Social Media: Connecting Social Impact Organisations and Youth for Civic Engagement

Social Media: Connecting Social Impact Organisations and Youth for Civic Engagement

By Maryam Nazir Chaudhary


Civic Engagement

Civic engagement can be described as “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference“. It includes all forms of political activism, environmentalism, community volunteer work and national service.

Unfortunately, in recent times, a decline in civic engagement amongst certain subgroups has been noted. In countries such as the UK, US, Germany and Norway, young people tend to be less civically engaged than the older population, as well as the youth of the 1970s and 1980s. It has been previously claimed that it may be difficult for young people to get involved due to a general lack of information or opportunities that relate to them. However, in today’s modern, globalised world, these reasons are no longer relevant, and a more probable theory may be a disconnect between social entities and today’s youth.


Youth Culture and Social Media

Social media has become a prominent and integral part of our daily lives, particularly for young people. As of October 2021, 4.55 billion people use social media. In the United States, 84% of individuals aged 18-29 stated that they use at least one social media website with YouTube, Facebook and Instagram being the most popular, as reported in 2021. On a more local level, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube are amongst the most popular social media platforms in Malaysia, with 80% of users spending an average of 4 hours on these apps daily. Moreover, Malaysia ranked third in Asia in the use of social networking applications, in 2008. 

Social media has not only shaped but completely changed the way in which today’s youth process and communicate information. Firstly, individuals are no longer limited by geographical barriers and can easily reach like-minded individuals from across the globe. Secondly, young people now have wider, more expansive social interactions with their peers; social media and other such platforms provide a forum for learning as well as understanding and respecting different perspectives. Most importantly, the current generation is not content with simply being consumers, rather they are and aspire to be creators and contributors of multimedia content and are thus far more project-oriented.

In the age of the internet, how we approach youth civic engagement needs to change. With the advent of social media, young people no longer require the formal structures of traditional organisations to gather people and organise campaigns. Organisations need to rethink how they approach civic engagement, revamp old models of engagement and incorporate new communication tools to better cater to the traits of today’s youth. Only then can they increase levels of engagement and remain relevant.


Social Impact Organisations

As mentioned previously, young people in particular are more than familiar with social media, making it a great platform for civic engagement. To further emphasise, the world now is as such that physical events such as fundraising in a community space, cannot occur without the involvement of virtual reality to inform the public, gather support and recruit volunteers.

Many social impact organisations do currently utilise social media platforms. A 2015 journal article determined that most Slovakian NGOs used Facebook to increase their civic engagement. This not only brought them greater interactivity, increased networking, greater outreach, but also provided a platform to receive feedback. Similarly, in 2020, it was found that most Malaysian NGOs communicated with their audiences through Facebook, whilst other platforms such as Youtube were used on an ad-hoc basis only . 

However, common usage of social media does not necessarily equate to efficient usage. A strong and predominant focus on a single social media platform such as Facebook is dangerous, as trends are constantly shifting; the youngest members of the public now prefer Instagram and Twitter over Facebook. Thus, it is vital that organisations are versatile and capable of adapting to current trends.

It is also vital that we realise the importance of interactivity. As stated above, young people prefer to be co-producers of content, to contribute directly and learn through interactive discussions. Unfortunately, many NGOs use social media ineffectively, as a tool for one-way communication, preventing supporters from becoming directly involved. A study involving 73 non-profit organisations (NPOs) discovered that less than 20% of tweets by the respective NPOs resulted in conversations with other users. In Malaysia, many NGOs lose valuable opportunities to engage with their supporters, as they do not encourage users to like or share their posts. It is simply not enough to provide information or give updates; organisations should create online content which encourages users to take action and facilitates the creation of an online community.

It is crucial for organisations to acknowledge the individual traits of the current generation, as compared to those before them. To effectively use social media to increase civic engagement, inter-generational and interactive collaboration must take place, complemented by clear goals and action-oriented engagement. Social media should not merely be used to inform, but rather to inspire others to take action.


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