Posts Tagged ‘Social Media’

21st March
written by Catherine An

I’ve been doing some thinking about community.

Last week, the Nonprofit Technology Conference descended on DC. Every year, thousands of happy geeked-out NGO workers get together to find out what’s new in the field of technology and how those new shiny tools can be used to make NGOs better!

And while I enjoy the workshops, I think what NTC does best is gel a community together. There’s always ample opportunity to mingle between workshops, there’s a community lounge where people can rest up, plug in, and meet new people. There are endless opportunities for people who live in the same city, who have the same job functionality, who have the same interests, who have the same challenges to share their struggles and stories. And the playful spirit of the conference – from the opening remarks to the ice cream breaks to the relaxed dress code – perpetuates a sense of ease and comfort. “We’re all in this together!” the conference seems to announce from the get-go.

And that experience, at least for me, is the backbone of this community. Every year, I’m excited to see the friends I met the year before and throughout the year, I join in on webinars and conference calls to stay updated on what’s happening. And I know that there is a resource out there to which I can turn if I find myself up against a technology wall I can’t hurdle over. We’re in it together, truly, and I’m as happy to lend my limited knowledge as I am to ask for some from others.

Which lead me to my next question: are we, the Alliance, fostering a sense of community among homeless assistance partners? Among direct service providers and legislators and community leaders and advocates? Are we providing a space where people feel the easy necessary to share freely and ask for assistance? Are we providing the tools and guidance you need to do your job as best as you can?

And more specifically, is that what our conference does? If you could offer us one pointer about our conference (and please do below!), what would that be?

Because here at the Alliance (and definitely here on the Alliance Facebook page and Twitter feed, we want to offer a space where you can share ideas, links, questions, and thoughts.

Please let us know if we can do better!

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23rd February
written by Catherine An

So Anna and I just got off a webinar about the new Facebook pages offered by Andrew Cohen, managing editor at Forum One. (Disclaimer: Forum One is our internet strategy/website development/all things geeky consultant. But they do offer some good notes about Facebook for new users!).

Yesterday, Anna sat in on a call hosted by Network for Good on ways to improve web writing and compose better micro-content for social networks (specifically, fundraising on social networks).

And just this morning, I got a call from an eager outreach officer asking me to embed some video on our social networks to support a homelessness radio marathon streaming live from Kansas City, MO.

And so I find myself again at that juncture between social change and social media.

At the Alliance, we continue our struggle to find the right balance between traditional and social media outreach. We work hard to assess and re-assess the value and return of our Facebook page, our Twitter account, our blog. And based on the community online, based on the emails I receive, and based on the chatter around the office, I know that we’re not the only ones to struggle with these not-really-new-anymore mediums.

Me – I’m a luddite-in-disguise (and it’s not a great disguise either). As much as I like the new and shiny tools online, I’d really rather not have to learn a whole new thing – especially if it’s going to take more than two minutes.

But here’s what keeps me tweeting away: the way people consume information has fundamentally changed (just ask the print industry). And while some people may cling to the newspapers and weeklies, they’re hardly in the majority anymore. News breaks on blogs, announcements happen online, and when I want a brief overview of what’s happened overnight, I pull up my Twitter feed – not the New York Times.

And as an organization dedicated to informing the field of homelessness, it’s our responsibility to reach people where they are.

That’s just the view from here. What conversations are you having in the office about social media and online outreach?

Image courtesy of Matt Haughey.

20th December
written by Catherine An

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with members of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness – brand new research director Kristy Greenwalt (formerly of ICF International and communications director Jason Kravitz.

We did a lot of talking about communications.

It’s always the same questions: what are the best methods to share information with lots and lots of people? How do we get information to where people are? How do we know what information to give them? How do people consumer information nowadays? And (my personal favorite) what if the information they want isn’t the information we want them to want?

Basically the same topics that haunt any thoughtful communications officer in her sleep.

But despite my fears of the 24-hour news cycle, the unwieldiness of social media, the impact – or lack thereof – of newsletters and email campaigns, I generally try to come back to two main guiding principles (fingers-crossed): a) the goals of the organization and b) the information I want to share.

And I find when I keep that in mind, my work becomes clearer.

