The early internet created a new way for support groups and non-profit organisations to reach out to a wider audience, proving information at a fraction of the cost of traditional means. I used to see a lot of these in my days of creating the bcl.com.au directory.
With the rise of Facebook and social media, many started using Facebook groups to supplement their websites and sometimes to replace them altogether. A quick search of the internet comes up with countless articles about how and why they should do this, with nary a dissenting view. But I can think of at least 5 important reasons to be wary.
Each time that Facebook, Google, etc change their direction, you could lose all the content and connections you have built up. The only content on the internet that you control is that under your own domain name.
You are encouraging people to post personal information, often sensitive information, about themselves under the false impression that they are amongst like-minded friends. You would never think of providing a live television feed from your counseling or consulting rooms onto the street outside. Why is this different? There is nothing private on social media – no matter what your settings.
- Targeted Advertising
You are creating a group of people who can be a target for advertising based on their interest in your services. That means advertisers of all kinds could target your clients based on their vulnerabilities.
- Lack of User Control
On social media, it is not just what you post, but what others post. Many clients lack the awareness that they are posting quite personal information in a public forum. This is something that social media encourages. Tact, discretion, nuanced discussion do not transfer easily onto social media.
- Lack of Real Information and Assistance
It's hard work creating useful content – words, images, videos, etc – to place on your own website. Much harder than setting up a group on a social network. However, that real useful content is often what your clients need.
So when your public relations people, your volunteers or other social media enthusiasts start calling for your organisation to get its profile on social media platforms, ask why they want it, how well they really understand the technology, and whether they have considered all the implications for everyone concerned.
Perhaps you need to be there to be seen, but even then you can use it more as a way of drawing people to your website rather than replacing your site.
Drawing the line between what goes on social media and what goes on your site needs to be done at the highest level of your organisation and needs frequent monitoring and reassessment.