I’ve presented at conferences on the topic of the importance of social networking and social media for human services providers, and I have posted on this blog many times about our efforts at Keystone Human Services.  Now, many human services providers are on Twitter and Facebook, and it has me thinking about social networking and the people we support.  (For an example of the growing number of service providers on Twitter, see my list http://twitter.com/#/list/jbuford/intellectual-disability.)

People supported by human services providers are all vulnerable in one way or another—some only temporarily, others more systemically—and one of our important tasks is to shore up their areas of vulnerability.  Those efforts can sometimes lead to a blurring of the lines from a professional relationship to one that looks more like friendship.  The ethics of that are clearer in fields such as social work, psychology, and psychiatry (i.e. the principles of confidentiality and dual relationships)  than they are for the people who directly support people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, autism, or other challenges in the community.  In this setting the guide posts are far murkier .

True to form, I have no answers to these myriad ethical dilemmas.  In fact, I don’t even have the questions.  I have a strong sense, though, that those of us who think we have an obligation to make sure our communities are welcoming to all people, need to think through the hazards, and the benefits, of “friending” people we support.    Already the digital divide disproportionately excludes many people from the community we all enjoy in the social media.

In my organization I’m putting together a diverse panel of people to begin to define questions and an ethical framework, but I’d like to have the conversation here in the social media as well.  Do you or your organization struggle to find the right answer to how to help someone with an intellectual disability navigate Facebook safely, without paternalism or odd blurring of lines?  Have you already answered questions about how to respond when someone you support “friends” you?  Please let me know how you are framing the questions, and maybe we can work together to craft answers.

Thanks!

Advertisements

So far our efforts with social networking have produced mixed  results, which is not unaligned with our expectations.   All in all, though,  I’d say it’s been a success.

I’ll start not with the strategy, but with the functional areas of the organization we’re trying to impact.  Our first serious efforts were on behalf of Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD), which is a program within Keystone Children & Family Services.  SSD holds PawsAbilities, its major fundraiser ,in March in Harrisburg PA.  It is a 2-day event and its success relies heavily on a large turnout.

This year we heavily promoted the event through Facebook groups and local event websites.  We recruited influential bloggers with service-dog credibility, to urge people to attend and/or to donate.  We tweeted before, during, and after the event.  We did live video streaming from some of the most fun events–like the dock dogs.  It was a lot of work!

The end result was more press coverage, happier vendors (they got much more exposure), a more connected support community, and about the same turnout as the prior year.  Given that the prior year was a year of very high attendance, and given that the US economy is very different this year (especially in mid-March) we’re calling this an enormous success.  The blogs are continuing and are generating real followers and creating distinct communities, which is wonderful.  The Facebook group has grown from about 25 members to over 700  (a squad!) and even our flagship website, www.keystonehumanservices.org is receiving new traffic.

Lessons learned  so far:

  • This is a lot of work, and it doesn’t seem to fall naturally into any one area of corporate responsibility.  In our case, IT is the champion, but that seems to be relatively rare.  Whoever takes the lead needs to be prepared to add a fair amount of workload.
  • The online toolset is still in a state of flux, so be prepared to try several before you land on the one(s) that are best suited to your organization.
  • Be prepared for internal skepticism.  There are still people in my organization who firmly believe that computers are time wasters, and that most people don’t need access to the Internet.  As much as I would sometimes like to dismiss that thinking as irrelevant in this decade, I need to take seriously the underlying concerns.  We have serious work to do, and we mustn’t let ourselves get distracted by fads. I need to be able to justify this effort with clear strategy statements and with clear results.

that’s all for today . . . .

 

follow me on Twitter!

Like many other organizations, the company I work for, Keystone Human Services, is exploring the use of social networking to expand  support of our mission.  Our approach to human services is community-centric. and our mission is to create opportunities and support people in becoming active contributing members of the community.  Until a few short years ago, everyone at Keystone understood the word “community” to mean the physical community—a neighborhood community, a school community, a faith community, a business . . . you get the idea.

Our understanding of community has definitely changed.  This blog is beginning to be a community;  Keystone has active groups on Facebook and other social networking sites; and, we are beginning to blog about our newest organization Keystone Autisn Services.  The past few months have been very exciting and encouraging as I watch the organization begin to engage with the questions that this change in approach brings.

We’re dividing our efforts as follows:  Blogging and microblogging/Social Networking/Online fundraising/friendraising/ and Cause Related Marketing.

Our bloggers and microbloggers are tweeting and blogging about special events like Pawsabilities, which benefits our service dog agency, about new service offerings, like the Adult Community Autism Program, and about volunteer opportunities.  On Facebook we have groups for our agencies and specialty areas, and causes for our services that rely on philanthropy to keep going.  We use Just Means to connect our message with other socially conscious business and non-profits, and we are embracing new opportunities to speak directly with our stakeholders.

We know we are in the early stages of understanding what these new ways of communicating mean to our organization and to the delivery of human services, but I do wish we were encountering more evidence that  other human services organizations  are trying these tools. 

Let me know your thoughts.  Is your organization choosing integration of these tools or are you firewalling to keep your focus on your traditional services? 

Looking forward to hearing your responses.