Social media is everywhere. It’s as ubiquitous today as, well… honestly, I can’t think of a single historical precedent for the massive, worldwide interconnectedness we enjoy on the Internet. It’s only natural to see the opportunity in such vast networks, but it’s also problematic. Social networks were designed for people to socialize, not for businesses to advertise. Yes, there have been many attempts at integrating advertising into social media platforms, but often they are met with scorn or aren’t terribly effective. But, voluntour companies are a different breed. For them, social media can be an incredibly powerful tool for outreach and education.
What do people share on social media sites? They share their experiences! Whenever I travel somewhere, I share photos and videos of my trip with my friends on Facebook. Broadcasting experiences to social media followers is second nature in this futuristic world in which we live. When something life changing happens to me, I want everyone to know about it. People want to be inspiring to others, especially people who are donating their time to a cause. They have a personal stake in the sharing—they are proud of their work—and they have an activist’s stake—they want other people to contribute to the cause.
Volunteers are the perfect advertisers. It may sound inappropriate to think of them that way, but when you consider how many volunteers engage in fundraising to support the organizations they champion, you see how the volunteers themselves power the economic engine of humanitarian work. They volunteer because they believe in the cause. Believing in a cause is the purest form of evangelism, and evangelists make outstanding advertisers.
I think it’s the word, “advertising” that feels so unsavory. But that’s exactly the point: voluntour companies are not like other companies. There are some industries that, in my opinion, deserve support, like eco fashion or fair trade coffee. Voluntourism is at the pinnacle of socially responsible industry. Their mission statements are about helping people, not about a bottom line. They exist because people need them. I think, in the volunteer universe where we donate our time and energy, we often feel separate from the worlds of capitalism and money making. But we all have to make a living! Isn’t making a living through humanitarian aid the best possible strategy for financial and spiritual fulfillment? I think it is.
Social media can also help volunteer organizations connect with volunteers. For example, the Multicultural Integrated Kidney Education Program in Portland, Oregon used the social networking site VolunteerMatch to find volunteers to help prepare meals. And, a recent article in the Huffington Post claims that people who actively use social media are more likely to volunteer! Social media and volunteering seem to be linked in ways we may not fully understand.
As a volunteer, I am proud to advertise for my organizations. I want to support the people who facilitate my work, who reach out to communities in need, and who ethically and responsibly make a difference in the world. Voluntour organizations can facilitate social network sharing by establishing their own social network presence. Active and consistent communication with the volunteers and their followers is an effective strategy for growth.