Social media – connecting with purpose

I’m pretty much a Twitter addict; of late, however, it’s been feeling a bit less comfy, as if the life has gone out of it somehow.

But something interesting happened that has heartened me about the role of social media to do good. I’ve had the joy of watching Facebook possibly be the best that it can be.

Two things have made me think this:

Hebden Bridge floods

Photo by Steven Lilley – Flickr. Thanks!


On Boxing Day 2015 the Calder Valley, in the north of England, only a few miles upstream from the town where I live, experienced devastating floods for the second time in less than three years. Because my own town had some flooding, and I’m on some hyper local Facebook sites, I found myself on the Calder Valley Flood group. It made me cry; watching all the wonderful people of the beautiful area asking for help. But what I also witnessed was something truly remarkable: a powerful community in action. The whole community and beyond responded in ways I would never have predicted. People came offering whatever they could to help; labour, cleaning materials, food, hot drinks. Pretty soon after local tradespeople starting giving too. It didn’t seem to matter whether they too had had their homes or businesses devastated, everyone seemed to have something to give. The gift economy at its best.

If you want to see that community in action seek out the public site. It is still in place weeks after the events of Boxing Day and they continue to raise money and take positive steps to get those towns back on their feet.

The way the community of Calder Valley supported each other seemed to me to have the infrastructure of a strong social media network helping it to communicate and spread, although of course it was the community itself that did this. There were a very small team of community voluntary administrators on the Facebook site – I think they did an incredible job.

Flood signIt was lively, helpful and the presence of that small group of people felt like it was there 24/7.  Some corporate sites would do well to look at the standards they achieved.  It was never belittling or bemoaning; it was positive constructive and consistent. I applaud the skill and dedication of the small and beautifully formed team of dedicated people behind that Facebook site. They even coordinated wish lists on Amazon so people who lived some distances away could also help in a concrete, practical way. I was very impressed and in awe – that takes skill, time and just a dogged determination. When I talk to professionals about using social media they could do worse than to have a look at those sites. Of course there is some negative stuff but the site was run with such skill and community engagement that the positive drowned out the negative.

midlandThe second thing I watched was how Facebook connected a group of people from the past. Many years ago I worked for what was then the Midland Bank. A friend who I have known since school also worked there and he invited me to join a group called ‘Midland Bank Oldies’.   It was brilliant!  The site exploded into life – within a few days the membership of the group (a closed site) had expanded to more than 7000. Everyone was chatting away, reminiscing and reconnecting. It’s the liveliest and most positive site connection I have ever seen.

Then, one day it disappeared. I don’t know why but the person who had set the site up dismantled it. I suspect it might have been a bit overwhelming but rather than just opening it up and letting the community take its course, in the height of it all, it just wasn’t there.

These two experiences have made me reflect a lot about social media for purpose. Without a doubt people were key too. It doesn’t actually matter which platform you use but your purpose and whether you are prepared for what might happen do matter. You can’t predict how social media communities will go.

In a paper about networks in healthcare by the Health Foundation they recognise five areas that determine the success of a network and I think these two examples show how important these are:

  • common purpose
  • cooperative structure
  • critical mass
  • collective intelligence
  • community building

What they don’t identify is the hard work networks are to keep warm and alive and the personal commitment people need to give. For me my learning was; its about purpose but it’s also about the people.

If you would like to make a contribution to the Calderdale Floods appeal you can do so here – if you don’t know the Calder Valley it’s a very beautiful valley in West Yorkshire that also happens to be the location for the BBC  ‘Happy Valley’ mini series starring Sarah Lancashire – very much worth a watch :0)

Hebden bridge


5 thoughts on “Social media – connecting with purpose

  1. I attended a social media conference at Salford University last summer, @agencynurse gave the keynote talk. The conference allowed the various departments at the university to talk about their work in social media covering areas such as breast cancer support and our own GMKIN. There were common threads – each project relied on a small group of passionate, committed people; each project had little or no funding and each project existed on the periphery of the organisation involved in their development and foresaw problems with sustainability.

    Which brings me to the Calder Valley, specifically one of my favourite towns Hebden Bridge, where I see parallels with the people who support social media groups. Hebden Bridge has been plagued by floods for several years now and each time the shopkeepers, cafe owners etc rise again. Most of the businesses in Hebden Bridge are small and independent relying on similarly passionate and committed people to sustain them, places such as @wine_cheese_co @HouseOrganic and @heartgallery. I hope they find a way to sustain their businesses, I hope flood defences are improved but most of all I hope the efforts of all of those passionate, committed people are recognised and supported; they enrich our lives.

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