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Social Media: Meeting The Client Where They’re At

By Rachel L. West
Advocacy & Community Outreach Consultant

The Political Social Worker offers consultation on the use of social media in private practice and for nonprofits. You can schedule a free consultation here.

A few days ago I came across this blurb on techsoup.org:

A recent study by California nonprofit Community Technology Alliance found that almost 70% of the homeless people surveyed in their county did have a mobile phone. One survey participant referred to her phone as a “lifeline,” further adding: “With a reliable cell phone, I will be able to function as an independent person.” (source)

This is another example of why social work needs to focus more on integrating technology into practice. I have heard from many in the field who justify their avoidance of using social media in practice by saying that it is predominantly middle class people who have access to computers and mobile technology; therefore they don’t see it a valuable community outreach tool. It is not that that is entirely untrue. But we are seeing the tech gap between rich and poor closing at a rapid rate.

A few weeks ago Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) ran an article about using SMS to reach out to constituents.

For organizations that serve historically marginalized communities, text messaging is particularly appealing. Unlike other technologies that require computers or broadband connectivity, there is virtually no text messaging digital divide based on ethnicity, income, or education level. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Latino and African-American adults are more likely than whites to send or receive text messages, people with annual incomes under $30,000 send nearly twice as many text messages per day as those with incomes over $75,000, and people with less than a high school education text at twice the rate of those with advanced degrees. And mobile phones are everywhere. According to Pew, 88 percent of adults in the U.S. own a mobile phone, a rate significantly higher than ownership of laptop computers (57 percent), desktop computers (55 percent), smartphones (46 percent), and tablet computers (19 percent). (source)

Another NPQ article discusses how some nonprofits are using social media to connect with homeless clients.

Mark Horvath has coined the concept called “virtual case management” after his own experience with homelessness. While traditional case management refers to routine visits and check-ins, virtual case management is expanding that connection to the ability to reach the homeless in crisis at any time. “In five-ten years, virtual case management will be a common term,” Horvath said. (source)

As social workers we need to stop viewing social media as merely being a form of entertainment. Human service agencies and nonprofits also need to change their mindset when it comes to this issue. Among the organizations that have embraced social media, many hold a very narrow view of how it should be used. They mostly see it in light of raising funds. Yes, it can be useful for connecting with donors but it can do so much more. I have talked previously about this in Nonprofits: Social Media Is Not Just for Fundraising.

I offer advocacy and community outreach solutions for nonprofits and other social good organizations. You can set up a free initial consult with me here.

Posted by Rachel L. West

In addition to being the founder of The Political Social Worker blog, I am a consultant. My consulting practice offers advocacy and community outreach solutions to nonprofits, social good organizations, and private practitioners. Additionally, I offer career coaching to macro social work students and professionals.

One comment

  1. Rachel, I agree with you about nonprofits changing their mindsets about social media !


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