Social Media and Reproductive Justice Nonprofits

Recently, I’ve been volunteering at a women’s health clinic. They provide abortions, along with a wide range of other gynecological services, and so safety of staff, patients, and volunteers is a main priority. Though Atlanta is a fairly liberal area, it only takes one nut with a gun, etc.

Tonight, the outreach director at the center called me in to talk about how to best manage the social media for the center, as I have some experience managing social media for my internet day job. I love my internet day job! I sometimes am pretty sure that I don’t suck at it! So I am totally psyched to put some time in for this nonprofit. However, it quickly became clear that there are several really distinct challenges facing a reproductive justice organization (and, to some extent, any nonprofit) when it comes to managing social media presence that are not faced in the low-stakes world of internet technology writing. The main issues are:

Safety vs. exposure: This is particularly true with a reproductive rights organization, where people might actually shoot you. On the one hand, social media can be a godsend for nonprofits who are trying to organize people in meatspace in order to protest or support legislation. On the other hand, giving too much detail about where staff members can be found outside of the very secure offices opens up the opportunity for harm–which is particularly worrying if the organization is using the social media to gather volunteers and others who may not realize the danger of affiliation with the organization. Using the new Facebook groups, which automatically add members, may put someone in a compromised position if they don’t want a political cause (for example, a reproductive rights organization) showing up on their profile, and may put them in danger if they live with people who are not supportive. How do we best publicize events through social media, maintaining some of the impromptu strength of the medium, without putting anyone in harm’s way?

Multiple, independent programs within a single organization: My particular organization, like many nonprofits, has several initiatives going which target completely different audiences (for example: youth, Latin@s, and transmen all have programs targeted to them). A person interested in one program may not be interested in another program. How do we best manage information specific to each program while still making the organization’s main Twitter and Facebook feed useful to casual visitors? Is it fair to ask a user to follow multiple Twitter accounts or become a fan of multiple pages in order to get the information he or she needs? How do we maintain multiple accounts while reducing information overlap?

Limited staffing: Multiple accounts grow to the point where they require a dedicated staff member in order to maintain them or someone in each individual program to give up some of their time in order to maintain the individual program’s social media presence. This makes tracing accountability in case of an error quite difficult, and means that social media accounts may not be of consistent quality. Of course, most nonprofits don’t have the money to hire a person to manage these accounts full-time, and the job is often shunted off to an intern or a volunteer, who may or may not have any of the training required for the position and is likely a transient staff person at best.

Creating universal protocol: Figuring out a standard way each event is publicized so that it is traceable is key if social media is to be overseen by some central person for the organization. Do we tweet out a link to the Facebook event page in order to publicize? Does each event get its own group? Does the event get created by a staff person? Does it get linked to on the organization’s main page? One is either emphasizing uniformity while sacrificing in-depth knowledge of each event (if the job is centralized) or sacrificing uniformity while increasing the chances of a really qualified person managing the page (in the case of department-specific management).

Matching networks with target audiences: Social media have very different ethnic, class, and age makeups. For example, if an organization is targeting a program to Black teens, Twitter may be a good place to really focus energy. Cell phone-accessible sites in general may be good for youth targeting, and text messages are even better–particularly if it’s for something a teen may not want their parents knowing about. Facebook may be better for other audiences or for wider outreach for events which users don’t mind making public. Google+ is good for the nerds. All sites are not created equal if your audience is very specific, and nonprofit audiences frequently are.

I have an answer to literally none of these issues (though I am most comfortable with the audience targeting). I can’t think of any specific, small non-profits which are doing an outstanding job with social media other than Scarleteen. In particular, I’m interested to see if any organization with several specific, niche programs has figured out a way to solve the second problem, and if any repro justice organizations have mastered the first. Hopefully we’ll figure something out over the next couple of months.

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