By Megan Hustings
Good thing I’m not that old, because I’m showing my age. I’ve posted my way through several generations of social networks. In college, students at my school shared a network of “Plans,” a page that was hosted on the college’s intranet where users could make text only posts (quotes, rants, etc.) and tag their friends. After graduation, I started out on Friendster, which I barely remember now. MySpace was the next big thing, but even as it grew in popularity, other online communities began vying for internet prominence.
Today, Facebook and Twitter seem to reign the waves, but again, new online communities continue to spring up to offer unique opportunities for organizing certain kinds of communities. I can’t even begin to list all the websites that could be classified as social networks, you can look for more on this Wikipedia listing of social networks, or I love to get lost in the “Conversation Prism” – here’s the author’s blog post.
Since starting out with NCH five years ago as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer, I’ve seen the organization’s fundraising and outreach change quite a bit. Back then, we focused on sending out appeal letters a few times a year and writing grant proposals, but had just moved to an online only newsletter. Now, we look for more diverse funding sources, and spend a good amount of time connecting to our supporters and members through online and social media – Twitter, Facebook, the Bring America Home Blog, and many others (Change.org, MySpace, YouTube, Razoo, etc.).
The question I keep coming back to is how do we effectively engage the NCH community in ending homelessness through these networks? Can online advocacy make a difference?
We have raised some funds over the years from Facebook Causes, and have passed along several successful petitions through Change.org. Advocacy in all its forms is hard to quantify, but we know that we have the ears (or screens) of well over 15,000 advocates through various social media websites.
Recently, we sent out surveys on our social networks, Facebook and Twitter, asking you how we could improve our social networking presence. (To all of you who responded, thank you!) Through this experience, we got to know a little about you and how you interact with NCH online. Some of the things we learned were:
- Many of you first engaged with us through social media to learn more about advocacy for the homeless
- We Tweet just the right amount, but you would prefer if we posted more on Facebook.
- You are most interested in the subjects of homeless organizations and services, and homeless services, but those on Facebook would like to see more direct testimonials from people experiencing homelessness
- Interestingly, most of you work for another organization relating to homelessness
Finally, we learned that only a few of you who engage with us on Facebook and Twitter are active, contributing members of NCH. We know budgets are tight all around, but if you’re able to become a member, this holiday season is a great time to do so!
We have already begun to use this information to (hopefully!) improve our social networking interactions with you. But is there more we can be doing? Are we making a difference by educating with news stories, sharing the faces and voices of those who experience homelessness, or spreading awareness of what our great partners are doing across the country?
We’re always open to more suggestions, or examples of successes you have had in mobilizing your online community. Please feel free to leave your comments or contact me at 202-462-4822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.