EFC Conference 2014: Direct Dialogue and stakeholder engagement through social media

 

Maite Garcia-Lechner

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Maite García Lechner

Maite García Lechner

Social media = direct democracy
Chris Worman from Techsoup together with Catherine Lennon from EFC moderate this meeting in which the panel looks at the influence social media can have, should have or has on foundations, at the level of both sending, as well as receiving information. Social media is a form of direct democracy, which has many positive, but also some negative (side-)effects.

Does the amount of “likes” overshadow our actual work?
Haris Buljubasic from  Mozaik Foundation says nowadays many organizations, seem to be obsessed with the social media attention they get, losing sight of the actual contact with their constituencies. Foundations all keep track of the number of likes, followers and comments they get on social media, and even buy “likes”. But the quantity of online contact doesn’t beat the quality of it. Foundations should and can use social media for good purposes, among others to make their process transparent. For example, at Mozaik colleagues are immediately encouraged to get a LinkedIn profile, so that an actual face is attached to a role and people can get to know their interlocutors.

The fast square: strategy and setting the rules
Facebook and Twitter are fast-reaction spaces and since your face is connected to these social media outlets, your opinion becomes really quickly part of the public space and is therefore political. According to Darko Brkan from Zasto Ne it is important to note that the people using the social media set the rules of the game and make the standards of usage themselves. So you need to adapt to the ones that the mass have created. In the past people would go out on the streets and gather on the central square to make their voices heard. Nowadays the “square” in Bosnia is Facebook. Because the square is a digital space, movements can develop much faster. From a “trigger” to a full-blown movement, you might have a few hours whereas in the past, people would gather, develop a strategy on how to change the public opinion and then implement it by physically going out on the streets with physical banners and flyers. People often approach Darko to develop a social media strategy for their organizations. According to Darko, one should ask oneself ‘why do I need to do this?’ and develop the overall communication strategy answering this question. Once this is clear, one can develop a social media strategy accordingly. The technicalities are secondary, the strategic thinking should precede the development of the communication (whether an online platform, a new digital movement, or any other kind of media activity). In developing this strategy, it is pivotal to develop a social media strategy adapting to the existing rules. After all, it’s “social” media, so the people have the power to set the rules of the game.

The (side-)effects of social media
The next speaker Leila Bicakcic from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN), coming from the field of journalism, also re-affirms that social media allows a quicker response and thus action. As a journalist this is very important. Moreover, the response of the audience allows a quick input from the audience (the so called “vox-populi”) and thus creates a broad barometer of the public opinion. At the same time, one still needs to employ traditional investigative tools such as carefully checking the facts. Oftentimes people take over input from social media without critically looking at it and since the medium is so quick, false information can very rapidly enter into the digital space and create confusion or even conflict. This is the case presented by Maribel Königer from Erste foundation. She highlights an example of a negative effect occurred with one of their projects that got unsolicited, negative involvement from the ultra-nationalistic Serbian Dveri political movement. They were targeting a project involving kids and their teachers which they thought focused on “gay-lobbying”. In protest, they showed photos and the names of the teachers on their website, which is pretty scary for such a homophobic and aggressive group as Dveri (who were directly involved in literally beating down a Gay Pride in Belgrade a few years ago). So the question was what to do. Ignore? Take legal action? Make direct protest? They finally send an official letter to the Serbian Ministry of Education asking them to reassure their support for this project, to reject false accusations and to encourage Dveri to remove the photos from their website. To date, there is no positive ending to this situation but in the meantime, many stakeholders from ERSTE are trying to work with their political stakeholders in order to have the government take action. Let’s hope for a “happy ending”.

Maite Garcia-Lechner, Networked Programme at European Cultural Foundation.


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