Public Works Partners is offering an online course for workforce development service providers on using social media to connect with participants and increase program outcomes. This is Part 3 of an 8 part series: 

  1. Why Social Media?
  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

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If you’re with us this far, then hopefully you’ve spent some time thinking about what you want to accomplish with social media and how your organization will support it. So now it’s time to build that Facebook page and racking up “likes,” right? Well, that may be where you wind up, but it’s worth putting some thought into which social network is best suited for your particular workforce development program. You want to meet your participants where they already are, not drag them along with you to an unknown and unfamiliar place.

In other words, use the social network that your participants are already using.

Start with broad demographic information

According to a 2013 Pew Research survey, 71% of online adults are Facebook users:

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It’s true: broadly speaking, nearly everyone is on Facebook. The other social networks lag far behind. Even though nearly every Super Bowl commercial contained a hashtag (#), the ubiquitous topic identifier mostly closely associated with Twitter and Instagram, users of those social networks are dwarfed by Facebook users.

So it’s Facebook and done, right? Not necessarily. The same Pew report digs a little deeper into the demographics and finds some variance by age and ethnicity within social networks. Although only 18% of adults overall are on Twitter, the percentage grows to 29% for African-Americans and 31% for people between the ages of 18 and 29.

Understand the population that you serve

These nationwide statistics are a great place to start, but you shouldn’t assume that the population that your program works with follows these trends. Find out how your participants are using social media. Ask them! Your staff probably have an anecdotal sense based on conversations with individuals. Beyond that, you could run a focus group to collect a variety of perspectives at once. At the most advanced level, if you have control over your intake form, you could collect this systematically and get hard data on social media demographics.

Use what makes sense for your program model

If you have a lot of job opportunities that you need to blast out frequently to a lot of participants, Twitter might be best for this (assuming your participants are on Twitter to begin with!).

If you have a smaller program that allows you to build closer relationships with individual participants to the point where they don’t mind posing for fun pictures with your staff, then Instagram may be a great way to connect with your participants (assuming your participants are on Instagram!).

If your program is targeted at special population like ex-offenders, who may not want to publicly advertise their participation in your program, then a closed and unlisted Facebook group might be the best match—again, assuming that your participants are on Facebook. Don’t take it as a given!

Be ready to pivot

Facebook recently turned ten years old. It feels like an institution at this point, but it wasn’t that long ago where people were still talking about their Friendster and MySpace accounts more so than Facebook.

Granted, Facebook is far more deeply entrenched into the Internet and our daily lives than Friendster or MySpace ever were, but that doesn’t mean that behavior within Facebook won’t change or that people won’t adopt second social networks on top of Facebook.

Stay on top of social media trends, but more importantly, don’t forget to just ask your participants about their usage of social media from time to time! They may hear about The Next Big Thing before you ever see it in the New York Times.

In our next post, we’ll talk about the different options that Facebook gives you for connecting with participants. Until then, please send us your feedback and questions! Leave a comment on this blog post, or contact us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or our new Facebook page!