A lesson learned: Pairing social media and in-person comms can be a powerful combo
"Noise" is everywhere. Not the noise of honking horns or sirens. But the interruption, the distraction. In the communications field, writes Brian Bowman on the Community Engagement Learning Exchange,
the term “noise” is used to describe anything that interferes with proper reception of a message. Think about how you watch video. Noise can be an interruption in your Wifi, a weather event that disrupts the signal or even a talkative person who prevents you from hearing what’s said.
Noise matters to outreach, engagement, and organizing.
But how do we reach others with the distractions? More to the point, Bowman writes, "It’s easy to throw hands in the air and declare that community engagement is difficult or even impossible because everyone’s looking at their screens."
One solution: Social Street
A relatively new concept called “Social Street” combines social media platforms with face-to-face meetings. Social Street requires two things: a closed social media space (Facebook groups are a favorite for some) that leads to in-person meetings for the purpose of addressing specific issues. Typically, the relationships created in this environment are nurtured through meetings that continue both online and in-person.
You can see the concept in practice at DC Organizing Posse, a public group on Facebook. New Era DMV, managed by Larry Henderson (founder of DMV Youth Initiative) promotes weekly cleanup and community strengthening events in various neighborhood in the District. Similarly, Black Lives Matter DC uses this Facebook group to rally and find new allies, supporters, and members.
And if real-world DC practice is not enough to demonstrate the value, Bowman summarizes the model and links to the paper From Facebook to the Neighbourhood: Infrastructuring of Hybrid Community Engagement.
To be clear, there are differences between the way local organizations are using social media and in-person organizing and the melding discussed in the paper. The paper reports on a single neighborhood and how "cooperative interactions amongst members of a local community. . . engage the collective in accomplishing certain immediate or ongoing needs."
The Social Street model may solve a challenge in communities where many long-time residents live. Older residents may not connect online but will in person as part of a collective effort to socialize, problem solve, and enhance the community. One key element of the dual-platform approach to social change is the regular and constant feedback loop so as to keep all informed and engaged.