Public vs Private:

A Changing Social Media Landscape

Photo: Pixabay

In the early days of social media, wide open public sharing was the norm. Today, people are more selective about what they share publicly and are increasingly taking their conversations private (Jafar, 2018). Why? Some want more authentic engagement in forums not dominated by algorithms (Holmes, 2019). Some want to avoid potential woes like cyberbullying, loss of a job by injudicious post, or having a prospective employer screen them via their personal social media profile—one survey puts the number of employers who screen potential employees at 60 per cent (Parry, 2016). Some want to sidestep problems like fake Twitter accounts and Facebook friends, or limit how their interactions are tracked, shared and used for targeting (Jafar, 2018).

And it’s not just older users who are becoming more cautious. One UK survey of thousands of 14-25 year olds found young people “want their Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts to be automatically private as way to protect themselves from unwelcome attention online.” (Campbell, 2018). In addition, they wanted social media platforms to include an option to hide likes, followers and comments (Campbell, 2018).

Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer Report found almost 60 per cent of people don’t trust social media (Holmes, 2019). Hootsuite CEO, Ryan Holmes writes, “Against a backdrop of ‘fake news’ and data manipulation, users have grown distrustful of influencers–both celebrities and media personalities. In a major reversal, trust has reverted back to immediate friends, family, and close acquaintances on social media, individuals whose personal credibility speaks far more than the size of their followings.” (2019)

Tightening up security

Photo: Pixabay

So while Twitter has purged millions of fake accounts and Facebook has been pressured by regulators to improve security and transparency to regain public trust, individuals are increasingly going private. They are making their tweets private, only letting friends see their Instagram and choosing to make their personal Facebook accounts altogether private or selecting who can see which status updates.

Do you know who can see what on your Facebook account? It’s easy to find out. Just click on the down arrow at the top of any Facebook page, select “settings” and then “privacy”.

What about your other platforms? The Centre for Identity at the University of Texas at Austin has a complete guide to managing your social media privacy settings in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, LinkedIn and Pinterest (n.d.).

Many users are also opting for direct messaging and joining private, closed or secret group accounts to keep their information out of the public eye and to join authentic conversations.

Photo: Pexels

Direct messaging

Personal messaging is gaining popularity. Between them, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have more than 2.8 billion users (Holmes, 2019). If you add in WeChat, QQ and Skype, the number of monthly active users climbs to nearly 5 billion, more than the traditional social networks have worldwide (Copp, 2018). Rather than sharing openly on social networks, these users are opting to engage in private or small group conversations. (Holmes, 2019).

This change is being felt in the business world. For instance, a 2018 Facebook survey of 8,000 people found that in the U.S., direct messaging is how customers prefer to communicate with businesses, with 69 per cent of respondents saying that direct messaging helped them feel more confident about a brand (Copp, 2018). Copp advises companies to adapt by enabling Facebook Messenger on their business page and learning to move customer conversations that begin on social from the public to the private space (2018).

Groups on social media: Closed and secret

Groups on social media platforms aren’t new.

Photo: Pexels


These forums where people gather to discuss particular topics were part of Facebook early on. “But the renewed interest in privacy and intimacy among users means Groups are suddenly having their moment,” writes Ryan Holmes in The Financial Post (2019). He points to the number of Facebook Group members which has climbed by 40 per cent in the past year, with 1.4 billion people now participating in Groups every month (2019, Holmes).

Anyone can join a public group on Facebook. Closed groups can be found via search but can only be joined with permission from the administrator. Secret groups are invisible and unsearchable to the outside world. You can only join if a member invites you. These can be a way of creating an aura of exclusivity and are sometimes used for commercial purposes like launches and special promotions, giving members the privacy to share more freely. (Copp, 2018)

Last year, Facebook added features to Group accounts such as an ability to participate as a business Page, update with Stories, post live videos within the group and create social learning units (Chen, 2019).


The beta version of LinkedIn Live was launched this February and brings live streaming to the professional realm. It also gives a nod to the trend towards privacy. This platform is expected to be used for live streaming of conference calls, tradeshow keynotes, product announcement and other communications typically done through webinars and conference calls. LinkedIn Live users will be able to stream to the general public or to a select group of people. This will give companies the scope to host company-exclusive and private events away from prying eyes. This is a unique feature among video platforms. (Social Report, 2019).


