reddit, which is an online discussion board where you can go on
on the main message board of Reddit and find ‘subreddits’ relevant to
any interest you could possibly have; whether it’s politics, or feminism, or Star Wars or anything
that you care about, there’s groups of people on Reddit
who care about that exact thing. In 2010, a Michigan girl,
a seven year-old girl, named Kathleen Edward – she was terminally ill
and she was being cyberbullied by members of her Michigan hometown. An area toymaker had heard
about Kathleen’s story and wanted to raise funds to send
Kathleen on a shopping spree, knowing that she was
not long for this Earth. He took to Reddit, a community
that he already had established ties in, a group of trusted individuals
that shared his same interests. And he shared the story of Kathleen with a link to a PayPal account
asking for donations. Again, he only wanted to raise
a couple of hundred dollars. But in four days he’d raised
over 16 thousand dollars to help Kathleen and her family
cover their medical expenses and also use those funds to donate toys to the entirety of a children’s hospital
in the area. So leveraging our online communities is not just about solidifying
our own value, and finding and making those connections. It’s about creating and enacting
actual change in our worlds. Which brings me to social capital. So social capital
is a concept in sociology which says that our social connections
are just as valuable as actual currency. So your bank account,
obviously that’s capital, you can utilize that to enact change. Your college education,
that’s a cultural capital, that you can use to get a better job,
or to get things done in the world. But your social networking sites
are also valuable. Every single time that
you go on Facebook or Twitter, when you leave here today,
if you’re tweeting about today now; I want you to be more thoughtful about
the people you’re interacting with, and the opportunities that you
may be missing to interact with people who can help you accomplish your goals. The reason I spend so much time online is that I know that the friendships
I’m making there, the relationships I’m establishing, are helping me to improve
and better myself. Every single day that I reach out and
talk to people from anywhere in the world, I know that I’m learning new skills,
and I’m helping to improve myself; And at the end of the day
I’m helping to accomplish my goals. Imagine what you can accomplish
with the entire world in your corner. Thank you. (Applause)

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