Social media can get a bad reputation for being an endless stream of selfies and baby photos. But with the recent devastation of Hurricane Harvey and our very own flash flooding here in Bakersfield over Labor Day weekend, social media can be harnessed for good, too. Here are seven ways social media can make your community a better place.
Not everyone reads the newspaper each morning, but most people check their social media accounts. Hyper-local issues don’t get much play even in regional news, but that doesn’t mean people don’t need to know what’s happening on their local school board or when the local library is holding a talk that they might be interested in. Social media can function as a sort of town bulletin board. Whether it’s letting people know about issues that face the community or just alerting people to a new restaurant that’s trying to build a customer base, social media can be a way to learn about your community in a fine-grained way that you won’t get from other outlets.
A year or so ago, a New York-based writer sent out an idea to her social media followers: call up local schools and ask them if any of their students have unpaid cafeteria balances. Then donate money to pay down those debts. The idea sparked charity initiatives across the country, with charitable folks donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to their local schools to make sure no kids had to go without a hot lunch because of their outstanding cafeteria debts. In cases like these, an outpouring of public support for small-scale acts of kindness can have a big impact. People who donated might only have given $10 or $20, but that can pay off a lot of $2.50 school lunches.
The internet allows people to connect with their peers in a safe space regardless of geography. Social media groups for local youth, for instance, offer discussion boards, highlight relevant news, hold social events that allow online members to meet up in real life, and connect kids to opportunities to take part in summer camps, theater troupes, and more.
Want to support a topic coming up before the town hall? How about raising funds for a family in need? Or just soliciting help to find a lost pet? Numbers matter. You may not be able to put up flyers all over your town, but you can reach out to hundreds of people with the right social media account. With a little publicity, you can gather support from a much wider swath of your community.
In the modern era, neighborhoods aren’t always as tight-knit as they used to be. Residents might not know their next-door neighbor, much less the family down the block. But social media can help connect people who live in the same area but otherwise wouldn’t have any opportunity to meet. These private groups and location-specific apps allow rental tenants and homeowners alike to do everything from finding nearby garage sales to crowdsourcing recommendations for handyman services. An online neighborhood group can help you find a sitter for your baby, your dog, or your house. And it can help you put names to the faces you run into every day and alleviate those awkward head nods to the folks next door.
Whether it’s helping people understand their rights as rental tenants, publicizing local scholarships for college-bound students, letting people know about free job fairs or volunteer opportunities, or helping disadvantaged groups find support resources, social media can be an effective way to let neighbors know about resources available to them that might be under-publicized.
Sometimes people just need a nudge to get out in the community and do some good. In Iowa, a pair of middle-schoolers decided to spend their summer encouraging their neighbors to share small acts of kindness. They set up social media accounts to help inspire their followers, posting weekly prompts like “tell someone they make you happy and why,” sharing different ways that people can give back to their communities, and publicizing the stories of small acts of kindness their followers shared with them.