Sold! Now What?
What I am interested in is the next step. How are we going to use social media to help marginalised people? In Peak Care’s context how are we going to help people to support children and families to prevent child abuse and neglect? How can human services take ownership of social media for good?
Social media is being used by business, by activists, media outlets and human service organisations. The challenge for our sector is how to use social media differently to promote positive change. I have been interviewing people over the phone in the sector over the last couple of weeks. I have found that there are a lot of people talking about social media and a lot of people using social media in our sector. Out of the people I have interviewed most people were very excited about social media. They were excited about its prospects. They found it had been useful to organise events and to share information. This is all great feedback.
What I found though, was that a lot of people were excited but they were also looking outside to try and work within. I think we are inspired as a sector by what we are seeing in advertising and media and trying to do similar things with social media. The impact this is having on our sector is that it limits our use of social media to either sharing information, organising events, building community and raising social issues. This is brilliant engagement but can we go further?
I think we can look deeper. I think we can develop processes of using social media that are unique to our sector. To me, if we look at the purpose of our sector we can find answers to how we can develop social media use unique to human services. Social media has so many different uses and there are so many forms of social media that exist beyond the topical ones such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.
How can social media be used to support people who are marginalised? To me that is the biggest question and it relates directly to our purpose as human service organisations. Social media needs purpose. For Peak Care the purpose of engaging with social media is to build community within the sector and to communicate with organisations providing services to support child protection. For a human services organisation that provides direct face to face work with clients, the purpose for engaging social media will be different. The purpose for using social media is different again for organisations such as Get Up and Amnesty International.
To create an example to explore what I am trying to say, consider what it means to “LIKE” a page. Clicking “LIKE”on an organisations facebook page can be a powerful way of advocating and raising awareness about issues. When you click “LIKE”on an organisations page you receive updates from the organisation about what they are doing. This can help to raise awareness about events, issues and campaigns. However clicking “LIKE” on an organisations facebook page can be a meaningless activity if people do not engage in the content.
For clicking “LIKE” to truly work it is dependent on the context. A campaign about a social issue with 200 000 ‘”LIKEs” could be extremely successful in sharing information about the issue and in creating a movement. A community organisation that works as a drop in centre could also have 200 000 “LIKEs” on their facebook page which could create a substantial interest. It can be contested as to which would have more influence. I see the community organisation that has 200 000 “LIKEs” as less influential because the purpose of the organisation is to deliver services to people in the local community, not to create a movement.
The contexts differ for the two organisations and therefore the purpose underlying engaging with social media changes. The meaning attached to clicking like changes depending on the purpose of the organisation using social media. The purpose of social media is different for different organisations and people. I think this is where it becomes important to ask ourselves why we are engaging with social media. Are we trying to create awareness about social issues? Are we trying to find easier ways to organise events and keep stakeholders updated? Is it because our client’s are using it? Are we geographically isolated?
Our sector is about supporting people on the margins. Having 200 000 “LIKEs” may be awesome but does it help your organisation to fulfil its purpose? Social media is hip and happening and I think we can fall into the trap of trying to follow uses of social media that do not relate to human services. We are a unique sector. I am keen, as a part of the sector, to use social media in our own unique way to help people on the margins. I feel that openly reflecting on the purpose of our organisations can help to discern how we can creatively and uniquely use social media to help marginalised people.
Matthew Ross – Social Work Practicum Student on placement with PeakCare