Roots & Shoots: A Social Media Workshop with the Jane Goodall Institute

I quietly snuck into the James Room at the Delta Chelsea downtown where I was giving a social media workshop for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada's Youth Leadership Council (YLC). The small but energized youth were in the middle of a networking activity assigned to them when I first walked in but I was happily greeted by a friend and old co-worker of mine from Journalists for Human Rights, Carissa. We'd worked closely together giving workshops on how to use social media to spread human rights awareness and it was nice to reconnect again.

The room was filled with the 12 dynamic members of the YLC who act as ambassadors of JGI's Roots & Shoots program, a network of youth creating positive change in the environment and fostering respect and compassion for all living things. We jumped right into the workshop by discussing the significance and magnitude of social media and how to communicate effectively on these platforms. Talking social media to youngins is one of my favorite things to do because they just get it. They are the digital natives and our conversation yesterday proved that.  I was struck by their depth of understanding and critical thinking when interacting with social media.

One of my activities for the group was to deconstruct Facebook posts from various non-profit organizations and to determine which ones effectively engaged their audience, which one's didn't and how those one could be improved. I was happily surprised when the group began debating what exactly constituted an engaging post anyway. Does a "like" or a comment constitute deep enough engagement? Or does it just represent another classic case of slacktivism (or as one participant referred to it: clicktivism)?

It's a question I've struggled with while working for different NPOs and it's one that I don't readily have an answer for. For NPOs (and for businesses too), a "like" doesn't really mean much if it doesn't translate into some sort of deeper action...whether it's a donation, signing up to get involved, or spreading the word and raising awareness. Unfortunately, most interactions on social media are shallow acts under the guise of true and deep activism/involvement.

I showed a couple of posts from NPOs that encouraged their audience to "like" a post or tag themselves in photos (you'll catch 'em in the slideshow above) and one participant expressed her disdain for "cutesy" and "cheap" posts like that. I agree with her and was so happy that someone brought this up. But I do think that NPOs need to find a balance between these kinds of posts and serious messages with specific and impactful calls to action (like donating, volunteering, etc.). Although it might not seem to mean much, the act of "liking" a post can have important ripple effects. That post could show up on a friend's Facebook feed and lead them to click on that organizations' page and learn more about their projects. Maybe that friend is someone who actually wants to get more deeply involved and ends up signing up to volunteer for a local initiative. It's not easy to track or measure things like that but leveraging word of mouth and increasing brand visibility is one of the key opportunities that NPOs really need to take advantage of. 

All in all, it was really a lively workshop with a lot of healthy debate and valuable insights to draw from. It was refreshing to see a group of youth critically assess social media and consider ways to make something as seemingly simple as a Facebook posting into a conduit for deeper social engagement. Looking forward to seeing what the YLC gets up to this coming year!

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