15 Creating an Online Strategy to Enhance Effective Community Building and Organizing
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15 Creating an Online Strategy to Enhance Effective Community Building and Organizing NICKIE BAZELL SATARIANO AMANDA WONG 269 Online interactions are such a pervasive part of our society that 92 percent of two-year-olds in the United States have a digital footprint, such as photos posted on the web, and one out of eight married couples in 2009 met via social media (Magid 2010; Qualman 2011). As of 2011, the social networking site Facebook had over 500 million registered users (Facebook 2011). If Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous in the world after China and India (Grossman 2010). Today’s Internet landscape is infinitely dynamic. Aside from having access to an unlimited database of information, Internet users now continually edit, contribute , share, and discuss information. Web 2.0, the name given to this range of interactive and collaborative communication styles (O’Reilly 2005), “is not a new form of technology but rather a new way that everyday people” and tech developers use the Internet for participatory purposes (Daniels 2011, 278; Kaplan and Haenlein 2010). Much of this is made possible by social media. We define social media as a set of digital tools such as blogs, collaborative documents, photos, videos, and social networking sites that allow us to forge and nurture relationships with unprecedented ease and frequency (Kanter and Fine 2010; Kaplan and Haenlein 2010). These tools are inexpensive, easy to use, and represent a way of communicating that is here to stay. Social media is no teenage fad—in fact, the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is women fifty-five and older (Lin 2010). Social media are effectively being used to engage thousands of people in a variety of issues to create social change. Internet organizing was a key strategy in Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, allowing him to involve millions of people he had never met in campaigning for him with a single click of a button (Carr 2008) and raising an unprecedented amount of money via online donations. Experts argue that his campaign’s strategic use of social media tapped into formerly politically inactive populations by engaging key stakeholders in each community, and was the single biggest factor in winning him the race (Smith and Rainie 2008). The incoming Obama administration then used Web 2.0 and social media to engage thousands of Americans, in under a week’s time, in reading about health care reform ideas and offering their own reactions and suggestions (Daniels 2011). Recently, the whole world watched as social media played a critical role in ousting Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Facebook groups such as We Are All Khaled Said (named for a young man who was beaten to death by Egyptian security forces) grew from twenty thousand to four hundred thousand followers within weeks. Similarly, Twitter hashtags (the “#” symbol followed by a keyword Twitter users add to their posts to enter a conversation) such as #jan25—referring to the first day of the revolution—generated dozens of tweets (or Twitter posts) every minute just days after it was introduced. Such social media helped bring tens of thousands of protesters into the streets (Lister and Smith 2011). Organizers and protesters used cell phones to upload videos and photos to social media sites, giving their families and international allies real-time updates. When Internet access was shut down, they were able to record voicemails that were automatically transcribed into tweets (“Egypt Crisis” 2011). The successful role of social media in the Egyptian uprisings catalyzed similar organizing efforts by youth and their older allies in Jordan, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and other countries to gain civil rights and topple dictators through a domino effect during the “Arab Spring” of 2011 (Slackman 2011). As this book goes to press, the similarly important role of Internet-supported organizing propelled the Occupy Wall Street movement, with supporters mobilizing around forthcoming demonstrations via Facebook and Twitter posts and providing real-time visual descriptions with photos and video streams taken on the ground by protesters or supporters. With the demonstrated success of Internet organizing, the question facing community organizers today is not whether they should use social media for community building and advocacy, but when and how they should. Unfortunately, many groups have succumbed to the lure of easy-to-create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts without taking the time to think about “how to establish a consistent, sustainable, and easily recognizable presence that integrates and enhances both online and real-world...


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Subject Headings

  • Health promotion.
  • Community health services -- Citizen participation.
  • Community organization.
  • Community development.
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