I try to push out the great resources we have to share: our counts data, our best practices, our community snapshots, our interactive tools. We consider our audience, the ever-shortening time span of the average consumer, the best and most concise tools we have. We blog to clarify the information we send out, we link to other articles, briefs, and notes we think are useful, we comment on news that other organizations put out.

And I feel like pushing and clarifying and pushing and sharing and pushing and explaining and pushing has really helped people understand not only what we’re all about – but what we have to offer.

And the more people are able to hone their understanding of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the more they turn to us for assistance that can really make a difference: how do I practice prevention? Who’s doing great with rapid re-housing? What federal policies are going to impact me? How do I get started with targeting?

(Questions like these make me so happy!)

And together, we move closer and closer to achieving the goal: to end homelessness in the United States.

All that to say, feel free to throw us your questions: on Twitter, on Facebook, on the blog, through good old-fashioned email. We’re always eager to answer your questions and share what we know about homelessness – and ending homelessness – with you.

You ask – and we’ll do our best to answer.

Photo courtesy of Chiceaux.

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13th December
written by Catherine An

This morning, our friend Nathan Rott wrote piece about Eric Sheptock, a consumer advocate for homeless people in Washington, D.C.

Eric is a homeless advocate who, himself, is experiencing homelessness. As Nathan observed, “Being homeless has become Sheptock’s full-time occupation. It’s work that has provided him with purpose and a sense of community.”

And not just in person, but online. Eric has a robust Facebook and Twitter network and two blogs in which he chronicles his life as a person experiencing homelessness. Social networks have become a powerful medium for Sheptock to spread his message and amass followers. “”I don’t think I’d be able to do much of anything without the Internet,” Nathan quotes Eric.

And it’s not just Eric. Another good friend of the Alliance – Mark Horvath has taken the cause of assisting homeless people online. With a ceaseless stream of tweets, Facebook posts, streaming video, and countless other mediums, Mark peppers his ever-growing group of followers with information about and thoughts on the state of homelessness wherever he goes. He’s even taken his mission on the road – traveling cross-country and back to learn about homelessness on the ground and relay it to his awaiting digital public.

Their stories, Mark and Eric’s, are compelling, stirring, moving. They serve an important role in our efforts to end homelessness – drawing awareness and attention to the problem so that it becomes real and palpable to decision makers and activists. Creating a tangible, sympathetic reality and dispelling the myths about homelessness is step one in understanding the problem.

But here at the Alliance, we’re also focused on outcomes. We’re aiming to channel this kind of activism so that it can lead to real change for people experiencing homelessness. And not just in the way of soup kitchens and shelters but permanent supportive housing, social services, case management, job training and all the things it’s going to take for someone who’s experiencing homelessness to pull themselves out of it.

Eric and Mark play an important role in homelessness awareness – but you need to step in where their efforts leave off. After encouraging excitement and interest in the captive audience, we need to tell them what to do next: lobby Congress, talk to local officials, volunteer with direct service organizations so that they know what it’s going to take to end homelessness in your communities. Pay attention to policy, read news clips about housing, and stay abreast of emerging trends and information about how to make permanent housing a reality for people experiencing homelessness. Taking off from where some people leave the issue, we need to push our well-informed advocates to take action.

Because learning about homelessness is important – but ending homelessness is what changes lives.

For more information about policies, best practices, and other solutions to homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.

20th October
written by Catherine An

So after tipping my hat to the 100,000 Homes Campaign for featuring our interactive tools and maps on their (awesome!) blog, I did a little tooling around to remind myself of other really useful tools on our very own website!

The Alliance has, for almost 30 years, lead the campaign to end homelessness in the United States. And over the decades, we’ve accumulated the data, best practices, and effective strategies necessary to end homelessness.

And we’re hoping to share them with you!

After checking out our most visited pages and most popular tools, we’ve compiled a list of ten things – links, pages, reports – you need in order to end homelessness in your community (read: really great tools and info). And, just for good measure, I’ve tossed in a couple not-so-popular but ever-so-useful links as well.

    1. The About Homelessness section.
      This section gives you a broad snapshot of homelessness at the national level and includes sections and information on different demographics, the cost of homelessness, and maps produced by the Homelessness Research Institute(HRI).