Of course privacy isn’t the only reasons the number of private accounts are on the upswing on social media. Certain brands are making their account or specific campaigns private to build exclusivity, capitalizing on the fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) (Chacon, 2018). Although this strategy isn’t for everyone, meme Instagram accounts like @moistbuddha and @commentawards with large followings have reaped the benefits (Chacon, 2018). Certain brands like the direct-to-consumer fashion brand Everlane, which is popular on Instagram has been known to take their account private to promote a new collection (Chacon, 2018).

Screenshot from Instagram

If you’re considering this strategy for your business, be aware that when you take your Instagram account private there are some drawbacks (Brown, 2018):

  • You have to switch your business account to a personal one and you will lose analytics and the ability to run Instagram ads and promote content.
  • Potential followers might be annoyed
  • Your posts no longer appear on the Explore page and they won’t appear under any of the hashtags you use.
  • You won’t be able to embed your content on a website or link to it.

To find out more about whether this is a strategy for you, read Benjamin Chacon’s blog, Will Taking Your Instagram Account Private Get You More Followers?

What this mean for businesses?

Privacy concerns and a desire for a more authentic community experience on social media are unlikely fade away. Smart networks and businesses will mean to find a way to respond to user concerns about privacy as well as the surging interest Groups as a safe forum for discussion, away from the wild west of public social media.

What do you think?

How do you think brands will need to adapt to the social media user’s escalating use of private and closed groups as well as direct messaging—a trend fed by the need for more privacy and authentic engagement?

Tweet: Public vs Private: A Changing Social Media Landscape

Facebook Post: (To be posted as a link post to blog)
Social media users are clamping down on their public exposure
[Photo of lead image for blog-privacy]
Public vs Private:
A Changing Social Media Landscape


Brown, E. (2018, December 17). 5 Reasons Why Brands are Using Private Instagram Accounts [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Campbell, D. (2018, November 13). Make social media accounts private, says survey of young. The Guardian. Retrieved on February 24, 2019 from

Chacon, B. (2018, August 1). Will Taking Your Instagram Account Private Get You More Followers? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Chen, Jenn. (2019, January 18). 7 social media trends to watch in 2019 [Blog Post]. Retrieved from:

Copp, Emily, (2018, December 4).  5 Social Media Trends in 2019 (And How Brands Should Adapt) [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Holmes, R. (2019, January 7). Five trends that will change how businesses use social media in 2019. Financial Post Business. Retrieved on February 24 from

Jafar, M. (2018, January 11). With More Caution and New Technology, Social Media Sharing Has Become More Private [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Parry, H. (2016, May 5). Are your social media profiles as private as they can be? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Social Report. (2019, February 19). Here’s How LinkedIn Live Will Change The Live Video Game in 2019 [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

The University of Texas at Austin Centre for Identity. (n.d.). How to Manage Your Social Media Privacy Settings [Webpage]. Retrieved on February 24, 2019 from

Pinning Pinterest Down for Teachers

A rich resource for educators in and out of the classroom

Pinterest’s goal is to be the ultimate anti-social media platform, said CEO and co-founder of Pinterest, Ben Silbermann, in an interview with CNN Business last week. The goal isn’t to keep customers online, he says, but rather to inspire and ultimately get people offline to try something new (Wattles, 2019). Pinterest has certainly inspired thousands of teachers to get more creative in the classroom.

What does Pinterest offer teachers?

Teachers turn to it as an invaluable professional tool— a forum for classroom and teacher-to-teacher collaborations as well as a source for classroom décor, teaching tips and creative lesson plans. Best of all, many of these resources are organized by grade level and subject, making it easy for time-strapped teachers to hone in on the exact resources they need, for example grade three science. (Cummings, 2015)

What is Pinterest?

One of the fasted growing social applications in history, Pinterest had reached 250 million monthly active users as of October 2018 (Wikipedia). It’s an image-based social bookmarking tool. Users can create “pinboards” around topics where they can “pin” (bookmark) web images and videos, creating a catalogue of ideas (Algonquin College).

Pinterest and educators by the numbers

By the end of 2014, there were 1.3 million education pins per day (Cummings, 2015). An online poll of educators, conducted that same year by the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, found 38 per cent of those surveyed reported using Pinterest to find resources—second only to Twitter (Cummings 2015). It’s also a testament to the importance of teachers that Pinterest created a Teachers on Pinterest hub.

On pins and needles to get started?

The Guide to Pinterest for Educators, from the University of Southern California, is a great starting point. This handy guide covers curating content, organizing your pins, collaborating with other educators, and how to connect students to Pinterest.

The Guide to Pinterest for Educators by USC Rossier’s Masters of arts in teaching program.

