What Helping The Homeless Teaches Us About Social Media

November 30th, 2009 by | 1 Comment

Helping the Homeless and Social Media

photo by Ed Yourdon

For the past three years I have been working with a local nonprofit that works with the homeless in Downtown Orlando. We provide food and entertainment for this group and have been doing so for the last four years. The next step of the organization has been to provide training and job placement to get them back into the community and contributing towards the growth of Orlando.

As I look back at the past three years I am a little set back by all the hard work, yet lack of huge results. For all the people we talk to, feed and provide information for, only a few have taken the next steps to really become engaged and get their life back on track.

I think it’s taken this long because the trust factor is so hard for this group to let in. The reason they are homeless in the first place is due to the lack of a strong support system and a trusting group of family and friends. Building this back up is not an easy task and has taken us countless conversations, going above and beyond with our attention to details and knowing what their needs are.

So what does this have to do with social media?

Well, everything. Even as social media has become a viable solution for businesses over the past 2-3 years, many are still jumping into the game expecting huge return from the second they finish their famous 5 minute install.

The reality is that just like our homeless friends in Orlando, you need to build up trust and foster a relationship before you can expect big returns. With the homeless, if we try to force something on them before learning about them, we are moving a step backwards towards our original goals of getting them off the street. With your social media efforts, if you try and sell before building an engaged audience, no one will buy and your ROI is going to be tough to justify.

Nurtured Relationships and Band Aids

Jumping into the social media world is not an overnight fix to a marketing problem, much like supplying sandwiches will not end homelessness. The latter is a band aid to a larger and much more complex problem. The way to get to the root of the problem is to listen and start somewhere. For your company this may mean looking into your competition, performing keyword research or surveys and then creating a blog, managing a Twitter account or simply setting up an RSS Reader.

Taking this first step puts you on the ground, gets your hands dirty and allows you to learn about the tools and the players involved in making a change to your business. In three years of helping the homeless we have visited their campsites, hung out with them at breakfast and lunch and listened to every war story, every bankruptcy and divorce that changed their life. Now we can attack the problems, develop campaigns and programs that are designed for our market and know how to measure our success.

Social media is no different. By getting in the trenches you can establish tangible goals, justify spending time and money and really learn about your customers, fans and clients – not because you have to, but because you want to. That is the beauty of social media and the impact it can have on your organization.

Is your social media plan a band aid or is it a part of the solution to a much larger goal? Let’s talk in the comments below.

This post was written by Greg Rollett. Greg is a Rock Star Internet Marketer from Orlando, FL. He blogs about Lifestyle Design and Online Marketing.

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