Impact in the Age of Context

Approaching the issue of Social Media Impact Monitoring


We don’t use social media because it is cool. Even though the coolness factor does matter, it is not a generational thing, nor is it something reserved to geeks or wannabees. Social media has made its way into the mainstream, whether we like it or not. And it is not at all about whether you use Facebook or not.


It is the transformative character of a number of new technologies that radically remade and continue to remake how we collaborate, cocreate or coexist – just to mention a couple of the new buzz words. The label social media is therefore rather misleading. These tools are not about making old media more social. In other words social media is not about communicating a message, but creating an experience that is increasingly participatory and interconnected (hence one of the synonyms: user generated content). Of course there is a lot of “communicating” involved, however, mistaking communication for the actual effect of social media is only scratching the surface.


This article presents a couple of concepts with regard to social media use in development cooperation. The main goal is to embed social media – more often than not understood as mere technology – into a wider discourse of social and economic change. What the following paragraphs offer is something like an improvised archaeology of social media, as well as ideas on what matters when you want to increase your impact through social media. The basic unit of this are social media ecosystems, which blossom around initiatives, projects, companies and are glocal – both global and local at the same time.


I will also describe possible parameters that indicate success in social media activities. Here, I adopt a constructivist approach to technology, which operates in complex sociotechnical realities instead of observing technology and people separately. This is particularly important since we talk about nothing else than social media. Unfortunately, literature on the phenomenology of social media (the experience you enjoy or create by using these tools) is scarce, however, as this publication also shows, the anecdotal is particularly strong. We all create and own stories about successful social media projects, as well as advocate for its wider usage in development cooperation. However, we often lack numbers to describe its actual impact. We have no indicators at hand, which are proven and trusted within the framework of development and which could convince sceptics. How does the use of social media relate to economic growth to food security, to youth employment, etc.? In other words: what is the economic impact of having 10,000 fans on Facebook? We lack answers to that kind of questions. Sometimes – when complexity increases – it is worthwhile to take a step or two back and observe. Therefore I suggest to unplug the discussion from tools and numbers and rather have a look at why social media is so successful.