Social media for a cause: How "Invisible Children" can serve as a model for the heritage field

On April 25th, thousands of people abducted themselves in solidarity in partnership with a San Diego based non-profit organization called Invisible Children. The event was organized through social media to make a statement and it prompts blogger Dylan Staley to ask the question: Has the time come for similar measures for the cause of heritage?

Invisible Children


By Dylan Staley

On April 25th, thousands of people abducted themselves in solidarity in partnership with a San Diego based non-profit organization called Invisible Children. Invisible Children organized this event, called “The Rescue,” to simulate the experiences of children abducted in Northern Uganda by Joseph Kony, leader of The Lord’s Resistance Army. The event’s purpose was to get the attention of media and moguls, Invisible Children’s term for those influential figures in modern culture (artists, talk show hosts, Senators and Representatives, celebrities, etc), to “rescue” the people who abducted themselves by speaking out in support of Invisible Children and their cause.

As organizations like Invisible Children begin to embrace social media as a way to inform people and coordinate events, those in the preservation fields can do so as well. In my earlier blog posts, I wrote about how preservation organizations can use services such as Twitter and USTREAM for live, up to the minute updates of what’s happening right now. Even now, organizations using the power of the masses through services such as Twitter and popular social-networking site Facebook to both organize and inform people about events and causes.

One of the more interesting aspects of The Rescue, however, was its utilization of the internet and social media. Using social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Mogulus, Invisible Children was able to coordinate efforts in over 100 cities in ten different countries around the globe. Here’s what happened:

  1. About a month before the event, Invisible Children asked those who were going to be participating in the event to use their social networking sites to get the word out about the event. Also, they encouraged users to use sites such as Twitter and YouTube to get the attention of various celebrities such as Oprah, The Jonas Brothers, Ashlee Simpson, Nicolas Cage, Paramore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Angelina Jolie, and hundreds of others. Invisible Children also asked people to use phone calls, emails, and letters to get the attention of their Senators and Representatives.
  2. On April 25th, as thousands of people left their homes to abduct themselves, people used Twitter to keep their friends updated and also to contact other abductees in other cities. I used my Twitter feed in combination with hashtags to share my updates as I was abducted and rescued in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
  3. In addition to Twitter, Invisible Children used the power of live broadcasting to bring together people who were unable to attend the event and those who had already been rescued to help get the remaining cities rescued. There was even an instance in which the host of the live show asked the viewers to order pizza for one of the groups in Wichita, Kansas.

So, as we in the heritage field dip our toes into the social media wading pool, what will it take for us to jump in with the big kids and make a real difference?

  1. Communicate the resource. It’s easy to get so bogged down in semantic differences that the resource is forgotten amid the press reports about red-eyed obstructionist preservationists blocking more progress. Communicate why it’s important to you and make a go at understanding why heritage resources are important to others as well. But this has to be done ongoingly BEFORE THE CRISIS to be effective.
  2. Get coordinated. The social web is about collaboration. And most heritage resources require the coordinated efforts of multiple specialists to preserve them. Use these tools to communicate with folks out of your field and learn a little more about their views of these situations. A broader mind never hurt anyone.
  3. Have a plan. The success of the Invisible Children campaign was the result of individuals, groups and various online tools working together for a purpose. Think about who you wish to target with your communication and take the time to understand which online tools resonate with them.

“Anyone born after the year 1980 are Millennials, they grew up on the internet, they know the power and access to technology,” said Jason Russell, one of the three young guys who founded Invisible Children after taking a trip to Africa and witnessing the horrors of the war there that has been going on for over twenty-three years in Northern Uganda. As time goes on and our generation becomes increasingly interconnected through the internet and technology, using these tools can help ensure a bright future for generations to come through the preservation of generations past.

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