Tell Me What You Really Think

By Charmaine Caparas

Social media now has tremendous influence over the way people around the world — of all ages — get and share information. In today’s interconnected world, everyone is looking for ways to increase accountability and get more value for their money. With more than 1.11 billion Facebook users, 500 million Twitter users and 3 million bloggers, social media is not just as a means to broadcast institutional messages but a way to engage in a two-way conversation with stakeholders. It's the key to finding what people are really talking about and what their needs are.

I'm indebted to Silke von Brockhausen, Social Media Specialist, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP@svbroc) who wrote a terrific guest blog in preparation for the e-Participation day on the 19th June for which she was one of the panellists in the session, Open gov, open data, citizen engagement = more transparency? Impact on the work of IOs.

Resisting the resistance to culture change

A key challenge for big institutions, Silke wrote, "is overcoming the resistance to the culture change which the move towards an open and transparent organization represents." Of course, questions are still raised about the value added of social media and the loss of valuable work time or fears that social media can open a large organization to criticism. Perhaps her most powerful point was that the advance of social media now is similar to the introduction of email in the early 1990s when "many organizations feared the loss of control over messaging, branding and the flow of information. Nowadays, a world without email communication at work is unthinkable."

Silke goes on to explain that the benefits and opportunities of using social media to connect with the outside world are much higher than the risk of a staff member ruining an organization’s reputation by publishing a critical blog post: "As a matter of fact, I see the risk that staff members are much more inclined to avoid social media for fear of embarrassment or wrongdoing rather than using it for their own or the organization’s advantage." She explains that in the case of her own organization, UNDP, "this would represent a missed opportunity of 8,000 people who can advocate and engage on UNDP’s behalf. Self-control mechanisms are already in place: Staff is highly aware that what they tweet or blog can be traced back to them."

As Silke points out every organization needs clear rules and guidelines are needed to limit problems, reduce potential risks and at the same time keep colleagues motivated. Her final point is true for any organization plunging into the swift river of social media: it has to be clear to staff members, that whatever they say in public or online will be traced back to them and affiliated with their organization.

But with proper knowledge how to handle social media, organizations can reap benefits like:

Organizational Recognition
One major plus of having a social media presence is that more people suddenly know your organization. With social media, you have the ability to decide how you want to position your organization and what you want people to know about what you do. With consistent effort and great content, you can build a positive reputation for your organization based on your mission, vision and initiatives.

Community Engagement
Social media is the prime avenue to community building. When your Facebook fans or Twitter followers become part of your community, you gain instant access to them. It means you can find out what challenges they are facing and what they like and don’t like about your messages. You can talk to them, ask them questions and get answers that can be more valuable than any kind of paid research.

Authority in the Industry
Social media can be very powerful in helping organizations establish authority in their niche—making them the go-to resource for the public. By sharing great content, answering relevant questions, and giving them valuable information on the topic, your organization will inevitably build a loyal following.

Influence in the Field
If your followers increase, so will your influence. Having a substantial social media audience creates a snowball effect that can attract donors, media interviews, joint venture partnerships, and all kinds of other opportunities. It’s similar to seeing a crowd gathered around a street performer. You can’t help but want to see what all the fuss is about, so a large audience will only attract more interest.

Increased Website Traffic
When you share blog posts, videos and other content from your website to Facebook or Twitter, you give your audience a reason to click through and visit your site. Social media channels can be a leading traffic generator. Monitor your site traffic with services such as Google Analytics to see which type of social media posts engage the most users. Also, make sure that your visitors receive a clear call to action when they visit your site so that you can convert that extra traffic into opportunities (i.e., Support this project, Donate now, etc.)

In its entirety, social media is the window that the public has on your organization, so make sure that you build a positive image through strategic communications and proper online etiquette.


Charmaine Caparas is a communications specialist for IOM