I began my AmeriCorps service just as social media was really starting to become a hot topic for nonprofits. I was proud just to build my service site a fairly decent-looking static website last year, but it turns out that is so 2007. Whereas an organization used to be legit if you could google them, now facebook and twitter have become nearly essential. Social media has been an absolutely incessant buzzword around here and I’ve honestly been a bit skeptical of it all. I love using social media for, well, social reasons, but how does a small organization utilize it well?
In the past few weeks, there’s been another buzzword: snow. In case you’ve not heard, Maryland got hit with quite a bit of it. There was an epic snowfecta of storms, leading many schools, offices and governments to close for nearly a week straight. I’ve been stuck inside for entirely too much of the past several days, and it just dawned on me that social media has completely shaped the way that my friends and I have experienced this event. I present to you my snowcial media experience:
On Sunday, my boyfriend and I learned that a coworker and friend of his was without power. How did we learn such a thing? Through facebook, of course! She had made a status update via her phone for all to see. And see we did, which is convenient since we live about a mile away. The roads were still passable at that time, so he trekked out to pick her up along with another friend and we threw an impromptu Superbowl party complete with outlets to recharge the vital communication devices of our power-hungry guest.
Then, on Monday night, we managed to buy a shovel through sheer luck. After calling every hardware store I could find within 10 miles, I’d given up and decided to just get a few groceries in preparation of be snowed in. An iPhone app alerted us that there was a hardware store within walking distance of the Whole Foods we’d ventured to, so my boyfriend decided to stop by “just in case”. Turns out, they’d gotten a shipment 10 minutes earlier and they were sold out again by the time he left. Needless to say, we were incredibly proud of that purchase.
Until Tuesday night, when a good friend of mine sent me an instant message saying that he had just procured a shovel. On Tuesday. After the snow had begun falling and many stores weren’t even open anymore. Shocked and a bit envious, I asked how he had managed to channel such strong hunter-gatherer skills. His reply? A friend had tweeted that a local hardware store had just gotten shovels, so he headed out immediately to grab one. My mind, as they say, was blown.
Throughout the week, I’ve also been alerted to what public transit is and is not running, which counties are doing a great job of plowing, and where huge public snowball fights are being held. Many stores updated their operating status so you’d know if it was worth trying to get to them. There was instant access to raw information the moment it was released, and within minutes I’d see updates and tweets from multiple new sources: a lot of people were being reached.
As much as I was beginning to get annoyed with the social media buzz, I’m now a believer in its power. I’ve long felt that that best use of social media was to catch up with friends, but I now see how effective it can be to distribute information to and rally up interested persons. I’m not sure how any given cause can conjure up the excitement of a snowpocalypse, but boy is it worth a shot. I’ll never look at attempts to engage supporters via social media quite the same way again.