In a recent blog post on NetSquared, Joe Solomon imagines the course of non-profits, social media and activism in the year ahead. His vision is really a call for people to make a shift from online organizing to offline in-person activism. In effect, Mr.Solomon is echoing the sentiments of Malcolm Gladwell, whose recent article in the New Yorker, Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, pointed out the need and precedents for real social change happening in offline movements. In other words, the big social movements of history happen in real life, not on social networking sites.

I think there is a great deal of truth behind this statement, but it also belies a bit of old-fashioned fussiness over the sudden popularity of social media. Mr. Gladwell makes the case that online social networks involve low-strength connections – some to people you’ve never met- while actual revolutions involve smaller numbers of very strong connections – to best friends, family or tribe. Both writers take issue with the hype over social media as a force for change. Gladwell shows a study that proves that there was no “Twitter revolution” after the elections in Iran and Solomon criticizes a bevy of start-up “social networks for good” that fizzled.

There are two things wrong with this discussion, despite its necessity. One, hype is and always will be hype. A lot of social network startups are for-profit enterprises. They need a certain amount of boosterism to create the interest in, and the clients for, their products. We shouldn’t believe everything they tell us about how they are life-changing,course-of-history determining phenomena. Nor should we paint them with broad strokes as only weak connections of little worth. Two, some of those social networks, notably Change.org, have adapted to the needs and expectations of the activist social network sector. Change.org, and any other organization that is smart enough to know how to actually effect change, knows that there is a time and a place for online and offline activism and that one can sometimes bolster the other. They are changing their models to be able to provide non-profits with the right set of connections to drive their activist agendas. Mr. Solomon may want to revisit what some of those organizations are currently up to because they’ve either evolved into something that embraces real world change supplemented by online tools or they’ve fallen by the wayside.

I’m not entirely convinced that social media needs to try to move into the world of in-person interactions (Change.org merging with Meetup). Rather, existing social networks should continue doing what they are doing – serving as tools that connect the right people to the right causes. Social media does an amazing job as a communication platform, not so much as a revolutionary leader. The revolution will be tweeted – but only after it happens, by the activists who want to broadcast their offline success to their online supporters.

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