I should make “Facebook” part of your learning contract??

If something sits on your desktop long enough, and it’s about social media, someone will come out with something new and you don’t have to worry about it! And then, of course, the new thing sits for quite awhile, too, and then you wait until you’ve got a nice, natural tie-in (to rationalize the delays!)?

So here’s the thing. There’s a lot of talk these days about nonprofit organizations and social media and whether it’s all just a lot of hype or whether there’s real potential there, and how we’ll ever know because organizations aren’t tracking outcomes like they should, and because they don’t have the money to invest the way that they’d need to in order to get the outcomes they want and…all anyone wants is to be like Charity:water and is that so wrong? Or so hard?

The answers, of course, to those last two questions are no. And yes.

But so what this got me thinking, since it’s April and in social work education land that means students interviewing with practicum sites and looking forward to next year and thinking about where they’ll fit in their next stage of actual practice (!), is that maybe we need to start carving out a role for social work students, at least those in a social work administration/advocacy practice-type concentration, for a social media presence within social work organizations.

I know, all of the social media experts caution nonprofits that they can’t just solve their social media problems by sticking an intern on the task, but we know that social work practicum students are NOT just “interns”. They bring the value base and client-centeredness of social work, the support of their university setting, and, not insignificantly, a huge time commitment every week over a relatively long period. And, for the most part, they have some familiarity with social media, a passion for their organizations and their work, and a desire to let the world in on the terrific stuff that’s going on in their corner of it!

I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but, if nonprofit leaders are successfully convincing their Boards of Directors and CEOs that they need to invest in social media (oftentimes at considerable financial cost), and if social media mavens like <a href="“>Heather Mansfield are coming up with really concrete, fairly easy ways to tell the impact that social media has on an organization and its work, can’t we convince field instructors and the field education powers that be that it has a place in social work education too?

Here are some of my thoughts, based on a review of the learning contract for advanced administrative students, on how some basic social media strategies (like creating and maintaining a presence on social networking sites, using social news sites, and assisting with an organizational blog) might fit in:

  • “Briefly describe the history of your agency, being sure to emphasize historical and current mission statements, targeted clients, catchment area, and important partner agencies.”–This requires being able to tell an organization’s story, and those are the kinds of stories that can motivate people to action when told in a social medium. Think about a series of blog posts about turning points in a particular organization’s history, or using social media to connect to current and potential coalition partners in the community.
  • “Interview several direct service social workers and clients in order to gain an in-depth understanding of client needs (both met and unmet needs), the day-to-day activities of direct service social workers, and the challenges they face.” Again, these stories would be so compelling as blog posts, or accompanied by photos and posted as links to Facebook, or as part of a revamped, interactive organizational website. We need to think about how we can accomplish student learning goals while simultaneously advancing the organizational mission–that’s what field education is, at its best.
  • “Demonstrate the ability to represent the agency in a professionally responsible manner in the community.” Um, enough said?
  • “Use at least one advanced administrative practice skill designed to influence policy and/or program development, implementation, or change on behalf of clients and/or communities in the student’s chosen field of practice.” If we apply some of the evaluation techniques to figure out the impact of our social media work on our social change goals, this could fit very well. Certainly the relationship-building, message-crafting, and strategic planning that go into a good social media approach qualify as ‘advanced practice skills’.
  • “Apply knowledge, skill, and abilities to mobilize resources for meeting needs and enhancing well-being.” This could be really fun–maybe a Twitter-based fundraising campaign, or a Cause on Facebook, or a Flickr photo contest that ties into the organization’s website, driving traffic and boosting donations. As a field instructor, this was always a hard item for me to tackle, but I can see a lot of potential with social media.
  • “Demonstrate the use knowledge and skills to build teams and organizational cultures that maximize staff morale and engage community diversity and Demonstrate an understanding of how knowledge and skills can be applied to recruit, interview and hire prospective staff members/volunteers.” This is a particularly good fit, I think, given the necessarily social nature of social media and the opportunities to use outlets like blogging to build a sense of community, help workers to tell their stories, and bring in new people who will be committed to the organization’s mission.
  • And, finally, “Demonstrate the knowledge and skills needed to develop measures of status change, behavior change, client satisfaction, productivity, efficiency, resource acquisition, and staff morale for an agency program.” Maybe social work students could even design a social media program and its indicators of success, to develop an increased understanding of outcomes and how to track them while laying the foundation for the organization’s successful implementation of a social media approach?

    Look, I know that social media is never going to be the core of the social work field contract. Nor should it be. But I also know that social work, as a profession, has to be continually concerned with keeping our skills relevant, providing real value to those organizations who facilitate our very existence by providing field placements, and sustaining our work by helping the organizations where we practice to survive. Social media is showing some real promise in helping nonprofit organizations to connect to new people in new ways and build momentum around their work, and I think that social work students are particularly well-poised to play a role in this revolution.

    Now, let me know if you want some help figuring out how to approach your supervisor!

    Materials:
    Study on Nonprofits and Social Media ROI (or lack thereof)

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