USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO PUBLICIZE REENTRY SUCCESS
By John Rakis, John Rakis and Associates
Has your local television station ever started its evening newscast by highlighting your program’s accomplishments and featuring an interview with a successful participant? Has your local newspaper ever had a front page headline that touted the public safety benefits of your Correctional Industries program? More than likely, neither has happened. Good news about a Correctional Industries program is not likely to make a newspaper’s front page or to be featured as the lead story in a television newscast. For the most part, the news media is driven by the mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads.”
But you can get the attention your program deserves. The growing popularity of social media offers many opportunities for getting your success stories out to the public. Social media is a means of communication that creates value by using a variety of web-based technologies to promote dialogue and the exchange of user-generated content. Typically, the content includes text, audio, or video that is published on the Internet and shared in an environment that allows users to interact with each other.
And here’s some more good news. Many of the social media tools that can be used to publicize your program’s efforts are available at no cost or at a very low cost. It is possible to create Internet-suitable videos with cameras that cost roughly $150 and have them broadcast on YouTube for free. If your agency does not have the capacity to produce the content, a local college with a video department probably has students who can to do it as part of a class assignment. Twitter feeds, Facebook Pages, and blogs websites are also available at no cost and allow you to broadcast agency news to your stakeholders. These broadcasts can put a “human face” on your work, helping to change negative perceptions and build public support for your program’s e fforts. If the content is compelling, it may attract the attention of thousands of viewers and increase the visibility of your agency beyond its local community.
An increasing number of correctional agencies are using a variety of social media tools to
increase the visibility of their programs and build support for their initiatives. The remainder of this article will examine several of these tools and provide examples of how they are being used.
A blog is an online journal that contains entries posted in reverse chronological order. It is
usually maintained by an individual and can contain commentary, links to websites, graphics, and video. A blog may be published daily or on a less frequent basis and may or may not offer the reader the opportunity to comment on each journal entry. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation maintains a dozen different blogs which cover agency news, features about rehabilitation programs and reentry, and other subjects. A listing of these blogs can be found at: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/News/blogs/ news _blogs.html.
Content communities provide users with platforms for sharing media with each other. The media can include video, photos, audio, PowerPoint presentations, and other types of content. While there are many ways to share video content, YouTube is the top provider with more than 800 million unique viewers every month. (YouTube, 2012). As more and more people acquire broadband access both at home and on mobile devices, it is anticipated that the use of this content platform will grow. This growth will also be fueled by the reduced costs associated with video production and editing. Embeddable widgets allow YouTube videos to be on an agency’s website, providing a seamless experience for the user. An example of this type of use can be found on the website of Hawaii Correctional Industries at http://hcihawaii.com/index.php. (See Figure 1.)
Audio content can also be shared via social networking sites. These most frequently take the form of podcasts, which are simply audio files that are recorded and uploaded to an Internet server. Podcasts can be created with a variety of recording tools, many of which are available at low cost. For example, a desktop computer or a laptop with a microphone can be used to make the recording. Audacity, a free, open source software application, can be used to edit the file and convert it to a compressed format – usually an mp3 file – for uploading to a server. Podcasts can also be created using an inexpensive digital recorder which o ffers the advantage of doing on-the-spot interviews. An example of a podcast that examines the employer’s perspective of hiring people who are under community supervision can be found at a website maintained by the Court Services and Supervision Agency: http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/ 2010/10/hiring-people-under-community-supervision-an-employers-prespective-andre-marr/.
Social Networking Sites
Social networking sites are web-based applications that allow people to connect, share
information, and develop relationships. They typically require an individual or an organization to create an online profile which can include text, video, audio, and photos. The person creating the profile invites friends or colleagues to have access to their profiles along with the ability to send e-mail or instant messages to each other. Social networking sites allow users to instantly share activities, ideas, events, and any other information that may be of mutual interest. Organizations can use them to form groups that provide a platform for hosting dialogues and obtaining feedback from stakeholders. As more and more people access the Internet via mobile phones, information shared through social networking sites often occurs in “real time,” not unlike live television or radio broadcasting.
At the present time, Facebook is the largest social networking site. While originally designed to connect college students in Ivy League schools, the service now connects a diverse group of individuals and organizations throughout the world. Individuals who join the Facebook community are required to set up a Profile which allows them to connect to friends. Communications between users can be done publicly or privately. Because of privacy concerns, users are allowed to determine who can see what parts of their profile. Facebook permits users to interact via a “wall,” a space on the user’s profile page that allows friends to post messages for the user to see. A “News Feed” allows users to highlight profile changes, events and other information of immediate interest.
Organizations joining the Facebook community are required to set up a Page which is viewable to the public. The California Prison Industry Authority maintains a Facebook Page which includes photographs of program graduates along with other news about their initiatives http://www.facebook.com /CALPIA). (See Figure 2.)
Twitter is a very popular social networking tool that has 500 million registered users. It connects users to real-time information through small bursts of text which are called tweets. Each tweet is limited to 140 characters in length and may contain links to photos, videos and other media content. Users can contribute tweets or simply choose just to follow conversations of interest to them. For organizations, Twitter offers the opportunity to connect to their stakeholders in real time. It provides an easy and fast way to share information, build relationships, and gather real-time feedback. It also o ffers organizations an opportunity to monitor – in real-time – what others are saying about them.
The ability to monitor Twitter conversations has significant implications for organizations. People frequently tweet via their mobile phone, reporting events as they occur. For example, if a user has a bad experience with a merchant, he or she may report this to a friend via Twitter. The tweet is public and can be found through Twitter’s search engine. Companies seeking to improve their customer service monitor tweets concerning their company to stay on top of problems and deal with them as they occur. Correctional industries programs are likely to find similar benefits by monitoring conversations concerning their organizations.
The Missouri Department of Corrections uses Twitter to inform the public about its programs, grant awards, staff appointments, and other newsworthy events. A link to the agency’s Twitter page can be found on the home page of their website (http://doc.mo.gov/) which also contains a link to their YouTube channel. (See Figure 3.) Used in this way, both Twitter and YouTube serve as a “wire service” for the agency, broadcasting their news to a wide audience.
To Tweet or Not to Tweet?
Whether or not your agency adopts social media technologies, it is likely to be the subject of online conversations. Some of these online conversations may be detrimental to your organization’s reputation and have the potential to adversely a ffect the support it receives from its stakeholders. At a minimum, it makes sense to monitor these conversations. But it makes even more sense to engage your stakeholders online, learn from these exchanges and respond in a manner that is believable and sincere. Social media can help you increase community awareness of the benefits of your correctional industries program and build public support for your efforts. It can also help you build your business network, increase sales, and develop partnerships with industries that can o ffer offenders marketable skills. Given its low cost and upside potential it is a tool that should not be ignored.
John Rakis can be contacted at 718-223-9860 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter To Surpass 500 Million Registered Users On Wednesday http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/500-million-registered-users_b18842 , accessed
on July 10, 2012.
http://www.youtube.com/t/press_statistics/, accessed July 9, 2012.