IMG_1740Social media is a hot topic in practically every field that involves communicating information from one human being to another. In other words, it’s a hot topic in nearly every field imaginable, and that definitely includes workforce development.

For years, workforce development programs have struggled with the fundamental act of contacting program participants with information about everything from career counseling appointment reminders to job opportunities. Emails go unanswered. Cell phone numbers for pre-paid plans expire constantly. People are missing out on valuable services that could make the difference between another month spent unemployed and the start of a promising career.

Meanwhile, over the past few years, we’ve all been part of the monumental sea change in communications habits that social media has brought about. Nearly every adult in the United States has a Facebook account. “Viral” content has ignited social movements across the world. Smartphones have made social media truly ubiquitous: anytime, anywhere, people are logging in, sharing content, and interacting with each other.

And yet. Most workforce development programs aren’t using social media to connect to their participants, or are doing so in very limited ways. Organizations cite a number of obstacles to using social media: it’s intimidating to start from zero likes, friends, or followers. It’s hard to understand the unwritten rules and special language of different social media networks. There’s a risk of negative feedback about a program spreading out of control on social media. Or more generally, there’s just no sense of how to start.

That’s where we come in. Public Works Partners is working with several nonprofit and government workforce development service providers who are pioneering the use of social media to connect with program participants and increase their outcomes. In November 2013, we partnered with one of those organizations, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, to conduct a workshop on using social media in workforce development programs at the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals’ annual conference. The workshop was so well-received that we wanted to share the key ideas of our workshop on our blog with as many people in our field as possible.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll cover the following topics in a series of blog posts:

  1. Why Social Media? (this post)
  2. Making social media a part of your overall participant engagement strategy
  3. Deciding which social network to use to interact with participants
  4. Using Facebook groups, pages, and/or profiles to interact with participants
  5. Deciding what to post
  6. Building your audience
  7. Measuring the impact of social media on your outcomes
  8. Teaching participants how to use social media

Visit our website weekly to get the latest installment, or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn to get notified of new posts.

Along the way, we’d love to get input from you on what you’d like to learn more of, what areas you’re most curious about, or even what you’ve experienced in the field that runs contrary to our advice. Feel free to leave comments on our blog posts, tweet your questions at @PublicWorksIQ using hashtag #socialwkdev, or comment on our LinkedIn page. We’ll be checking all of these regularly and are looking forward to hearing your feedback!

To get things started, let’s examine social media in a way that we should already be familiar with. Share with us any social media success story that comes to mind. Maybe it’s a long-lost friend that you were able to reconnect with. Maybe you found out about an organization or cause that you’d never heard of before. Or maybe you just found enjoyment in your friends’ cat pictures.

Grumpy-Cat

Think of a way that social media has added value to your life in a way that wasn’t possible before social media. Bonus points if you can think of ways to apply the lessons of a success story to the workforce development context!