Online Only – Social networking for a cause

By Daniel Pagan

Social media is spreading like an infection among politicians, journalists, students and now local non-profit organizations have the fever too. Social media shares information by incorporating social networking and technology together- like Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook. Due to popularity and the ease of setting up an account, the Calgary Humane Society, Calgary Reads and other local organizations are now exploring social media.

CHS, which rescues and supports injured and unwanted animals, uses a Facebook group to announce events, answer questions and stay in touch with the public. They are considering opening accounts on Twitter and YouTube in the future. Communications manager Lindsay Jones explained that the group is only scratching the surface of Facebook’s capabilities, but finds it useful to connect with many people quickly.

“Social networking is a cost-effective way for not-for-profit groups to get the word out to a worldwide audience,” said Jones. “Any medium we can use to educate and inform our public will help us to fulfill our mission of helping as many animals as possible.”

Calgary Reads social media volunteer Doug Lacombe agreed with Jones. He got involved with Calgary Reads after book sale chair Michele Dauphinee decided to explore Facebook and Twitter to advertise its upcoming book sale and asked him to share his experience with online forums. The group was looking for ways to build traffic through word of mouth from volunteers and visitors instead of posters. The group plans to use a combination of Facebook, a blog, Twitter and a Flickr photo feed to promote themselves.

“It’s there so we can have a dialogue about [literature] and the core programming of Calgary Reads, to build up a conversation about literacy in Calgary,” said Lacombe. “The main objective of this social media campaign is to build more traffic for the book sale, we want people coming to the book sale and after the sale. We will still have this platform to connect the community with Calgary Reads.”

In comparison to social media, traditional media has the benefit of a built-in audience, but is limited to one-way broadcasting, said Lacombe.

“It’s like word of mouth on steroids,” he said. “Social media does not have a built-in audience, so you have to build up a community, which is a lot of work. However, the reward in social media is once you have some critical mass of community, they become your advocates and your announcers.”

Lacombe said it was important to devise a strategy before jumping on the wagon. He said non-profits should think about their reasons for why they want to use social media to engage people.

“Be prepared for a two-way dialogue and all the pros and cons that come with that,” said Lacombe.

CBC-Calgary Reads Book Sale is at the Triwood Arena on May 1–3. Proceeds will go to its in-school programs for early readers with reading problems and their families.

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