Social Media, in fact, is a basic human need, revealed digitally online.
We want to be connected, to make a difference, to matter, to be missed. We want to belong, and yes, we want to be led.
~ Seth Godin
Social media is being keenly discussed by all at the moment. Blogs (like this one), Facebook, twitter, linkedIn, Flickr, Ning, Myspace, Bebo… Social media is changing the way we manage disasters, the way we share and receive information and the way we socialize. People are divided about it. For every story on the remarkable use of social media, another story exists to negate the positives.
I am a current social work student completing my placement with Peak Care. My project for placement is to uncover what social media is all about, and whether it can be used by human service organisations to build community and support children and families. I hope to write a weekly post about social media. I am interested in canvassing people’s thoughts and feelings about social media. This week I thought I would begin by asking, “Is the human service sector resistant to innovation?”
Facebook lists over 500 million users. The company says that each user averages 130 friends and, on average, is linked into 80 community pages, groups and/ or events . That’s one hell of a network. World leaders such as Barak Obama and the Dalia Lama and organisations such as the United Nations have twitter accounts.
Recently we have seen how social media can be used to support people who are impacted by natural disasters. In Brisbane during the recent flooding the Qld Police Service provided up to date information using Facebook and twitter. This information could be accessed online much quicker than through print, television or radio. Another benefit was that people could quickly access information that was relevant to them rather than waiting for the information to be shown, talked or written about using traditional media. The system was not without its flaws. Criticism of using social media during the recent flooding was that some of the information circulating was not accurate or was out of date. However this criticism was isolated and the general feeling seemed to be that social media worked well.
Advertising has been trying to tap into social media for some time. Brands like Coca Cola and Red Bull and companies such as McDonalds all use innovative media such as Facebook to sell products.
What about the human service sector? More and more Facebook pages are being established by human service organisations. Yet it seems like the sector is a little behind. There are a lot of factors that could influence this. Coca Cola, Red Bull and McDonald’s are big companies that rely on selling products to survive. Coca Cola and Red Bull are pitched towards younger people who use social media more often. And the companies may have more money to invest in social media.
One argument that the human service sector is taking to the technology slower than other sectors is because of the possible harm of using social media and working with clients. There are concerns about privacy and confidentiality. There are ethical dilemmas and there is the possibility of someone posts something negative about a service. These are all issues that need to be addressed before an organisation looks to employ social media as a form of communication.
Yet there are so many exciting possibilities! Locally organisations are already sending e-newsletters about what they are doing. Facebook and Twitter can be used as ways to value add to this process. Community can be built locally, regionally and internationally using social media. Sharing of ideas is not limited to a small group of organisations. I can go online and quickly see what organisations in Canada, the UK or India are doing to support marginalised individuals and communities. No longer are ideas and information controlled by a powerful few. How often do you leave a training session or seminar enthused but find that there is no one to share the enthusiasm with? Social media can help to maintain that enthusiasm and engagement. 500 million users is a huge network of people.
Social media seems to fit well with some of the values that underpin human service organisations. Values such as everyone has worth, everyone is capable of free thought and everyone has something to contribute form foundations from which we work. Social media provides a platform, unlike any other, for people to contribute both formally and informally, to services that directly affect them. Self advocacy and social movements can occur more freely by starting blogs or Facebook pages.
There are a lot of benefits to using social media. It is an exciting medium that can be used alongside other more traditional forms of communication to build relationships and communicate information quickly and easily. There are things that need to be discussed before embarking on the journey of social media. It seems like it is worth the risk though. At least it is worth discussing. I would love to hear from you about your thoughts.
PS/ Did you know that PeakCare has it’s very own Facebook page? Click the link and pop over, check it out, and show us some “LIKE”!
Matt Ross – Social Work Student, PeakCare