The internet...social media. The information and cyberspace world is growing at such a rapid pace to a point that if one does not take a moment to reassert their position, they would miss the opportunities this growth presents. The corporate community has readily taken hold of opportunities to provide new services, reach new markets, provide innovative solutions, disseminate information fast and reliably to a broad recipient spectrum and to analyse trends with respect to consumers. But what of the development sector? How are you (the individual and organization) optimizing the potential of social media as tools in your work?
This is not a lesson about using the internet or social media tools out there. These are reflections from our end on trends we have noted in our time on general social media. And what we have noted is that with the emergence of social media and how everything seems to be connected to these platforms, individuals have lost the spirit of discovery. Many of us no longer look for new information or sources. We depend on these platforms to shootout something new our way. At best, we go out there and "Like" and "Follow" a few "Pages" and "Tags" and when there is something new, it is splattered on our "Walls" and "Homepages" and if we get lucky, we will read, view or listen to at least some of it.
Not that this is entirely bad. In some way, it makes the job of looking for new information easier. For those who have no confusion of what their interests are, we can use these platforms to subscribe to the organizations and opinion makers we value. And since they are also eager to build up a following, we are sure to get whatever new information feed they will be sharing.
And what do we do when we have consumed the information (articles, audio, video etc)? Well again, we "Like", "Share", "Recommend", add a "+"...and whatever other means of acknowledgement these networks provide. And if you are moved a little bit more, you will probably add a "comment".
We also take sometime to participate in consultations where we team up with others in the social networking world to share ideas on particular issues to inform broader processes. At the beginning, we are driven and make as many comments as can assure we are noticed. But after a while, we diminish to the actions in the previous paragraph. So what is the intention if not the inspiration to use these tools? Can you get more out of it?
The answer, from our perspective and interests, is yes. Individuals working in development programs can do more with their presence in social media platforms. As a community organizers, head or official in an organization, opinion leader etc, it is by definition that your position should also be used to enrich the knowledge discourse. Your experiences, knowledge and skills are a resource for others and in development terms, they must be shared.
Take the time to identify the best way you can share what you have experienced; what you know and what you can do. And for those concerned with monetary gain, we say "you can not expect to receive when you have yet to give". You will not be remunerated for your capacity when no one knows what you "know" or "can do".
Some approaches you can consider that are less time consuming;
- Whether it be on Facebook or Google+ or other social media platform you are using, take a moment once or twice a month to share in your area of expertise; be it writing (in which case you can write articles on programmatic or capacity issues); photography; video etc.
- Contribute to Blogs, such as this one, as often as is possible for you. This provides a win-win situation for you and for the platform you choose. They get to have content whilst you get to increase your footprint on the internet with positive content. Take a moment to search your name online and you will see what we mean.
- Raise awareness of what you and your organization or initiative stand for. By contributing content to different platforms, including through your own social media account enables you increase penetration of your messages.
For our organizations, the experiences are mixed here. There are those who are doing an excellent job, but there is always more that you can do. The basket of tricks is ever growing in size. Keep yourself abreast of new developments and your organization will continue to receive a following as time goes. Here is what else we have seen;
- With the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, every organization, group and all that exist open a Facebook Group and or Page as soon as they get the opportunity. Those who are a little more tech-updated will also have a Twitter Account and will probably also have a Google+ Page set up. The idea here being to saturate the social networking community with their presence as much as possible. The question is though, for what? Why set up all these groups and pages and accounts?
- And when we set up these accounts and pages and what have you, we do not take the time to learn how to manage them. We let our presence become fragmented as time goes and the people that follow or like us become confused and divided. We do not use Twitter, so we will not say much there but here is a Facebook example;
An organization sets up a Group and or Page. These get a good following, say 500 people. They have an event coming up, so they set up a page for that one also. This page also gets say 1000 people to like it. Of these 1000, say 100 are from their official Group or Page. The event finishes and that is that for this event page. It becomes a place for those who were interested in the event to continue talking, but this only happens for not more than a few weeks. After a while, it becomes a space with no identity. The 900 new people that could have joined their official page is lost.Alternatively, they could have set up this event as part of their official page. All those interested would have added to the already existing number of people who followed them.
Taking from the example, we also do not stipulate a strategy for our social media presence. There are a number of questions an organization can seek to answer before rolling out into social media or reassert their presence. Why should our organization be on a particular platform? What can we get out of the platform? What content will we share? And who will manage our presence? When you know the answers to these questions, the fragments of your social media strategy will begin to take form and tool to incorporate can be identified easily.
Remember that the profile you can use to understand your follower or user who liked your page or group is something close to what we described in the first section. You should be able to determine as part of the strategy how these users will benefit your organization. If you are an organization working in a particular country or community, your followers will not all come from your community or beneficiary group. In fact there may not be a single one from your target population. Instead it might be people from your and other countries who have no particular connection to the organization. Maybe they are looking for contacts for organizations such as yours or just saw something interesting you posted. Analyse these trends to better understand what your users identify with your organization in order to optimize their connection with you.
Tell us what you think of this piece. How can social media use be optimized by people working in the development arena across Africa and are there other resources that you are aware of that can expand understanding on this further? Please share with us.