    1. The Interactive Tools and Solutions section.
      HRI produces a number of charts, tools, and maps to help you better understand homelessness. Some of the more recent tools illustrate the number of doubled-up households in the United States, HPRP spending per household in the cities we’re tracking, and reductions in point-in-time counts necessary to meet the goals outlined in the federal strategic plan to end homelessness.


    1. The (new!) HPRP Youth Profile series
      If you feel like youth homelessness has broken the media barrier, I’d agree with you. Youth homelessness is getting noticed as, as ending youth homelessness is one of our 2010 Policy Priorities, we’ve had our eyes out. This series highlights how some communities are effectively using federal HPRP dollars to service this vulnerable population.


    1. Our Issues Sections.
      So you’re feeling ready to go a little deeper? We go over the major topics we study at the Alliance. You’ll get an overview of chronic, family, veterans, and youth homelessness. We also go over rural homelessness, domestic violence, mental and physical health, and re-entry issues.


    1. Check out the Solutions.
      Don’t forget: we don’t just study homelessness – we’re about ending it. In this section, we show you how. We go over the best practices and effective policies necessary to end all types of homelessness. Among then is the Alliance-championed Ten Year Plan, as well as the [also Alliance-championed] Housing First principle. We also include information about prevention and rapid re-housing, including the President’s stimulus-funded, Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program.


    1. The new Training section
      Our capacity building team has really been making waves! They’re working on serious, on the ground issues with local communities to help them implement the best methods to end homelessness in their communities. They’ve also launched a great  Performance Improvement Clinic (formerly called the HEARTH Academy), helping people prepare for the changes that’ll take effect next year. If you’re a provider, this is the section for you!


    1. Local Progress
      Here we post on-the-ground examples of real, live plans put into practice. And, as you can imagine, those plans yielded some quantifiable results! We’ve posted snapshots from San Francisco, New York City, Denver, Chicago, Columbus, and other communities. Is your community among these snapshots??


    1. The 2011 National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness website
      It’s new and improved and waiting for you! Registration has opened and we’ve already received applications – are you one of them? This year’s conference is in sunny Oakland, California and we can’t wait to see you there!


    1. The Policy Updates.
      A chart organizing the major pieces of federal legislation about homelessness! Information about the implementation of the HEARTH Act and McKinney-Vento appropriations are kept up-to-date there – and you can find more information about other policies as well.


  1. And one more for good measure: the homepage.
    Find out about the latest policy updates, reports, documents, campaigns, events, and news. And what’s most important (read to me?) This is where you can connect with us.I know you’re already here (on the blog) but are you connecting with us on Facebook and Twitter? If you aren’t, you should! Our social networks are a great way to connect with us online, meet our experts and advocates, and learn (up-to-the-minute) what’s happening in our office and the field of homelessness. We talk with our friends, trade notes, links, and resources, and chat about emerging issues and upcoming innovations.


28th September
written by naehblog

Yesterday, my colleague Anna and I attended a workshop hosted by Ogilvy on the role of social media in government, “OGILVY 360 DI GOV 2.0 EXCHANGE: How Social Media Tools are Shaping Government, the 2010 Elections and Issue Campaigns.”

(Long, I know).

I’ve been to a number of workshops that discuss the ways different sectors can use social media: how to use social media for nonprofits, how to use social media for companies, how to use social media for yourself, and on and on and on.

For me, the central debate in these workshops is not the different way that the tools can be utilized (because really, that’s what these social media applications are, right? New communications tools?) but the principles guiding their use. Is the central goal of social media tools is to engage the public by giving them more access?

Put another way, I find myself asking “is more information better than less information?”

For me, the answer to the question is yes. When confronted by different philosophies of communications, I always hear C.J. Cregg’s (Allison Janney played White House Press Secretary turned Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg in the epic teleivion series, West Wing) immortal words ringing in my ears, “information breeds confidence; silence breeds fear.”

(And sometimes frustration.)

It’s the way it’s been here at the Alliance. As we cautiously make our way into the online universe – taking up only what we know we can manage – we have found a small but enthusiastic audience with which to share information. Larger still is the audience that cares about homelessness but has much more difficulty understanding the nuances and complexities of solving such a fraught social problem. And even larger is the audience that we miss – a recently usability test administered at our annual conference found that of the 15 randomly selected people who took our test, only 2 followed us on our social networks.

