It’s a time waster, some say. A scrapbook. A soapbox. A news ticker. A water cooler.
But many organizations are using the social network for something substantial – a way for people to come together for a common cause.
Social media expert Heather Mansfield, who founded Diosa Communications, a company that helps nonprofit organizations with social media, figured that of the approximately 1.3 million nonprofits in the United States, about one-third are active on Facebook. Mansfield noted that more than 50,000 nonprofit organizations are on Twitter as well.
“Nonprofits are always looking for fresh ways to raise money for their organization,” Mansfield wrote in an e-mail, “and the adoption of the Social Web was a natural progression in their online communications and fundraising strategies.”
Social media has worked wonders locally. Motivated by a fatal shooting in her neighborhood, concerned resident Brittney Gougeon, 24, started a page on Facebook called Take Back Antioch. Gougeon was hoping for a couple hundred people to click “Like,” but so far, more than 2,100 people have joined the cause. A dedicated core group has formed, volunteering at city events and working to make sure Antioch is a safer place. Take Back Antioch is also on its way to gaining 501(c)3 tax-exempt status.
The nonprofit organization Save Mount Diablo, formed in 1971, started using Facebook as a way to reach out to the community and promote its events. The group, which strives to protect and preserve the iconic Contra Costa County mountain range, hosts active dialogue on its Facebook page as well as a bevy of photos showcasing the area’s beauty.
Both Save Mount Diablo spokeswoman Beryl Anderson and Gougeon felt that tapping into the accessible power of social media helped to spread their messages.
“Facebook is changing how people and organizations positively impact the world and support diverse causes by providing a place to gather and express sentiment, mobilize actions and even raise or donate money,” Facebook spokeswoman Victoria Cassady wrote in an e-mail. “Through a series of tools and features – including Groups, Pages, Apps and events – Facebook is helping organizations throughout the world generate awareness and action both online and offline.”
Hearing news of the December homicide of 24-year-old Pittsburg resident Arnold Muckleroy, who was gunned down on Rockspring Way in Antioch, Gougeon became worried. The shooting wasn’t far from her house.
But instead of remaining silent, she decided to do something. Gougeon, a Web developer by trade, logged onto Facebook and created the page Take Back Antioch two days before Christmas. She hoped for 300 members in three months. She got that in weeks. More and more members trickled in, excited about the organic, grassroots effort Gougeon started.
“There’s a large group of folks that really care about Antioch, and they care about quality of life for all residents, and they got involved,” City Councilman Gary Agopian said. “People that are interested in being honest about the problems that we have and then being part of the solution – I just really respect them.”
Take Back Antioch held a Quality of Community forum in February, packing the community room at the Antioch Police Station. Its next meeting took place at the historic El Campanil Theatre in downtown Antioch. The group has been active, speaking out at City Council meetings, participating in cleanups and other city events. The Take Back Antioch page hosts lively discussion about how to improve Antioch, and members post tips of suspicious activity so residents can be on the lookout.
The group has also been a champion of the fight to restore code enforcement, something the Antioch City Council recently said it would look into. Right now, only the most urgent and dangerous cases of code enforcement are handled.
Gougeon said her sense of civic duty comes naturally. A few years ago, she led a peaceful rally opposing Proposition 8. As with Take Back Antioch, Gougeon’s goal was modest, but about 500 people showed up.
“When you’re a passionate person, that passion is contagious,” Gougeon said. “Sometimes I have to ask myself, ‘Wow, how did this many people jump on board so fast?’ I think TBA started at a really good time and came at the perfect time. It may not have worked two years ago, but it works now.”
However, as the Facebook group has gained popularity, Gougeon has taken measures to prevent it from becoming unruly. In order to ensure that Take Back Antioch doesn’t devolve into a gripe session against city officials or laws, Gougeon and core members designated as administrators delete inflammatory posts and maintain a consistently positive, progressive tone. Racism, personal attacks and profanity are strictly forbidden – something Gougeon feels keeps out the riff-raff.
A similar movement is underway a two-hour drive south of Antioch. Fed up with gang violence and drug deals in her hometown, Analicia Cube created the Facebook group Take Back Santa Cruz on Halloween of 2009. The page now boasts more than 4,600 members and hosts constant, active dialogue about crime in Santa Cruz.
Take Back Santa Cruz regularly hosts events called Positive Loitering Parties, an idea Cube gleaned from a similar group in Chicago. Party attendees overwhelm a bad street corner or bad area by grouping together and sending a strict message. “This is our community and it belongs to us,” Cube said. “It’s the community’s responsibility to step up. We can’t expect the police and the government to come help us. We have to be proactive in our community.”
Take Back Antioch has also tried its hand at the Positive Loitering Party. In March, the group headed to the Antioch Skate Park to hold a pizza party. Members talked with local youth, who pointed out that not only were they not fans of the graffiti in the park; they weren’t the perpetrators, either.
