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 4 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

facebook-iconWelcome back to Social Media for Workforce Development! If you’ve been with us this far, you’ve learned why social media is important to workforce programs, how to think about social media within your larger program strategy, and why some social media sites may be more appropriate than others for your program.

In this post, we’re going to get into the details on the 800-pound gorilla of social media, Facebook.  As we mentioned last time, over 70% of online adults in the US are on Facebook. And in spite of media stories and anecdotal evidence that suggests that Facebook is losing its “cool” factor among young people, the numbers indicate that they’re still using Facebook in large numbers. As of December 2013, 84% of online young adults (18-29) are on Facebook. Whether they think it’s cool or not is another story, but they’re using it.

All of this is to say that, if you’re contemplating introducing social media to your workforce development program, and you want to meet your participants where they already are, then chances are very high that you’ll wind up setting up shop on Facebook.

But how should you set up shop on Facebook? It’s a tricky question. As Facebook has grown in popularity, it’s become more complicated to use. In the beginning, it was just a collection of friends. Eventually Facebook introduced Pages for organizations and brands to interact with the general public. There are also groups which allow peer-to-peer sharing among individuals (who aren’t necessarily friends).

This creates three basic ways for a workforce development program to interact with its participants:

  • Page: program sets up a page, which people “like” in order to receive updates in their news feeds. You’ve probably done this to get updates from your favorite musicians, news sources, or public figures.
  • Profile: individual program staff “friend” program participants, or program sets up a standalone profile (as if it were a person) to “friend” its participants. Friends can see each other’s status updates.
  • Group: program sets up a group, which program participants (and possibly also staff) join. The group page hosts peer-to-peer discussions, but only for content that’s shared specifically with the group.

So which of these is most appropriate for workforce development programs?

Unfortunately, the answer is “it depends.” These Facebook tools all have different strengths and weaknesses:

pages-icon

Pages are, by design, meant to facilitate a mostly one-way communication channel FROM an organization TO individuals. Page administrators have access to powerful tools to target who sees posts based on demographic characteristics, as well as advanced analytics about the page’s behavior. But Pages keep some distance between the Page and the program participant. A Page can’t send private messages to program participants or see their participants’ status updates.

facebook-default-no-profile-picUsing a personal Facebook Profile to “friend” participants is an intimate act, as it opens up friends’ status updates to each other. Some organizations we know have found these status updates to be a wealth of information. They find out when participants got a job (placements!) or are struggling with current jobs (retention!). But “friending” may be too intimate of an act—and for many organizations, is against their employee policies. Also, creating a new Facebook Profile to allow the program to “friend” participants is actually against Facebook’s Terms and Conditions. Even creating a “work” Facebook Profile for a staffer (separate from his/her personal profile) is also technically against Facebook’s Terms and Conditions!

4726

Groups may be a good middle ground between the impersonality of a Page and the intimacy of a Profile/Friend setup, but they’re not without limitations. Program participants have to go out of their way to share a status update with a group. A program that’s operating a Group doesn’t have access to the targeting and analytics that a Page allows.

At the end of the day, our advice to organizations setting up a new Facebook presence for a workforce development program is this:

  • Pages are the safest route to go, but not the be-all, end-all solution.
  • Avoid having staff “friend” their participants using their personal Facebook profiles.
  • If your program is intimate enough that you want to use Profiles to friend participants (either staff “work” profiles” or a Program profile), then be aware of the risk that Facebook could shut you down!
  • Lastly, consider using groups to build peer support networks, both during the program as well as for post-placement retention.

All of these considerations may seem daunting, and we’re only just scratching the surface. To help organizations think through the pros and cons of these different approaches, we’ve created this Facebook Tools Comparison Chart:

Facebook Tools comparison chart 2014-03-19

(Click on the image for a larger version, or download a PDF version.)

Above all else, routinely assess your Facebook presence. Ask your staff if they think they’re effectively reaching participants using Facebook. Ask your participants if they like engaging with the program and its staff using Facebook. And stay aware of the changes that Facebook makes to its tools! What works today might change radically—or disappear—tomorrow.

In our next post, we’ll talk about what to post to social media, and how. Spoiler alert: visual content that looks good on a small smartphone screen works best. 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!