How to make friends using social media

When I started working on the Homeless Hub website just over a year ago, one of the main goals the Homeless Hub Team had set in place was to grow its audience and thereby its contents’ reach. The website was only 6 months old at the time and already it housed thousands of resources (today it’s over 30,000), many of them Homeless Hub originals. These originals range from personal stories from those who’ve experienced homelessness to Q&A videos with experts in the field. There are also plenty of resources for teachers, students, service providers and researchers – truly something for everyone!

The Team was adding new content on a daily basis to ensure the homepage was constantly new. The content was fantastic but it wasn’t getting out to those who needed it. 

We decided to switch gears. 

Instead of waiting for folks to find the Homeless Hub on their own, we took the Homeless Hub to them through social media. This approach, while somewhat experimental in nature, has allowed us to showcase specific pieces of content in attempt to pique our readers’ interest with the hopes of leading them to the Homeless Hub website for more.

And what a change it has made! Using social media has allowed us to hook more visitors and grow our audience in a way we had never imagined.

How did we do it?


Twitter – What a concept! 

I had to start somewhere, and while it was a mystery to me as to what exactly Twitter was, it didn’t take long to see how it worked and what the benefits of it were. I began “tweeting” links to our newest resources on a daily basis and I started “following” homelessness-related organizations across the country.  Soon enough, people and organizations began to “follow” me back, re-tweet (share) the content I’d been posting and our network quickly began to grow. To my surprise, Twitter not only helped showcase our content, but it also provided me new content to showcase on the Homeless Hub. Suddenly I was coming across dozens of new resources because others were tweeting their content, too.


Tip: Tweet often to keep your audience engaged. One tweet a day is easy to do, and it’ll keep your followers interested. Get your entire office on board – the more tweeters, the better!



Building a community through Facebook

This was the next step. While Twitter encourages you to grab ideals in short snippets, Facebook is better suited to display more detailed posts, complete with images and links. It also acts as a forum, where users can ask questions and leave feedback. The best part is, you can customize your page to showcase your YouTube videos, Twitter tweets and RSS feeds from your website so that the page can maintain itself with little effort on your part. 

Tip: Take a look at these five essential apps for your organization’s Facebook page.


Show off your expertise by blogging about it

Blogging allows us to share our knowledge and personal experiences in the field, and it invites our readers to share their own opinions on the subjects in question. By using plain language in posts, our readers are essentially given a Coles Notes version of an academic article which would otherwise be inaccessible to them, either because of its intimidating academic language or due to a paid subscription requirement for accessing the original content, or both.


We’ve also been fortunate enough to have several guest bloggers blog about issues they’re experts in to give us new perspective. Blogging is also a good way to gauge what types of content intrigues your audience, judging by their comments (or lack thereof).  Our experience so far is that blogging on a recently released report or controversial issue can draw quite a bit of attention.

Tip: Take a look at this video blog on why researchers should blog, though it can be applied to many professions.


Let's not forget about e-mail

The Homeless Hub’s monthly e-newsletter has been a great success!  It’s kept our content in front of our users and reminded them that we’re constantly growing. Our audience is unique in that it covers not only an entire nation, but a vast set of professions all working to eradicate homelessness and poverty. The content of our newsletter keeps this in mind so that there’s always something of interest for everyone. 

Tip: Make the subject of your emails catchy. “Newsletter Issue 5” doesn’t sound half as interesting as “Should we give money to panhandlers?” Remember, it’s about the content not the tool that delivers the content.


Of course there are many other social media avenues to test and some are more successful than others, depending on the type and purpose of your organization.


So, should I tweet? Let's look at the numbers

The numbers say it all. As a result of the above-mentioned efforts, the Homeless Hub's visitor count has more than tripled since November '09, jumping from 2,350 to 8,900 
unique visitors/mo. This leap didn't happen overnight. The numbers rose as the days went on, with each new Tweet we wrote, Facebook friend we made, every newsletter we mailed and with each blog post we wrote. I think it's safe to say this social media experiment was a success!


I hope these tips have been helpful in terms of developing your own social media strategy. Let us know what’s worked for you!

Stephanie Szakall is the Homeless Hub Coordinator. She's been working in the social justice field for over 5 years as a multimedia/web and graphic designer. She has an HonBA from McMaster University. Upon graduation, she spent 2 years working in the Communications department for a human rights NGO in Geneva, Switzerland.