Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Consider the Possibilities of Social Media

This is a guest post from Robb C. Sewell-Wolff, Senior Writer/Editor, John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University

A few months ago, my colleague Savannah Barnett talked about some of the myths surrounding social media and highlighted the value and benefits of social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Hopefully, you’ve taken her words to heart and have braved this new frontier, perhaps poked your toes into what might have been uncharted waters, or maybe even immersed yourself completely in the revolution that is social media.

But what can you use social media to accomplish? In the first part of a two-part blog, I’m going to touch upon five things that you can use social media to do. Then, next week, I’ll follow up with a second blog that looks at a nonprofit organization that is doing amazing things with social media.

So…what can you do with social media?

1. You can start conversations.

Social media isn’t only about you spouting your ideas, thoughts, or opinions. In fact, social media works best when it creates a dialogue between people. It not only allows you the chance to be heard, but gives others the opportunity to let their voices be heard as well. It gives everyone the chance to contribute their opinions and knowledge to a discourse.

2. You can change conversations.

My friends on Facebook will often apologize for “hijacking” a thread I created — that is, taking the conversation off subject into different directions. But that is the beauty of social media. You can be talking about health care reform one minute, and then a dozen exchanges later, the subject has morphed into a discussion about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t get frustrated if your discussion goes off tangent. Accept it and let the conversations flow naturally. The results may be unexpected and quite rewarding.

3. You can network with others.

Social media allows you the chance to interact with individuals you might never typically encounter. I’m living proof of that fact. Aside from my career at the Heldrich Center, I’m a fiction writer. And I’ve used social media to network with others in publishing. Through social media, I became friends with a novelist and television writer who connected me with her literary agent. A friend on Facebook put me in contact with his brother who just so happens to be the founder of a theatre group in New York City. And now the theatre is willing to read a sample from my play. Frankly, these are networking opportunities I likely would have never made had it not been for social media.

4. You can create communities.

There are all kinds of communities online — for cancer patients and survivors, playwrights, parents of children with autism, and pet owners, to name but a few. These communities enable people to band together to support each other, exchange resources, and share triumphs and struggles. Thanks to web-based programs like Ning, which is available for a fee, anyone can create an online community that will bring together people who might never have the chance to interact and learn from each other.

5. You can make things happen.

Social media allows you another forum to make your goals become a reality. Again, let me share from my personal life. I’m a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2003. Last year, I got involved in the LIVESTRONG Challenge in Philadelphia, an event designed to raise money for cancer. With just six weeks to raise money for a 10-mile bike ride, I turned to Facebook and Twitter to seek financial support from friends, colleagues, and family. My fundraising goal was $250 but thanks to the generous support of many people, I was able to raise over $1,500…and that in the midst of a crippling recession. I wasn’t the only one to use social media to raise funds. Many LIVESTRONG participants did so. The result? Over $3.2 million was raised to fight cancer.

As I conclude, let me challenge you to take some time to think about how social media might benefit your organization. Could you use social media to create a virtual community for your constituents? Think about your funding sources. Are they online? How can you interact with them virtually and, perhaps, build the foundation for future funding? What are you trying to achieve? How can social media help to make your aspirations become reality?

Consider the possibilities and start putting social media to work for you and your organization. The power is in your hands. Are you going to use it?

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