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Cautions on the Use of Social Media

Many of the cautions about social media are similar to those for any community engagement activity (Bacon, 2009). For example, when appraising face-to-face interactions, we ask, are the responses honest? Will people have the time to participate? We need to ask those questions about the use of social media, too. However, use of social media raises additional concerns about who is actually participating and whether they are who they represent themselves to be. Building trust is essential for community engagement, and networking through social media alone is unlikely to achieve the level of trust needed for collective action. Rather than being seen as a substitute for in-person interactions, social media may be better viewed as supplementary or complementary, particularly in the early stages of community engagement. Furthermore, social media should not be regarded as an inexpensive alternative to the in-person building of relationships. Like any community engagement effort, use of social media for communication engagement will take time (Connor, 2009). Overall, it is important to understand the modes of communication employed by the community of interest and then use those modes.

Time is a particular concern for the person who plays the crucial role of moderating a social media forum. It is the moderator’s job to demonstrate that someone is listening, keep the discussion developing, and recruit and retain members. There are many ways in which an online community can be undermined, and it is the moderator’s job to enforce the “rules of engagement.” Once established, a forum requires regular attention. Given the pace of interactions in the social media environment, moderating a forum may require visiting the site several times a day (Bacon, 2009).

Recommendations about specific products have not been included in this chapter, because products continue to evolve. Furthermore, although the discussion addresses how social media can be used, the question of whether or when it is appropriate to use specific social media is contingent upon the nature of the individual project, available resources, and the appropriateness of the tool for the particular community. Given the resources necessary to involve social media, it would be a mistake to try to be “everywhere.” Engagement is an iterative process; organizations should be selective, determine which media (if any) the community of interest are already using, and ask the community what approaches (if any) should be used and at what time in the engagement process social media should be introduced. Like all decisions about community engagement strategies, decisions about the use of social media should be made by engaging the community.

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