Student safety on Pinterest

The guide includes 8 Practical Tips for Internet Safety on Pinterest. How to set up profiles and boards to keep students safe and address parent and administrator worries is covered and bears repeating (Levy, 2016):

  • Make profiles as private as possible:
    • Use avatars—fake names and icon images will obscure student identities
    • Set search privacy to “yes”—this hides the profile from Google so it won’t be indexed.
    • Turn off personalization so the user’s online movements can’t be followed.
    • Limit notifications so students can only be contacted by people they are following.
    • Unlink social networks to limit access to student data.
  • Use secret boards—you can invite students to the board but it won’t be open to the public.
  • Set boundaries—one of these should be a time limit for use.
  • Go over pinning guidelines
  • Talk about what is good communication—bullying and how to comment can be covered here.
  • Discuss alternatives to negative behaviour
  • Have students sign an Internet Safety Pledge
  • Get parents involved—send them a primer on Pinterest and a copy of the guidelines for acceptable behaviour and staying safe.

How educators can use Pinterest

Almost anything can be pinned from blog posts to books and recipes to reading recommendations. Since Pinterest is essentially a visual catalogue, it’s also a boon to visual students. The following infographic from Online summarizes the many ways teachers can use Pinterest.

In her blog, Pinterest for Teachers – 32 Practical Ways to Use Pinterest as an Educator, Jacqueline Thomas breaks down the educational uses of Pinterest for four target groups: students, the teacher themselves, parents and other teachers (2017):

For the Student

  • Set up a collaboration board for students and/or parents
  • Brainstorm for projects using a collaborative board
  • Pin interesting facts about historical figures
  • Have each student build a “get to know-you” board at the beginning of the year and complete one yourself
  • Summer reading recommendations
  • Set up a classroom spotlight to share accomplishments

For the Teacher

  • Create/find lesson plans
  • Classroom décor
  • Organization tips
  • Classroom management
  • Book recommendations
  • Find educational blogs
  • Find experiments
  • Get printables
  • Get test prep ideas

For Parents

  • Create a student portfolio
  • Publish a digital magazine or newspaper
  • Share a link to your pass-protected class blog

For Other Teachers and Educators

  • Share resources
  • Link to your Teachers Pay Teachers site. While many of the teacher resources on this platform are free, some teachers advertise on Pinterest and sell their lesson plans to one another for a small fee.
  • Follow boards from fellow teachers. Use PinGroupie. Just enter a keyword like “educators” or “8th grade French”) into the description and click “filter”. If you’re really jazzed by a board, ask the board creator if you can join and help curate for it.

In her blog, 16 Best Teacher Pinterest Pages to Obsess Over, Meghan Mathis recommends the best teacher Pinterest pages to follow (2017).

In Teaching strategies: 5 exciting ways to use Pinterest, teacher Jenny Starkman waxes eloquent about how Pinterest saves her time. It’s where she turns when she needs ideas on communications home, individualized education programs (IEPs), templates and progress monitoring. She’s also uses it to get recommendations on apps, ideas for special events and clubs and finds it a great resource for teacher blogs. (Starkman, n.d.).

There are risks, so why post and pin in education?

The Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario (ETFO) advises its members not to friend students on social media and to be cautious even in their personal use, “ETFO warns its members that anything they post can be: forwarded, taken out of context, copied, manipulated and impossible to remove from cyberspace.” Yet is also states, “ETFO continues to support the responsible use of social media as an excellent teaching tool, provided it adheres to professional standards.” (Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, 2011).

The Ontario College of Teachers, which certifies and oversees teachers in Canada’s largest province, has many words of caution for teachers in its advisory to teachers on the use of electronic communications and social media. But it also acknowledges, “Electronic communication and social media tools provide exciting opportunities to learn, teach and communicate with students, parents and your colleagues. They serve a range of purposes from helping students and parents access assignments and resources to connecting with communities all over the world (Council of the Ontario College of Teachers, 2017).

Given the risks to privacy and the potential for inappropriate sharing or online bullying, why should we allow Pinterest and other social media into the classroom?

Perhaps Thomas Ryan’s examination of social media use in the classroom makes the best case. He concludes that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and that, “As educators, part of our responsibility is to prepare students for life. For this reason, considering the increasing prominence of social media in today’s society, it should also be our responsibility to help students learn how to use social media in an appropriate manner. To do this we need to connect as educators and find ways and means to authentically use this technology within the many guidelines and policies surfacing in educational organizations.” (Ryan, 2014)

What do you think?

