What place does Social media have in Volunteering?
Social media, like volunteering, comes in a multitude of forms fulfilling a plethora of different needs.
Loosely defined, social media is an umbrella term for media which is user generated as opposed to traditional media such as newspapers and television where content is decided upon by an editor or editorial team.
Social media is interactive with two-way dialogue and can have many contributors commenting on, adding to or editing the message.
Some forms of social media are for social networking - adding friends, creating groups and posting and discussing items of interest to share e.g.: Facebook, others focus on photo/video sharing such as YouTube and Flicker whilst sites such as Reddit encourage interaction on news through a voting system to name just a few.
The size of your organisation, volunteer profile and even the type of work volunteers do and their scheduling all play a part in whether social media is useful to volunteers.
So when looking at whether and to what extent we interact with our volunteers using social media the first question should be “Is there a genuine need, or am I doing this to prove that the volunteer program is “with it”?
Areas in which social media can enhance a volunteer program:
Advertising role vacancies or your program generally via your organisation’s Facebook page can be an incredibly powerful and cost effective way of advertising. People who already have a connection in your cause and already “Like” the page can be a great source of volunteers. You can also use Twitter to promote your volunteer program by linking it to your website so potential volunteers know when recruitment begins. Create short promotional videos and upload them to YouTube.
Getting general information to volunteers in a cost effective manner, perhaps the sort of information that may once have been covered in a paper based newsletter.
Communicating directly with volunteers - this is especially useful if something urgent or unexpected has cropped up and you need volunteers to respond quickly.
Using social media to recognise the efforts of volunteers and using it as a very immediate way of thanking them for their contribution to the organisation.
If you can improve productivity and contribute to the overall mission of the organisation by using social media in one or more forms then it is certainly worthwhile.
One of the defining features of social media is its immediacy which is both a blessing and a curse. There are countless examples of where ill-conceived or at worst thoughtless or malicious content on social media has at times wrought dramatic consequences for both individuals and organisations.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of really poor timing. Consider that just after announcing 5,000 job cuts at QANTAS they launched a competition for travellers via Twitter:
"We're giving away 5,000 jobs! To win, finish this sentence: 'I'll spend my first dole cheque on...." #qantascuts
It is often, if not impossible, certainly very difficult to retract something posted on social media.
People are far more likely to remember and share something on social media which has annoyed or upset them than to pay attention to a follow up retraction or apology.
It is vitally important that not only does your organisation have a social media policy but that staff and volunteers have clear understanding of that policy and perhaps even a condensed version of the most important points. One of the easiest ways I have seen, which is used in a number of schools to supplement the policy is the acronym THINK!
T - Is it true?
H - Is it helpful?
I - It is inspiring?
N - It is necessary?
K - It is kind?
Finally, often the biggest objection to using any form of social media to communicate with volunteers that I hear from Managers of Volunteers is, “my volunteers are too old”.
Whilst some volunteers, regardless of age, may never embrace technology, perhaps this example from my own experience is helpful at least in understanding why. I am of, shall we say, a ‘certain demographic’. The arrival of the first computers at my high school in the late ‘70s was greeted with wide eyed total amazement by the students and serious lectures by the teachers explaining how lucky we were to have these machines and, above all, what they cost and the dire ramifications that would follow should any student break one.
There were only two of these purportedly miraculous machines, jealously guarded by the librarians, at what was a fairly typical inner urban school of its day with well over 1000 students. Subsequently time had to be booked on them and, as I was convinced that pressing even the wrong key could cause irreparable damage, I was relieved when the timeslots were quickly snapped up by the students doing Maths Methods.
Upon leaving school and embarking on my career in nursing, I was determined to put this whole ugly episode behind me and move into the adult world, a world that would be free of computers. After all, of what possible use could they be in patient care?
Years on from my first computer, the Commodore 64, with data back up to an audio cassette tape, I have three home computers, a smart phone and naturally one office PC. I am on Facebook and Twitter and converse with colleagues through Volunteer Management groups on social media, and participate in meetings using GoToMeeting or Google hangouts.
Whilst contemplating my journey down the long and winding cyber highway can be comfortingly nostalgic for me it helps me understand why our volunteers can be both the greatest advocates for technology and social media and also its greatest detractors for at different times I have been both. The biggest barrier for me adopting technology was simply fear, a fear that something I did or didn’t do would have consequences akin to causing the earth to wobble off its axis and head on a collision course with the sun.
Anyone, regardless of age, who has overcome the fear that if they use a particular piece of hardware or software it will have dire outcomes, and is informed and supported, will eventually a least be prepared to have a go at using it. One of my most active volunteers regularly does data entry for our Foundation at 86 years old!
So decide whether or not social media will add value, look at which of the various social platforms will best meet your needs, support your volunteers with clear policy on social media and easy to follow guidelines and offer help and mentoring where possible.
Finally if you are not comfortable using social media then don’t and find some help from someone in your organisation that does.
Here are some links to other org’s social media policies: