A forewarning ahead of this blog, in no way do I proffer to understand the intricacies of social media and I am sure there is plenty more I can do to help myself! This is in part a self deprecating rant about my limited ability to use social media effectively, but also the frustrations that come with the need for an effective social strategy with start ups and obscure but important causes.
Anyone who has a blog knows that feeling - you've worked many hours concocting a collection of carefully thought out words, hesitantly adding to social media platforms waiting in anticipation for feedback...for none to come. Or that cause you are so passionate about and work hard on creating informative and balanced information for followers and friends - to get a few likes, while being positively bypassed in favour of a friend's incredibly important status update telling us what he ate for supper that night.
I get it, we all use social media for different reasons, whether personal or professional there is actually no reason for everyone to be interested in, or even like what you have to say. The very nature of facebook/twitter etc drives a fairly navel-gazing attitude from our digital avatars, and just because we are interested in a subject, certainly doesn't mean others should or will be. That recognised, it doesn't diminish the anguish of seeing a cause you are so passionate about receiving a few select "likes" while someone's new pair of shoes gets 20 likes, 10 comments and 5 shares. I also know very talented artists struggling to be heard on social media, only often to be trumped by an update about someone's latest holiday snap.
But should we care? Does it really matter how many likes we get? What is the actual conversion of likes to tangible and measurable public action for our causes? Quite often wanting a like, whether for personal or professional use, is down to that competitive edge, the more likes I get, the more I'm liked, right? Well not necessarily. A flick of a like button is easy enough, but converting that to actual action is much harder. Actually only a small percentage of our followers get to see those carefully worded status updates or tweets calling for action. But that doesn't stop us from wanting more. Although likes and followers can be bought these days, and therefore not necessarily a measure of success, ultimately social media actions leads to some digital rivalry and quite often an incorrect measurement of success; more likes make me (or the cause) more appealing and ahead of the game, which in reality may not be true.
Avoiding the physiological complexities of why differing personality types use or need social media, and aside from our own personal blogging, what does a significant social media presence mean for causes? We're all told how critical our digital presence is for our businesses and how social media can transform our campaign activities, however that often leaves those with limited success feeling like a rather ineffectual muppet when it comes to all things technological. One can certainly argue that social media has driven forward some very successful campaigns. You only need to look at the latest ice bucket challenge that promoted the awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to it's research, or the march against SeaWorld, no doubt effectively fuelled by public interest and reaction to a strong social media campaign. In other situations it can link to much needed signatory platforms, linking the public movement and interest and leading to further action that otherwise may have taken weeks/months to move forward. And quite often for well known established organisations, with staff dedicated to promoting their online presence, social media can really contribute towards successful funding appeals and awareness programmes. Interacting with your social media audience, can encourage your audience to become part of the journey, engaging with them emotionally and instigating that physical action, whether it be a donation or a call to action. However, on the flip side, one can also challenge whether some action taken by social media campaigns has any tangible effect for the cause in hand, and only serves to justify minimal action taken by an individual, to make them feel like they've "done something" losing out on actual real action that would support the cause more tangibly.
But bringing it back to the smaller, or perhaps lesser known causes or start ups, how effective can social media be for us? Perhaps the honest answer is as effective as you make it to be, but that takes time, skill and resources that most of these charities don't have. The power of social media can be incredible and I'm not doubting that effective use of social media can have seriously significant benefits and amplify your cause ten fold. Especially if that cause has a particularly emotive edge, social media is the perfect platform to raise awareness and drum up support. However, sometimes monopolised by the established charities, causes and projects can get lost in the plethora of updates amongst one's feed. Yes, the more active you are on facebook, the more your work will get seen, but before you know it, you staying up all hours, liking and commenting on status updates and photos you have no interest in, in the hope that your contacts will promote the cause, and for what? A few more likes from friends who probably would have done it anyway with a quick heads up email, while the target audience (i.e. the ones out there who haven't heard of you) remain hard to reach. Connecting with other like-minded organisations and causes, tags, key words, images and videos all can significantly help, but the reality is that the social media platform is now so vast and convoluted, you can still end up quite often being that little fish in a big pond.
But really, in some cases I think we should forget numbers or at least put less emphasis on those social media figures, and focus on what is really important, the cause and outcomes themselves. Don't ignore the power of a digital strategy, but equally don't sweat the small stuff when it comes to being liked. When you're successful in your cause, I'm guessing you won't mind who has liked it or not.