Until I recently took the Introduction to Social Media course at Algonquin College, I hadn’t thought about using social media as an education tool. What were some of the best ways teachers used social media to enrich your (or your child’s) learning experiences? If they used Pinterest, what did you think of it?

Tweet: Pinning Pinterest Down for Teachers: A rich resource for educators in and out of the classroom

Facebook Post: (To be posted as a link post to blog)
More and more of your teacher colleagues are using Pinterest. Why?
[Photo of lead blog image-a phone with Pinterest app in the centre]
Pinning Pinterest Down for Teachers
A rich resource for educators in and out of the classroom


Algonquin College. (n.d.). Lesson 3: Social media’s impact on communication practices in Introduction to Social Media [webpage]. Retrieved February 19, 2019, from

Council of the Ontario College of Teachers. (2017, September 27). Professional advisory: Maintaining professionalism – use of electronic communication and social media. Retrieved from

Cummings, M. (2015, April 2). There’s a big hole in how teachers build skills, and Pinterest Is helping fill it (Webpage]. Slate. Retrieved from

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (2011, September). Electronic communication and social media – Advice to members. Retrieved on February 19, 2019, from

Levy, Anne. (2016, February 4). 8 practical tips for Internet safety on Pinterest [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Mathis, Meghan. (2017, June 2). 16 best teacher Pinterest pages to obsess over[Webpage]. Retrieved from

Ryan, Thomas. (2014, June). Social media use in the classroom: Pedagogy & practice [Conference Paper]. Retrieved on February 19, 2019, from

Starkman, Jenny. (n.d.). Teaching strategies: 5 exciting ways to use Pinterest [Webpage]. Retrieved on February 19, 2019, from

Thomas, Jacqueline. (2017, January 23). Pinterest for teachers – 32 practical ways to use Pinterest as an educator [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

USCRossierOnline. (n.d.). The Guide to Pinterest for Educators.  Retrieved on February 19, 2019, from

Wattles, Jackie. (2019, February 12). Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann on creating the anti-social media platform. CNN Business online. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2019, February 19). Pinterest [Webpage]. Retrieved on February 19, 2019, from

Social Media and Mental Health

The Promise and the Peril

Photo from Pexel

Last Wednesday, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned UK social media providers to work towards reducing the harmful effects of social media—especially among children—or face legislation (Donnelly, 2019).

This warning came as the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, released a review on the effects of screen-time on children’s mental health and advised parents to limit their children’s daily use to two hours or less. There wasn’t enough evidence to establish a causal link, but the review found that heavy social media use was associated with a doubling in depressive symptoms among youth. (Donnelly, 2019)

Canada is no stranger to the harms social media can visit on youth if it is misused. Look no further than Nadia Kajouji, Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The online world also holds great promise for mental health.

The Promise

In a recent interview on TVO’s The Agenda, psychiatrist Dr. David Gratzer was asked how he would characterize the promise of artificial intelligence and digital solutions for mental health care. He replied, “There’s hope that by tapping into the data that we’re generating with our phones, with our computers and with our interactions, maybe we’ll be able to get people better and faster help.” (Gratzer, 2019) e-Mental health is a priority area for the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) precisely because of its potential to improve access (Mental Health Commission of Canada, no date).

Certainly better access is sorely needed. According to the MHCC, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem this year (MHCC, 2013, p. 1). In his blog, Why the future of psychiatry could be digital, Dr. Gratzer cites one study that found only 13 per cent of Canadians with depression have access to psychotherapy, a treatment of choice (2019).

Online treatment

Many of Gratzer’s patients already use apps to get information on their illnesses, as medication reminders, or to track their mood over time. And now people are increasingly looking to online therapy. It’s low-cost and, when done right, can be as effective as face-to-face care, he writes. (Gratzer, 2019)

Take Woebot for example. It’s a free therapy chatbot and app for depression and anxiety. It encourages users to engage in mental health practices every day and teaches cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques in the moment, as needed. The app has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression by 28% and symptoms of anxiety by 38% after only four weeks of therapy says psychologist Alison Darcy, Founder and CEO of Woebot Labs and Adjunct Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. (Mental Health: There’s an app for that, 2019)

But it’s buyer beware when it comes to picking a mental health app cautions Gratzer. Of the hundreds of depression apps, only a quarter of them meet basic quality standards (Gratzer, 2019). And popularity is no guarantee of effectiveness. Many of the most popular mindfulness apps are not the ones that work best (There’s an app for that, 2019). Darcy agrees that the best mental health apps are not built on persuasive tech that keeps your coming back for more. Rather, good mental health apps, like Woebot, typically rely on brief daily exposures of 5-10 minutes each. (Mental Health: There’s an app for that, 2019)

Diagnosis and prediction of illness

It’s early days yet, but according to Gratzer, in the future we may be able to tap into Facebook posts and tweets to identify early signs of emerging illness. “It may be we can gather that information—information which would be pretty invisible to providers like me—we could harness that information and come back with a diagnosis long before a person is even sad.” (Mental Health: There’s an app for that, 2019).

