What's the deal with social media in the homeless assistance field?

written by naehblog
May 13, 2010

One of my responsibilities at the Alliance is to manage our social networks, and in the era of furious blogging and even more frenetic tweeting, it can get chaotic. Often times, I find the need to stop, take a breath, and evaluate exactly how all this social media frenzy contributes to the Alliance’s goals and mission.

Which isn’t to say I don’t see the value in the mediums. I’m the lucky product of a world full of information technology and social media tools. I grew up with high-speed internet at my fingertips and an iPod on my hip; I was an early adopter of Facebook and yes, I have my very own Twitter account. And while I would hardly call myself a pusher or an expert, I do truly believe in the potential of social media tools to cultivate change, progress, and conversation.

It’s is why I’m so excited to be doing it in this field. While nonprofits are often slightly behind the curve to pick up new technologies, it’s been my personal experience that my own field has been particularly slow to adopt new media platforms. At this years Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), I found a small cohort of colleagues in the homeless assistance and housing field to swap stories with – and a major theme of those stories is our missing presence among nonprofits utilizing these new tools.

And many of us are.

At NTC, I took a workshop analyzing the way nonprofit organizations use social media. The numbers are staggering – more and more nonprofit organizations are stepping into the world of social media. A few highlights of the 2010 Nonprofit Social Media Benchmarks Report:

  • Facebook dominates the field with a staggering 86 percent of nonprofit organizations reporting some kind of Facebook presence, up from 74 percent last year
  • 60 percent report a Twitter presence, nearly doubling last year’s number.
  • A few nonprofit sectors have stronger social media presences, those sectors includinginternational, environment, animal welfare, and education nonprofits.
  • Marketing, fundraising, and advocacy are among the intended goals/uses of nonprofit social networks.

I’d like to do a similar study, surveying only my colleagues in this industry, to gauge how active a strong a presence we have on social networks. I’m sure the data would suggest another picture entirely.

Which strikes me as curious. If the intent of social media networks is to build communities, share information, and open another portal of communications (which I posit are some goals of social media networks), then I can’t think of a industry better suited for those networks than human and social services. Our industry requires as much communication as possible – we’re working to directly better the lives of some of the most vulnerable of our friends and neighbors.

Or am I entirely wrong?

Don’t hesitate to comment and let me know – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And, if you feel so inclined, you can call me out on TwitterFacebook, or shoot me an old-fashioned email.