No doubt. I absolutely believe in the power of the Internet and social media to foster social good and create social change, and I’ve written plenty of blog posts that say as much, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge that the rise of the Social Web has created some very real and serious challenges for the nonprofit sector, such as:
1) The 24/7 bad-news-is-#BreakingNews cycle.
All day, everyday the online masses are being bombarded with terrible news. From famine in Africa to war in the Middle East to global economic collapse, people are increasingly becoming overwhelmed by all the tweets, status updates, photos, and videos of gloom, doom, and despair. If it continues as it has, then I fear that many people will begin to check-out and become numb to our calls to action. Two years ago when I sent out urgent tweets or status updates, the online masses would respond instantly with concern and generosity. Today, there’s a deafening silence – not because people don’t care, but because the constant barrage of bad news is perpetuating the feeling that our problems are insurmountable and that people can not make a positive impact. That’s not good, not good at all.
What nonprofits can do about it: Share more success stories, please. People need to hear more good news. They need to feel hope. As the agents for social good, nonprofits are in a unique position to help reverse this trend of extreme negativity in the online collective consciousness. Even the most challenging issues have stories of success. If your nonprofit assists the poor, share a story of someone who finally secured employment or got a raise and can now feed their family and buy their kids new shoes for the school year. If your nonprofit works in disaster relief, share a story of survival. Or, if your nonprofit works to protect the environment or animals, for every tragic loss of habitat or endangered species, share a story of conservation or progress. Of course, I am not suggesting nonprofits turn a blind eye to the problems of the world, but some more good news on the Internet definitely couldn’t hurt.
2) The rise of the Internet troll.
Over the last few years there has been an obvious rise in the Internet troll. Fueled by ego and discontent, these people rant, scream, complain, critique, and hate for hours upon hours on blogs and social networking sites – usually anonymously or using a fake name. Even worse, misery loves company and where one troll finds an online home, many others follow and settle in. Internet trolling has become so widespread and ridiculous that I (and many others) don’t even look at blog or Facebook Status Update comments anymore which defeats much of the purpose and the power of social media for social good.
What nonprofits can do about it: We can’t stop the trolls, but we can prevent them from infecting our online communities. Block, delete, ban, report, and move on. There are plenty of other websites where they can spew their hate and negativity, but believe me – they are toxic and can easily destroy the good will and good vibe of the communities your nonprofit has spent years building for your cause. There’s a difference between disagreeing respectfully on issues, but Internet trolls have no respect for other people’s opinions. Engaging them just makes it worse. Block, delete, ban, report, and move on.
3) Social media burnout
In most cases, social media practitioners in the nonprofit sector spend their days living and breathing the 24/7 bad-news-is-#BreakingNews cycle, and if they work on controversial issues, Internet trolls are likely a daily occurrence. Those two factors alone can easily burnout the most committed and compassionate of nonprofit staff. When you add to that the constant multitasking required to implement social media campaigns well and the addictive nature of social media, burnout is a given. Indeed, I struggle with it often.
What nonprofits can do about it: Make an effort to get away from your computer, tablet, and/or smartphone! Seriously. In 2009, I wrote up 10 tips on how to deal with social media burnout and for me they still ring true, but another I’d like to add now is to watch much less cable news. I can’t tell you how much I am dreading the next 15 months of 2012 election coverage and its potential impact here in the United States. If it’s anything like the last three weeks of cable news coverage about the debt deal/crisis, I just don’t see how it will serve the social good.
Thoughts? Other ways that social media has negatively affected the nonprofit sector that we need to be aware of and deal with? Troll stories? Tips for handling social media burnout? Information overload?