Why use Social Networks to reinforce social campaigning?

Some of the things that I talked informally about in the bar at #muconf10 (Mothers’ Union All Unit Conference at Swanwick last week) was my understanding that ordinary people need to reinforce and make visible their commitment to and passion for particular forms of social action by talking about them on social media networks.

My basic logic is this (and based on the recent launch of Mothers’ Union Bye Buy Childhood campaign):

Mothers’ Union officers and staff go to the trouble of launching a long-term campaign that seeks to encourage some constructive change by businesses on the issue of the commercialisation of childhood, follows up on manifesto commitments by our political parties on the subject, and will also provide practical help to young families who want to deal with the related problems they encounter in daily life. They get good coverage in the national press, from the BBC as well as national papers.

But how does the wider media world know that ordinary people, whether Mothers’ Union members or not, really care about issues like this? They don’t, unless ordinary people (whether Mothers’ Union members or not) are out there talking about the issues involved, and showing themselves to be committed to supporting the campaign on their social media networks, and preferably on the networks used or noticed by people who will talk about this sort of campaign.

Now, if you’re reading this, you know I have a blog. I’ve been on Facebook for several years and the blog linked to my Facebook presence fairly soon after I started it. I use it to communicate with real family and friends (people I’ve met and know) who over the years have become spread around the globe. I want to talk to these people about the things I’m involved with, what I feel strongly about, and why. So yes, I talked about the Bye Buy Childhood campaign on Facebook as it was launched.

I’ve been on Twitter since early this year – these days to save time, my blog posts feed my Twitter account, which in turn automatically feeds my Facebook account in one easy electronic process, and I read and write the whole lot in one application called Tweetdeck.

Those folk I follow, and who follow me on Twitter, tend largely to be a different network of people. I have not necessarily met these people, but I’ve read stuff by them or about them, that makes me value their opinion and want to communicate with them.

Among these folk are people who I’m glad ‘follow’ me, because it means I feel like I’m getting information about what I think and care about into their lives. So yes, I talked about the launch of the campaign on my Twitter account –  and if that means Ruth Gledhill of The Times (who for some reason follows my tweets) took just the smallest notice, that can only be to the good.

Basically the more people that know that grass-roots Mothers’ Union members are passionate about the campaigns the organisation launches, the better it is for the campaigns and for Mothers’ Union. The same would be true for any other NGO!

There is another reason for Mothers’ Union members specifically to social network their commitment to their faith and Mothers’ Union: Mothers’ Union members had an image that suggested they were a bit ‘behind the times’. Getting ordinary members out into the world of social networks is another way of dispelling that image and getting our voice heard and respected in the public arena, and not just the hallowed corridors of power.

I know that Social Networks can be regarded as the big bogi-men of the internet – that much was apparent at the conference from some conversations I had. But if handled carefully, with the appropriate privacy levels, I’m totally convinced that social networks are and can increasingly be, a useful tool that we can use wisely to change our world for the better.

I was really encouraged that whilst writing this post (over a couple of late evenings) I found that people are way ahead of me: try reading Graham Richards Serentwitterpy page to learn more about the power of Social Media and how to Twitter usefully. Another person who can talk much more technically on this sort of stuff than I ever will is Dr Bex Lewis.

And thanks to Alec Muffett for getting me into all this stuff in the first place!