Tech Talk: Social Media and Service

Encouraging students to use their platform for good
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Image courtesy of Nadia Snopek/

Social media often gets a bad rap. We hear stories of cyberbullying, sexting and cell phone addiction. But, in my work as a social media coach to tens of thousands of students around the country, I also hear inspiring stories of students using social media to excel and achieve great things: supporting friends, raising awareness about issues that are important to them — even starting movements they believe in within their community and beyond. 

One fantastic example of this is the story of New Jersey teen Marley Dias. When Marley was in sixth grade, her mom asked her a thought-provoking question one night at dinner: “If you could change one thing, what would it be?” 

Marley told her mom about her latest mandatory reading assignment: another book about a white boy and his dog. This time it was “Where the Red Fern Grows,” but she was also referring to additional literary classics like “Shiloh” and “Old Yeller” — all fantastic books, all based on white boys and their dogs. Marley vented her frustration at the lack of diverse characters in the books she was being told to read.

In response to her mom’s question, Marley said she wanted to collect books with African American girls as lead characters, then distribute those books to schools. She set a goal of collecting 1,000 books and harnessed the power of social media to spread her message. She created a hashtag, #1000BlackGirlBooks, which quickly gained steam — and followers. In the three years since that dinner, Marley has collected and distributed more than 12,000 books with diverse characters to schools in the U.S. and abroad. Along the way, she has appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” spoken at the White House and authored a book of her own titled, “Marley Dias Gets It Dne and So Can You.”

This is a powerful and perhaps extreme example, but it shows how anyone, anywhere, can harness the power of social media to do good. I’ve talked with girls who have created body positive Instagram accounts full of uplifting, inspirational quotes. I’ve heard from boys who started an online food drive, and others who have used social media to lift up classmates, encourage friends and address a problem facing their school or community. 

What I love about social media is that it gives kids a voice, no matter how large or small their following may be. While some kids may feel pressured to get hundreds of shares and thousands of followers, I encourage them, instead, to focus less on the numbers and more on creating a positive ripple effect. Their voice matters, whether they’re speaking to five people, or 5,000. 

When it comes to social media, I encourage students to imagine they’re behind a microphone at a national press conference with an audience filling the room. Social media is the microphone, and their friends and followers are their audience. Every like, share or post is a broadcast. So how can they use that microphone to do good? As parents, let’s encourage them by starting with a simple question tonight at dinner: “If you could change one thing, what would it be?”


Laura Tierney, a digital native who got her first phone at age 13, is founder and president of The Social Institute, which offers students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. She also recently became a mom. Learn more at


Categories: Lifestyle, Technology