The social media hype

Development Policy18 Oct 2009Janelle Ward

Signing up to popular social media websites is all the rage. For example, infoDev, a “global development financing program among international development agencies,” recently expanded into the world of social media. According to a recent press release (thanks Frans!), they state “This venture is part of a larger effort by infoDev to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences and stakeholders. We aim to showcase infoDev’s development impact and keep fans up to date on our projects and activities, with the ultimate goal of fostering greater transparency and engagement with the global community in our development mission.”

infoDev maintains a Facebook page and a profile on Twitter and YouTube. A quick peruse through their Facebook fan page reveals that they have a great deal of information posted already – the amount of text is almost overwhelming – but little interaction with fans. On their Twitter page they describe themselves as “Making sense of information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D).” This does seem to be their goal on Twitter; their tweets do share a theme of spreading knowledge on this issue – though there were no tweets at all between June and September 2009. The YouTube page actually links to the World Bank channel, though for an outsider the connection between infoDev and The World Bank is not clear.

But questions do come to mind: Do organizations make themselves available on social media sites because they believe it’s a necessity for a “successful online presence”? Do they want to connect with other interested parties, be it citizens or collaborating organizations? Or are they simply broadcasting their ideas in as many places as possible?

I’m not being critical of infoDev in particular, but I think organizations don’t always think through how to implement their goals before becoming active (or inactive) on sites like Facebook. Social media was created to bring people together, not just serve as another sounding board for an organization’s current activities. And even if organizations do encourage engagement, it often falls on deaf ears. It seems the greatest challenge is putting the “social” in social media. This may be even more difficult than finding an individual willing to maintain the organization’s Facebook page.