Take Back Santa Cruz utilizes Twitter, YouTube and its own website as a way to get information out to residents, whether by reporting suspicious activity or providing a phone number that gets people in touch with a city representative.
Santa Cruz city officials have been thrilled by the attitude the group has sparked. “Sometimes, it’s important to remind the community that they can be more effective than government,” Santa Cruz City Councilwoman Lynn Robinson said. “I work with them a lot and it’s been really positive.”
LEADING THE REVOLUTION
While Facebook has changed things in the United States, it’s also partly responsible for sweeping changes on the international stage. Earlier this year in Egypt, frustrated Egyptians took to the social network to decry the violence wounding their nation. According to the Associated Press, 28-year-old Khalid Said posted on the Internet a video he took of officers taking drugs from a bust for their own personal use. Cops tortured Said and beat him to death.
Egyptians rallied around Said’s death as a symbol of the country’s corruption, forming a Facebook group called We Are All Khalid Said. More than 1.1 million people joined the cause. An English-based page of the same name has attracted more than 100,000 members.
During the revolution, in which Egyptians strove to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, protests were planned on Facebook, coordinated on Twitter and captured on YouTube.
“The power of this technology,” American U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said during a February town hall meeting at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters, “the power of social networking to channel and champion public sentiment, has been more evident in the past few weeks than ever before.”
The social media-fueled revolution was successful – Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11.
SPREADING THE MESSAGE
Tracy mother Joleen Ruffin was looking for a way to connect with other local moms, but found that the city’s geographic isolation – between the East Bay and the Stockton area – made it difficult. She couldn’t find a moms’ group within a short drive.
So she created one.
Using the social network creator Ning, Ruffin started Tracy Island in the spring of 2009. Within a month, roughly 300 locals signed up, and the Island morphed into a bulletin board for Tracy residents. Currently, the site’s membership count is around 1,500, including those on the site’s Facebook page.
Ruffin and other Tracyites post information about fundraisers, sales at small businesses and local events. Blogs on the site let residents have their say about issues facing the town or simply allow them to share a great recipe.
“People love to come on there and see the events and see what’s going on,” said Ruffin, recently recognized as the city’s Entrepreneur of the Year. “I’m like 411 in Tracy now.”
The Antioch Police Department also saw the need to create a social-media presence. Worried that residents saw only the ugly side of the city through traditional media outlets, the department launched a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to report developments such as falling crime rates. So far, more than 300 people have joined the page.
Acting Police Chief Allan Cantando introduced the department’s social media efforts at an April City Council meeting, showing the first of a video series called Be On The Lookout. The video re-enacts a burglary and shows how alert citizens can play a part in fighting crime. The re-enactment dramatizes how a passerby snapped a cell phone photo of the burglar’s license plate – information that helped lead to an arrest.
Sgt. Tammany Brooks, who moderates the page, said the department posts crime statistics and suggests ways residents can help by alerting the department to criminal activity. Brooks noted that since the department launched the page about a month and a half ago, he’s seen greater involvement in law enforcement from the community.
Facebook also gives people a chance to see the faces behind the bookings. “It’s helped show a different side of the police department that doesn’t necessarily get brought out to the public,” Brooks said. “We’re trying to show people that there’s a real human element to our police department.”
To keep the page civil, Brooks adopted a no-commenting policy on everything he posts. While people can “like” stories, photos and status updates given by the department’s page, any comment – good or bad – will be deleted.
Save Mount Diablo is another group that has seen success marketing through social media. After a local resident’s effort to change the name Mt. Diablo to Mt. Reagan, several Save Mount Diablo members formed a Facebook group opposing the name change. Those members told others and soon, Anderson said, nearly 80,000 people voiced their opinion through Facebook.
“People really overwhelmingly wanted to keep the mountain named as it was,” Anderson said. “(Facebook) was very successful in spreading the message.”
One key tenet of Facebook and Twitter is that members can usually see who they’re talking to. Unlike e-mail or message boards, comments are backed up by some kind of ownership, including a picture of the person. Ruffin said the ability to see someone and discover common interests and mutual friends goes a long way toward effective communication.
“Social media is a way for you to get to know people before you actually get to know them,” she said. “When you actually meet that person, there’s already something you have in common. It’s really incredible to see that growth and meet the diversity of people in Tracy.”
It’s a feeling shared in Antioch. Many people met their neighbors for the first time through Take Back Antioch – and became friends in the process.
“We’re all always somehow connected to Facebook, those of us who use it, and we’re waiting for someone to reply,” Gougeon said. “It’s very personal and you know who’s replying. When you meet them in person, it’s kind of surreal.”
And all it takes is a click.