SOCIAL MEDIA: Wasting my time or changing the world?

When I come to work, I check my email, log into Facebook, peruse my timeline on Twitter,

take a dip in the blogosphere (just two of my favorite non-profit-oriented blogs being Allison Fine’s and Beth Kanter’s)–usually in that order, without fail, each day.  The YouthWorks group and I have been working on a social media campaign.  I’ve been contemplating getting us a Reddit, LinkedIn, maybe even a Pintrest page.  Needless to say, we think it’s important.

Over the weekend a friend of mine, very well-intentioned and innocent enough, said to me, “You’ve been spending a lot of time on Facebook at work haven’t you? The YouthWorks page is blowing up my news feed.”  Nevermind that she followed up with “But actually I like it a lot,” or that she thought it was “engaging,” or that she has read most of the articles and blog posts that we shared–the damage was done.  That knot of contrition that I had conveniently tucked away into the pit of my stomach had come undone, and that was all I could think about.

I feel guilty.  There, I said it.  I feel guilty about getting paid to retweet and write blog posts.  And, no, that’s not the only thing I do all day.  And, yes, I understand the irony of posting this here, on our blog.  However, I imagine–or at least I would like to–that this must be an issue for all sorts of businesses and non-profits.  The reason that it makes us so squeamish is that there is no tangible, hardline, bottom-dollar figure or result that can represent the effectiveness of social media.

Yet, its force is undeniable.  As an open source, the networking capabilities of Facebook and Myspace and Ning and Twitter are unfathomable.  Constantly, I have to remind myself, that whether or not we take part, the conversations are happening and will continue to happen.  And we have to come terms with this before we jump in.  The wild virtual ether that is the internet may take your brand in a direction you hadn’t intended.  But so too, might the next person that walks in the door (which coincidentally might be a result of the fact that they saw your recent refresh on Tumblr).

So, okay, social media allows a more dynamic shaping of discourse, but as a small youth philantrhopy and advocacy program in Yakima, Washington, how can we affect change with social media?

Well, Charu Suri, an author at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s blog, Impatient Optimists,  recently posed the question “How can social media change the world?” from her own online magazine Butterfly Diary.  Impatient Optimists re-posted this illuminating feature, in which she carefully lays out the big picture effect of social media by highlighting specific incidences of real impact.

So take heart all you social media hopefuls.  Your hours in front of a computer screen or tablet or smart phone is making a difference.  It’s working!  Or at least, it could be…


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