Higgatai mentions that “[college] students of lower socioeconomic status, women, students of Hispanic origin, and African Americans exhibit lower levels of Web know-how than others.” The statement is important because as we are thinking about how to best serve the South Madison community and business sector, we must not forget that many of those individuals living and working within that community are directly labeled as at least one of the aforementioned groups.
Once one realizes that the participation of an audience, or lack thereof, stems from an inability to participate, whether caused by lack of resources or education, it is easier to find a solution.
While the gap in accessibility (internet access) and equipment (smartphone/tablet/PC) is a bit harder to overcome, by introducing individuals to the World Wide Web and giving them the tools to interact within it, we might be able to grow the overall participation of the community. The fact that some things might be relatively new to many of the individuals who we would want to engage might even work to our advantage because it allows us to bring newcomers into platforms that are basically fully developed (Facebook and Twitter for example will probably not be changing their basic function anytime soon) and thus one is able to not only interact with the already large user base, but they also avoid any “growing pains” that some early adapters must deal with during the early development pages of any given site.
I believe that this is a large advantage because we would be able to show both how a social media site works and give proof of the positives effects that they have already had on countless other individuals/organizations. This might make it easier to convince newcomers to experimenting with the medium.
This leads to how we might motivate users. I believe that if we can effectively convey the distinct advantages of social media, for example, while also providing the necessary tools to utilize the technology in their setting we can convince them to make technology a growing part of their lives/business while continuing to use it to connect themselves with those outside of their immediate community.
We’ve discussed how college students at the University of Madison and their reluctance to visit the South Madison area serve a crucial role in the current status quo. Yet, these are the same students that often throw caution to the wind as they walk home alone at 2am after a party. To me that’s indicative of a willingness to try things they might enjoy, even if there is a possibility of danger. While I’ve come to learn that the South Madison community actually doesn’t really deserve the stereotype for being a “dangerous part of town”, I think that sentiment is still held by many. Yet, it is obviously one that can be overcome and I think that by more closely engaging the student community through technology and social media sites, we might be able to at least reduce the amount of people staying away from the neighborhood simply because they think it might be dangerous.
One way to do this is to showcase the unique people and places in South Madison through images and videos (produced by/for South Madison community members) so that students see and feel how safe and welcoming the community actually is.
It seems difficult to try and enter a foreign community with ideas that one might think would solve their problems without first trying to live in their shoes. Yet, by showing them not only why, but how new communication technologies could personally help their goals I think we can more effectively teach and motivate South Madison community members.
The following is an abstract for a case study of a nonprofit group that heavily utilizes social media.
Greenpeace Brazil (GP-B) currently has over 640K Twitter followers and close to 900K fans on Facebook. GP-B began using Twitter in late 2008, just as the social media giant arrived in Brazil which positioned the account to grow along with Twitter users. It began using Facebook in the fall of 2009 having reached just 12K followers by the middle of 2011.
Consisting of a small social media/communications team (<10), GP-B uses a combination of community websites, social media interaction and email blasts to engagement individuals online.
Nonprofits certainly have much to gain from the credibility and increased profile that comes along with social media campaigns, but for GP-B it seems that the genuine objective was to increase follower-ship and visibility by developing relationships with their members. By utilizing strategies that place the emphasis on reaction based actions and individual communication, GP-B gains social karma, followers and a voice.
In regards to their Facebook and Twitter use patterns, they shy away from broadcast type posts opting instead for community building updates that encourage people to comment on their website, share a video or pass a petition. They also pay close attention to the overall look and feel of their brand and try to complement it best with the interests of their followers.
By taking advantage of the fact that Brazilians tend to be early tech adaptors and joining Twitter early, GP-B was able to most effectively employ their strong social media strategies. They managed to grow interest, engagement and community-based online communities by running timely campaigns surrounding what is presently happening. Even through the language barrier, it is clear what GP-B wants to convey: we’re here, we care, help.
As I begin to think about the opportunities that I have had with regards to education and the access to programs, people and various other resources that have allowed me to call myself a University of Wisconsin student today, I realize that had it not been for the engagement I was encouraged to have during grade school with both my friends and my broader community I might be in a different place. I was fortunate enough to have parents who cared, but also teachers, volunteers, and other community members who spent countless hours organizing events, allocating funds and engaging others for the good of their neighbors.
In his lecture, Tuning In, Tuning out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America, Robert Putnam defines ‘social capital’ as “the networks, norms and trust that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives.” With this as a working definition I believe it is clear to see how a community such as South Madison which was originally populated by working class, minority groups might have difficulty identifying shared objectives through a myriad of different goals, languages, and backgrounds.
Because of this it would seem to me that total level of social capital in South Madison might be relatively low, especially when comparing them to more affluent neighborhoods nearby or even the University itself.
However, using readily accessible social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter and even Vine and Instagram, to a lesser extent, could greatly – and cheaply – increase social capital if integrated by the community as a whole. Online games pique the interest of outsiders, but could also form bonds between community members. Email can drastically reduce the amount of money and time needed to reach community members and the social media sites mentioned previously allow individuals to actively participate in a digital sphere prompting them share their experience through photos, videos and reviews. But they have to want to use the tools. It would make little difference for one to setup a website and tweet about events if there is no other participant.
While the type of engagement has certainly changed since the early 1990s, the dynamics remain largely the same – if one is a vested member of a group that shares a common role or goal, it is in the best interest of that member to do everything they can to succeed thus advancing the group. This semester I suspect that the most difficult part of our project will be not to engage outsiders, but to create and/or inspire responses from the community themselves. However, if we can achieve this – even at a small scale – I believe it can have a lasting and strengthening effect on the communities social capital.