Facebook should wield its powers for social good

Facebook is the world's largest, most far-reaching social network. So why isn't it doing more to bring awareness to nonprofits in need?
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

Earlier this week Facebook announced a major overhaul to its profile pages. The update was significant in the way that it allows people to share information and also in the way that profiles are now viewed. The profiles also now include the options to better highlight employers and co-workers, entertainment choices, favorite sports teams, as well as "people who inspire", and people can now create friend lists. Yet there seems to be one major item missing from the new, all-encompassing profiles: a place for Causes or supported charities.

Facebook is the world's largest, most far-reaching social network. It has a brand cache that many companies envy and it has the ability to spread messages faster than a speeding train. And for all of its efforts around Causes -- its application for facilitating giving between its users and nonprofits -- the giant still appears to put social giving on the back burner. While the new profile does highlight the above mentioned social items, it does not give users a section to truly highlight those nonprofits they support. If anything, they are buried.

I reached out to Facebook to inquire as to whether or not it has plans to do more for social good, asking specifically about the lack of Causes in the new profiles. I received the following from a Facebook spokesperson:

"Charities and causes are not currently a category of the new profile, however we encourage people to like or list the things they’re interested in to give a complete picture of who they are. For example, a person could add a philanthropist to the 'People who inspire you' section, like the Pages for the causes they support, and list their favorite charities in their 'activities and interests' section, all of which will be added to his or her profile."

The problem with this is that the charity is still buried. In my case, the charities that I support are mixed in with arbitrary items such as my favorite frozen yogurt shop, actors I admire, publications I read, and other random information. I'm a conservative "liker" and I still have 94 "other" likes to dig into. I have friends who have hundreds and hundreds of likes. How does lumping charities in here help with their promotion?

I understand that this is not an easy task for Facebook. There are countless Facebook pages, many of which are started as fundraisers on a whim. Although while tackling the individual nonprofits and their Facebook pages would require some additional hoops, there's no obvious reason as to why Facebook can't allow people to highlight in their profiles the official Causes that they support, as these are already confirmed by Facebook.

However, not everyone is a believer in Facebook's Causes, in general. Meg Fowler, co-founder of SM4SC, and a semi-new addition to the team at Sametz Blackstone Associates in Boston, a brand-focused communications consultancy that works with 80% non-profit clients, said that she advises clients to make their own pages and stay out of Causes altogether.

"I think Facebook does a very poor job of dealing with causes via Causes," she said. "I've never thought the way they integrated them was terribly useful or simple, especially for people who aren't tech-savvy but still want to share what they care about, and stay aware of other opportunities to do good things."

Fowler also agrees that Facebook should do a better job of using its reach and built-in networking functions to raise awareness for charities.

"The best way Mark Zuckerberg could support charities is making them a front-and-center, easy-to-use facet of a Facebook profile, not by making a token, largely unsupported effort. Facebook should wield its powers for social good," she said.

Case in point: the causes application currently only has upwards of 17 million active users. This is a small percentage of Facebook's hundreds of millions of users. With Causes being buried in an application with marginal use and charity Facebook pages being lumped in with random likes, outside of the occasional news feed link, there is currently little way for nonprofits to truly spread their word on Facebook.

I spend a good portion of my time thinking about ways to help nonprofits. Along with Michael Brito and Gabriel Carrejo, my partners in Silicon Valley Tweetup, I think about ways to support family-oriented charities all year round. Despite my criticisms of Facebook I am an avid user; it's become my safe space for keeping up with family and friends. I just wish it would do more to bring to the forefront those nonprofits that truly need our support rather than focusing the majority of its efforts on ways to integrate corporations and driving its own business.

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