Musings on Social Media

written by naehblog
July 7, 2010
A couple weeks ago, I gave a brief, casual presentation about our organizational social media networks over a lunch meeting. The Alliance has been online for about a year now, on Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and YouTube. Not surprisingly, Twitter and Facebook are our most active networks; the blog averages a few thousand readers per month. And as we invest the time and manpower it requires maintaining these networks (and sometimes it takes quite a bit!), we’re constantly asking ourselves the following questions: 1. What is the goal of our social networks? 2. What do people want from our social networks? So to answer the second question, we put out a social media survey in May/June of this year. We asked people who they were, what their roles were in the homeless assistance community, how they followed the Alliance, and what content they preferred (Reports? Advocacy updates? Federal policy information?) And we came up with some interesting results.
  • The majority of our Twitter users say advocacy updates and opportunities to take action are most useful, followed by media clips about housing and homelessness.
  • Community members on Facebook, blog, and our weekly newsletter were all most interested in learning about permanent supportive housing; Twitter users were interested in learning about HPRP.
  • The policy advocates, grassroots advocates/activists, housing/service providers, and interested citizens who follow us all preferred Facebook updates to updates on other outlets.
  • 50 percent of the survey respondents either collaborate with Alliance staff or use our website for work.
  • News about Alliance events is generally the least interest/useful material we put out. (That being said, we’re still going to pepper you every so often with news about our upcoming conference!)
The first question, as many in the field will tell you, is a harder nut to crack. And it’s something that I, as the social media girl at the Alliance, find myself asking a lot. Is the time and energy I invest on these social networks worthwhile? How am I advancing my organization’s goals by tinkering on our organization’s website? And for me, I find my answer in our mission. As a member of the Homelessness Research Institute, part of my mission is to “build and disseminate knowledge”, to “educate and inform” people about ending homelessness. (I'm guessing that a lot of people in my role have similar mission statements.) And to that end, I find, these social media tools are instrumental. Social networks offer a place where a critical mass of people has gathered with the explicit purpose to connect to friends, colleagues, and organizations. The platform offers a way for us to dispense information about our organization and issue – and provides supporters a means to interact with us in ways not have available to them before. Social networks are an avenue that we can walk every day to educate and update people interested in the small piece of the world we investigate. And the growth of our networks seem to suggest that the portion of the population interested in our work is sizable. Since January:
  • Our Facebook audience has grown from 280 fans to 1644 fans. The growth in fans has been accompanied by a growth in activity on the site, with an increase in the number of comments and “likes” on our updates.
  • Our Twitter fanbase has grown from 686 followers to 1205 followers. Hot topics among our Twitter friends in the last six months included Alliance reports, Awards Ceremony, TANF/family homelessness, and HUD products and reports.
  • Our blog has also grown in readership, averaging about 3000 readers per month. Top referring sites have included our own website, Facebook and twitter accounts.
Just this morning, the Alliance research director and I wondered if the seemingly endless stream of data now readily available and at our fingertips is making us better-informed citizens (or not). What we concluded was that there was a clear and distinct divide between data and information – and that while the availability of data may have surged, it may not have been accompanied by an increase in available information. It now occurs to me that perhaps my goal through our social networks is to provide information. In a field as fraught and misunderstood as homelessness, the onus lies on nonprofit groups like ours to correct the misgivings of the well-intentioned and grow the community of citizens that are committed to reducing and ending homelessness in the United States. Or at least, that's what I'm telling myself for now.