Social media is an art, it seems, and not a science.

The panelists at the Ogilvy workshop – including Ari Melber of Politico, Alexander Howard of O’Reilly Media, Gwynne Kostin of the GSA, Mark Murray of NBC, and Micah Sifry of Personal Democracy Forum – seemed to agree. Social media is a powerful tool – but one that we’re still figuring out how to use.

Some critiques the panelists brought up:

  • we haven’t found great ways for people to engage online in a meaningful way (see Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on social media and social change)
  • we haven’t found a good way to collaborate online

So we have a ways to go – but that shouldn’t dampen the potential that lies vibrant in this new way to disseminate information.

Tell us about your experience! Do you find social media helpful? Personally? Professionally? What are your goals for these new networks? Let us know!

16th September
written by Catherine An

And it’s back! I’m picking up where Marisa dropped off in learning about the ten objectives of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Today we’re looking at objective two.

Objective 2: Strengthen the capacity of public and private organizations by increasing knowledge about collaboration, homelessness, and successful interventions to prevent and end homelessness.

As the communications arm of the Alliance, this objective is really important to us. One of the goals outlined in the HRI mission is to build and disseminate information about homelessness and engage the public and the media.

And to that end, we’ve tried to adopt the technologies that make the most sense to us. You’ll find us on Facebook, you can follow us on Twitter, you can check out our videos on YouTube and see our pictures (from our photo contest on Flickr. (And of course, there’s this blog). Through these avenues, we aim to engage supporters and disseminate information about homelessness – and solutions to homelessness.

Of course, the primary vehicle to do just that is our website. There, you’ll find factsheets, solutions, strategies, community snapshots, research, and an oft-visited and very helpful section called About Homelessness. The website is regularly updated with new information about the wide range of issues that intersect with homelessness: health care, veterans affairs, welfare, violence, substance abuse, and the like.

Our challenge is always in reaching the people that need us. Our last usability test (conducted at the Annual Conference in July) suggested that – despite our efforts – a significant portion of conference attendees don’t subscribe to our newsletter or our social networks. We may be pushing information into the atmosphere but it’s of very little use unless anyone receives it!

So we embrace this new objective set forth by the federal plan, challenging us to share knowledge about homelessness and it’s solutions. I certainly hope you’ll join me in spreading the news!

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31st August
written by Marisa Seitz

Hello everyone! I can’t believe my internship at the Alliance is over, but I can definitely say I am so glad I came here! When I interviewed for this job, I just wanted to work for a good cause and I didn’t know anything about homelessness. That certainly isn’t the case now!

I have learned so much about homelessness since I came to the Alliance, my perceptions have been completely changed. I have learned about the struggles the people endure and the causes that force people into homelessness. I have learned that the stereotype I had before I came here was just not in line with reality. The biggest misconception I had? That the people I see on the streets are the majority of the homeless population. Chronic homelessness only makes up 20 percent though! After working here, I will definitely do my best to help change people’s perceptions, because I can see that this is the most important step in affecting change.

It has also been great blogging with you! I had never worked on a professional blog or ran social media for an organization before, but the experience has shown me how such tools can really be great ways to get information out to people. Running social media like Facebook and Twitter has also shown me how we can develop communities of people who really care, to help spread information and start to affect real change.

I am so happy to have been able to work with all the staff here at the Alliance, it has truly been a blast. Everyone was so eager to tell me anything I wanted to know, and it is great to find a group so dedicated to ending homelessness. They are all truly an inspiration.

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10th August
written by Catherine An

For the next two weeks – starting on Monday, August 16 – we’ll be seeing new faces and hearing new voices on the Alliance social networks as staff and interns alike take their intrepid first steps into the Twitterverse, blogosphere, and whatever we’re calling Facebook.

Marisa Seitz is already a familiar face and regular contributor on the Alliance blog. She’s largely  responsible for the aesthetic qualities of the new look of the blog and images around the Alliance’s first-ever photo contest. Make her happy and get those photos in!

You’ve probably also heard from Grace Stubee, a returning intern here at the Alliance. She’s hard at work on the advocacy team, helping our hardworking supporters to get their message to their elected officials. Grace will serve as the point person for our photo contest – she can answer all your questions!

