Social media and the PACT (part 1)

Heloisa Righetto reflects on the importance of using social media in a meaningful way.

After reading the Civil Society Futures final report, I couldn’t stop thinking about one specific bit: “Social media can narrow horizons and create an echo chamber of our own views”. As Vicky Browning recently wrote, that was uncomfortable reading.

When we created our profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social platforms years and years ago (it was my 10th #Twitterversary recently) we had a sense of community, of transformation, of newness, as we were reaching out to people anywhere in the planet for the first time. We thought we finally had a place with great autonomy, where we could not only express ourselves but also connect with like-minded individuals and initiatives to start constructing the ‘better world’ we eagerly want to live in. And maybe that was the case, at least for a while.

It is hard (and maybe not very relevant) to pinpoint when our existence on social media changed. The realisation that hierarchical structures of power had also occupied ‘our’ space and we were not innovating but replicating was not enough for us to try to figure out how to make that space ‘ours’ again. We continue to use our digital spaces as megaphones. We speak/tweet/post and sit back, only to come back a few hours later to check if we had any shares or responses. In civil society we talk so much about collectiveness, but when it comes to social media, we can often fail to build up relationships and instead become more isolated.

As a communications professional with a special interest in social media, I come across a lot of strategies, campaigns and hashtags. But most of the time they lack what we were doing so well in the very beginning: being authentic and organic. This is not to say that we should not have a plan or make our content more Social Media Optimization friendly, but rather to allow ourselves more liberty and, maybe, more importantly, time. Time to scroll down, browse, engage, reply, share, retweet and like ‘off schedule’. And here I would like to refer to another quote from the Civil Society Futures report:  “We need to make sure that we can shape the way in which we are able to participate in public spaces – and this is as true of Twitter as our own town squares”.  How are we ever going to shape this participation if we adapt our digital selves to conform to demands created by the very institutions we exist to resist?

What’s in for you?

Charity leaders may struggle with social media – as anyone else. But avoiding it completely is not an option. Even if you are not on social media, people will talk about you and about your organisation – you just won’t be there to see and to reply. As the recently published Charity Digital Code states, ‘Charity leaders must lead on digital as a way of helping their charities be relevant and sustainable.’ Making yourself present on social media is a way of doing this. But be wary not to build the ‘echo chamber’ previously mentioned: there is more to social media than sharing news about your organisation and your cause and only engage in conversations with fellow leaders. Think of social media as a research tool: you can find out what your supporters, funders and service users are saying, or you can search for specific terms and hashtags to understand discussions around a theme. And, most importantly, don’t forget to create your own original content from time to time as you don’t want your profile to be a compilation of other people’s thoughts and comments.

If you’d like to look around and check best practice profiles, my suggestion would be Deborah Alsina, CEO of Bowel Cancer UK. She has a dynamic and interesting feed with original content and retweets combining well-humoured remarks about her day to day (often accompanied by a photograph), news from the sector, participation in events, praise of fundraisers and interactions with service users. Engaging beneficiaries without crossing boundaries is something she does smoothly, in a compassionate way which sometimes is a simple retweet – you don’t always need to add, but simply amplify.

In an upcoming blog I will be talking about (and in a more practical way) how to use social media within the PACT concepts.

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