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.

That Girl Who Talks About Vaginas A Lot

Someone please explain to me why I cannot get this song out of my head. I think it has something to do with Matthew Morrison’s dancing. Because, mm.

This is one of those weeks where I step out of my room for lunch and then suddenly I look up and, oh wait, it’s 10pm and I haven’t been back and I have to do homework and look my RA bulletin board is due in an hour.* It’s a great week–I’ve organized two programs and the Vagina Monologues production that I’m directing¬† is this Thursday and Friday and then it’s my birthday and then it’s SXSWi–but it’s also kind of maybe a little insane. I used to think freshman year that I knew what busy was. I did not. I know I did not, because freshman year I had friends I saw outside of Lil’s and went to bed at 11pm. Good memories.

However, freshman year I did not get to make these sorts of things:

Vagina Week Poster

Yes. Yes it is a Georgia O'Keefe painting.

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Reevaluating Facebook

New Year's Eve

Seriously. They're awesome parties.

I removed my Facebook wall today. I’m going to try to avoid Facebook as much as I can, and see if that goes well. I think it will. Realistically, there are very few people I interact with regularly, and I have redundant systems–email for my friends who don’t got to school with me, phone for my family, and running into people at my little tiny school if they need me. My contact information is still up there, if someone needs to text me.

While my wall is gone, I’m going to reevaluate what I’m using Facebook for. I’m not one of those people who truly wants to delete my profile; for one, I have had useful and good things come of Facebook, and it is by far the thing that gets me the most hits on this site or on my HackCollege articles. It’s a great way to distribute content I find interesting or useful (or–to be honest–that I create). There are links that I routinely want to send to individuals, and I think it’s probably ruder and more intrusive to send those via email. The reusable K-cup that I found the other day is totally awesome for my friend with a Kurig, but that doesn’t make it worth an email. And, oftentimes, it’s the way that I find out about parties friends are throwing–real-life events that I want to attend because my friends throw awesome parties.

Perhaps the way to use it is to reevaluate the Facebook ettiquette. Currently, I’m like most people; I friend pretty much anyone who requests me, regardless of degree of intimacy. Perhaps if I knocked that back down to the 50 or so people I actually care about, Facebook would become useful for me again. It is difficult to go through the 500-ish friends I have accumulated, though, and rearrange my settings so that I’m back where I want to be. And, because I’m a worrier, I’m always somewhat afraid that I’ll unfriend someone who I really will want to get in touch with at some point. The fact that I possess about 800 ways to do this outside of Facebook (or, with Facebook messages, within Facebook) does not seem to appease my lizard brain. And, if I lost those contacts I would have difficulty keeping people up-to-date with things I write, which is something I want to do.

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