The Call for Action (or Simply Communication) through Social Media

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By Toni Parras, Communications Professional, toniparras [at] yahoo.com

One of the first posters I ever bought when I was younger (aside from teenage heartthrob pop stars) was the one of a harp seal pup, its luminous eyes pleading at the camera, seemingly begging the viewer to stop the slaughter for their fluffy white fur.  Almost everyone I knew either owned or had seen that image. 

And then there was the mock commercial of a glamorous woman getting out of a limousine at a red carpet event, decked out in jewels and a mink boa. When she slung the boa around her shoulder in slow motion, blood squirted out and splattered onto the crowd, who cried out in horror.  It was a PSA against the fur trade, and was ultimately pulled for being too disturbingly graphic (even though that was the whole point).  That video came out before its time.

There were also the early images of dolphins drowning in tuna nets, available only via news media or books and magazines, but which nevertheless led to regulations for dolphin-safe tuna (whether or not those regulations are effective is another discussion).  Petitions were bravely conducted by granola-crunching volunteers standing on street corners in all sorts of weather. 

These were the precursors to today’s social media.  Now, we spread messages virtually through various online tools, expanding their reach within moments, leading to commentary, dialogue and action.  Photos and videos – funny, moving, scary, and yes, disturbing – are posted on Flickr, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, and others.  Protests and smart mobs are organized via text messaging and Twitter.  Petitions and surveys are conducted using any number of online means.  The world is truly a different place than it was even just 10 years ago.

Many organizations and individuals have embraced one or more of these tools to introduce or further their cause, build up a following and inspire action.  But others, if they are anything like me, have another - perhaps more mundane but equally valuable - use for them.

As a member of an organization spread out across thousands of miles throughout the Pacific and beyond, I have found social media essential to my job as a Communications Specialist.  Tasked with collating and reporting onsite and partner activities, lessons and achievements, I have sometimes found it difficult to connect with folks through more or less standard means, such as emails, particularly if we’d never met in person before. 

That’s where social media has been an immense help.  Somehow, where more ‘formal’ means of communication have been less effective in eliciting a response, social media has prevailed.  After countless unanswered emails requesting updates, photos or other information and materials, I assumed that my colleague(s) were out in the field or out of town, or otherwise without Internet connection, or any number of other reasonable scenarios.  However, when checking Facebook, I see that many of them are there, having recently posted something or commented on a friend’s status.  So I send a FB message.

And voila!  I get an answer, almost instantaneously, from half a world away!  Further exploration on colleagues’ FB pages yields a bounty of highly sought-after pictures of a particular workshop or site visit, with valuable captions and comments, including people and place names, location and dates.  I am now able to finish that donor report, or website feature, or list serve announcement, or whatever it was I needed the info for. 

An added benefit is the personal connection that social media provides.  In my case working with a network spread out across thousands of miles of ocean and territories, I don’t get to see many of my colleagues for months at a time.  Social media, particularly Facebook, allows us to stay in touch on a personal level – noting birthdays and other special occasions, and seeing pictures of co-workers and their children and families – which thus improves the professional connection. 

I have to admit, I was one of those reluctant at first to enter the world of social media.  In fact, I originally joined Facebook grudgingly (but necessarily) to access a group that was doing work on nonprofit communications.  While I still know people who don't 'do' Facebook, it has turned out to be one of the most valuable tools I use today.  And my parents can easily stay up-to-date on their grandkids’ various exploits and pictures. 

From staying in the pop culture loop Gangnam Style, to keeping in touch with friends and colleagues, to making a statement and eliciting action, social media (despite some of its annoyances) can be very beneficial. 

Now if only I can figure out Google+.

Toni Parras, Communications Professional
Specializes in helping organizations improve their efforts through sound communication and evaluation; exploring innovative approaches to creating awareness, influencing behavior and evaluating efforts; and incorporating information design, photography, video and storytelling into marine management, conservation and education efforts.  Disclaimer: the views expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect upon any bodies with which she may be associated.

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