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Social Media Used for Social Good in Uptown

Income disparities seem to appear less distinct when it comes to communicating through social media.

“I can always reach my clients by facebook which they keep active even if their phone is inactive,” said Sol Anderson, the regional program manager for LIFT-Chicago, an Uptown-based nonprofit that partners college student volunteers with its low-income clients to help them navigate their way out of poverty.

Whenever Anderson’s clients, low-income individuals and families, had their phone connections cut off or number changed, Facebook kept

English: Infographic on how Social Media are b...
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the communication alive.

“It’s a great way to raise awareness in the community. It’s quick. It’s cheap. Anything you put out spreads pretty quickly,” said Kevin Ricter, the executive director of Sunlight African Community Center, a Chicago nonprofit that helps youth who have immigrated to Chicago from Africa.

As the only full-time staff member at the center, Ricter said any reservations he feels about getting involved with social media right now stem from the fact that he does not want to use social media without a plan.

But, “I’m hoping to get to a point when we would be relying on social media,” Ricter said.

Evan Johnson, development associate of Inspiration Café, an Uptown nonprofit that provides food and services to homeless Chicagoans, sees social media as part of something bigger. He said he equates social media with total democracy. “Anyone can have the same weight to their voice,” he said.

You don’t necessarily have to have a computer to access social media.

“Many cell phones have facebook and twitter as apps,” said Pat Gordon of Ceasefire, a violence prevention program in Uptown .

Fredrick Buchanan, 60, is physically challenged. He doesn’t own a computer, but he communicates with his friends on his cell phone.

The presence of a large number of Ceasefire clients on Facebook and Twitter made it easier for the agency to connect with them in a short span of time. Gordon said thanks to social media, he was able to draw a large number of people to a clothing drive  he launched recently.

“Without social media, our numbers would not have been as large as they were,” Gordon said.

Social media is also helping non-profits in different ways including fundraising with less effort and cost, said LIFT-Chicago’s Anderson. For example, Chase Bank’s community giving program awards large amounts of money to the charities which Facebook users picked in a survey.

But maintaining and updating social media can be a lot of work. It’s confusing because there are many different platforms. There is lot to do every day. For busy nonprofit workers, curating social media takes time out of the day when they would rather be doing something else.

“It’s a learning curve. But it’s worth it in the long run,” said Inspiration Cafe’s Johnson.

And connecting with the people nonprofits need to reach through social media can be difficult.

“You always don’t know if everyone who likes your page is reading your updates. It is difficult to harness,” said Anderson.

Furthermore, even as computer technology becomes less expensive and more accessible, there’s still a digital divide with respect to income. People who don’t have enough expendable income to buy computers and pay the Internet service might not be on social media.

But with the smartphone technology becoming inexpensive, more people will be able to access social media from their cell phones, Anderson said.

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