Social Media for Social Impact


Social media has been getting a lot of bad press lately for its role in cyberbullying – and rightfully so. However, the rise in abuse of social media platforms should not take away from the fact that 47% of Americans learn about philanthropic causes from social media and online channels. Our work with the New York Life Foundation on the prevalent and devastating issue of childhood grief offers one recent example of social media’s power to effect positive change.

First, a little context: In 2012 the New York Life Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conducted a survey which told us that while 7 in 10 teachers (69%) currently have at least one grieving student in their classroom(s), only 7% have had any amount of bereavement training. At the same time, 92% of educators – including teachers, aides, counselors and staff – say childhood grief is a serious problem that deserves more attention from schools.

The gap between educators’ desire to help grieving students and actually knowing how to do so was too big to be ignored. In response, the New York Life Foundation convened the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a groundbreaking collaboration of leading professional organizations in the K-12 education space. With the help of Scholastic and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, the Coalition formed a first-of-its-kind on-line resource to empower school communities across America in the ongoing support of their grieving students.

Since 74% of all online adults use social networking sites, we knew we had to incorporate social media into our campaign to reach our target audience of educators, parents, school mental health professionals, and other school community members. Developing a detailed social media strategy has proven to be the top contributor to social media success, so that is exactly what we did.

Our campaign included live tweeting at the event, two hashtags (#StudentGrief and #GriefCoalition), unified messaging post-launch on Coalition member sites, as well as resharing any mention of the issue, Coalition or the website. As a result of these actions, we garnered 3,119 additional page views of, accounted for 1,831 visits, and brought 1,761 unique visitors to the site through social media vehicles in only 34 days.

1,761 unique visitors might not sound like a lot compared to the millions of Americans who use social media, but the number becomes a lot more meaningful when you consider the grieving students who will benefit from newly trained educators. Let’s say only 25% of the visitors were educators with direct access to students – the average teacher interacts with 8-9 grieving students per year, so that’s 3,740 additional grieving students getting the support they need in this past month alone, as a direct result of social media outreach.

While recently we have heard about social media as a means to offend and isolate, this campaign served an opposite purpose, as it was used to promote the emotional expression of people impacted by the issue. The floodgates opened and stories of frustration, disappointment, continued grief, and cries for change spread across Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogs. Individuals who had experienced grief were able to connect with one another and offer their own coping mechanisms, as well remind each other they are not alone in their struggle with loss. Using social media as a vehicle for discussion allowed for discourse to flow freely about a subject usually viewed as too personal or too awkward to be shared.

It is our hope that the Coalition to Support Grieving Students and their resources will continue to spread across social media, and in turn, continue to bring comfort to America’s youth.

For More Information: Coalition to Support Grieving Students

-Lucie Dufour, Associate, Tiller

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