From our policy shop, we have Kate Seif, one of the newest full-time Alliance staffers and new assistant to the president. As Nan’s assistant, she triages all the requests, invitations, projects, and papers that Nan receives and handles Nan’s calendar. In addition, she’s a critical element of our policy staff, often serving as point or coordinator on our larger policy publications, including the Policy Guide and upcoming Advocacy Toolkit. She’s also really into vlogging, so look out for videos featuring Kate!

And finally, we have Anna Blasco, social media extraordinaire. Anna is on our admin team and has a strong proficiency – and great enthusiasm – for social networking. You’ll definitely be hearing from her on Twitter, Facebook, and whatever else turns out to be the network-of-the-moment.

Please welcome our newest additions to the Alliance social networks with thoughtful comments, insightful questions, and lots and lots of submissions to our photo contest! We look forward to hearing from you!

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7th July
written by naehblog

A couple weeks ago, I gave a brief, casual presentation about our organizational social media networks over a lunch meeting.

The Alliance has been online for about a year now, on Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, and YouTube.

Not surprisingly, Twitter and Facebook are our most active networks; the blog averages a few thousand readers per month.

And as we invest the time and manpower it requires maintaining these networks (and sometimes it takes quite a bit!), we’re constantly asking ourselves the following questions:

1. What is the goal of our social networks?
2. What do people want from our social networks?

So to answer the second question, we put out a social media survey in May/June of this year. We asked people who they were, what their roles were in the homeless assistance community, how they followed the Alliance, and what content they preferred (Reports? Advocacy updates? Federal policy information?)

And we came up with some interesting results.

  • The majority of our Twitter users say advocacy updates and opportunities to take action are most useful, followed by media clips about housing and homelessness.
  • Community members on Facebook, blog, and our weekly newsletter were all most interested in learning about permanent supportive housing; Twitter users were interested in learning about HPRP.
  • The policy advocates, grassroots advocates/activists, housing/service providers, and interested citizens who follow us all preferred Facebook updates to updates on other outlets.
  • 50 percent of the survey respondents either collaborate with Alliance staff or use our website for work.
  • News about Alliance events is generally the least interest/useful material we put out. (That being said, we’re still going to pepper you every so often with news about our upcoming conference!)

The first question, as many in the field will tell you, is a harder nut to crack. And it’s something that I, as the social media girl at the Alliance, find myself asking a lot. Is the time and energy I invest on these social networks worthwhile? How am I advancing my organization’s goals by tinkering on our organization’s website?

And for me, I find my answer in our mission. As a member of the Homelessness Research Institute, part of my mission is to “build and disseminate knowledge”, to “educate and inform” people about ending homelessness. (I’m guessing that a lot of people in my role have similar mission statements.)

And to that end, I find, these social media tools are instrumental. Social networks offer a place where a critical mass of people has gathered with the explicit purpose to connect to friends, colleagues, and organizations. The platform offers a way for us to dispense information about our organization and issue – and provides supporters a means to interact with us in ways not have available to them before. Social networks are an avenue that we can walk every day to educate and update people interested in the small piece of the world we investigate.

And the growth of our networks seem to suggest that the portion of the population interested in our work is sizable.

Since January:

  • Our Facebook audience has grown from 280 fans to 1644 fans. The growth in fans has been accompanied by a growth in activity on the site, with an increase in the number of comments and “likes” on our updates.
  • Our Twitter fanbase has grown from 686 followers to 1205 followers. Hot topics among our Twitter friends in the last six months included Alliance reports, Awards Ceremony, TANF/family homelessness, and HUD products and reports.
  • Our blog has also grown in readership, averaging about 3000 readers per month. Top referring sites have included our own website, Facebook and twitter accounts.

Just this morning, the Alliance research director and I wondered if the seemingly endless stream of data now readily available and at our fingertips is making us better-informed citizens (or not). What we concluded was that there was a clear and distinct divide between data and information – and that while the availability of data may have surged, it may not have been accompanied by an increase in available information.

It now occurs to me that perhaps my goal through our social networks is to provide information. In a field as fraught and misunderstood as homelessness, the onus lies on nonprofit groups like ours to correct the misgivings of the well-intentioned and grow the community of citizens that are committed to reducing and ending homelessness in the United States.

Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself for now.

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