He points to one study that analyzed the data of 638 Facebook users and was able to predict future depression diagnoses as much as three months before it appeared in patient medical records as a diagnosed condition (Mental Health: There’s an app for that, 2019).

Ability to identify communities at risk of suicide

I recall a meeting I attended with former Health Minister Jane Philpott a few years back. She expressed her frustration at our inability to identify communities like Attiwapiskat who are at risk of cluster suicides so we could deploy resources early and avoid needless deaths. It seems Philpott’s wish has come true.

Polly is an artificial intelligence (AI) forecaster developed by Advanced Symbolics Inc. Using aggregate, anonymised social media data Polly can detect, predict and prescribe changes in human behaviour. (Mental Health: There’s an app for that, 2019). Consider, this AI accurately projected Brexit, the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and the last Ontarian election results (Beaulieu, 2018).

Working with researchers at the University of Ottawa, Polly has now learned to predict when a community is at high risk of experiencing a rash of suicides says Erin Kelly, President and CEO of Advanced Symbolics Inc.

Watch this video to learn more about Woebot, Polly or the potential of digital media to predict, diagnose and treat mental illness. Mental Health: There’s An App for That, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, TVO, January 28, 2019.

A stigma-buster

Digital media can also help reduce the stigma of mental illness. Journalism professor Gavin Adamson studied how people share mental health and illness news online.  He found people in Canada tend to share positive mental health stories about recovery and interventions on social media and typically don’t share negative stories that linked crime and violence to mental illness. Stories that link mental illness with violence and crime are quite common in traditional media (Adamson, 2016).

A solution for social isolation

One of the often touted benefits of social media is how it can reduce social isolation. It can overcome distance and disability barriers and help you stay connected to family and friends. It can also help you find like-minded communities to share ideas or give you emotional support to cope with difficulties you’re facing, whether that be a mental illness or a child with a rare disease.

The Perils

Too much can lead to social isolation

Photo from Pexel

Social media can cut both ways when it comes to social isolation. One U.S. report suggests that too much time spent on social media can make people lonelier. It examined 200 adult users of Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr and found that those who spent more than two hours per day on social media had double the chance of experiencing social isolation. The study wasn’t able to determine whether socially isolated people were more likely to use these apps or if their use of apps caused their social isolation. (US psychologists claim social media, 2017)

Low self-esteem

The link between social media and low self-esteem has been made by numerous studies. Envy seems to be at the root of the problem. In her blog, Mental Health and the Effects of Social Media, Allison Abrams highlights a study of Facebook users which measured the effects of Facebook on mental health. It found, “regular use could lead to symptoms of depression if the site triggered feelings of envy in the user.” But in the case where Facebook was used primarily to stay connected and did not trigger feelings of envy, there was a positive overall effect on the user’s mental well-being.(2017)

Why are we drawn to social media?

Photo from Pexel

It seems social media lights up the areas of the brain typically involved when someone engages in rewarding behaviours such as eating chocolate or winning money. Using brain scans, the UCLA study found that this reward circuitry was activated when teenagers saw large numbers of “likes” on their own photos or that of their peers. (Wolpert, 2016)

How to engage in a healthy way

The UK is attacking this issue at the highest level. Whether it will be done voluntarily, or their hand will be forced by legislation, social media providers are being asked to change the ways sites are built in the hopes of removing “addictive capabilities” which keep users hooked. This means getting rid of functions like “auto-play” where content runs on a continuous loop, “you might like” nudges towards particular videos or games and praise for regularly logging in. (Donnelly, 2019)

Measures to effectively verify the age of users, to generate age-appropriate ads and to remove harmful content such as bullying and self-harm image are also part of government demands. In theory, UK children under 13 can’t register for social media accounts. (Donnelly, 2019)

But you can take measures to safeguard your social mental mental health at the individual level. In Canada, has a social media screening tool you can use to see if your use is problematic and an information sheet for families which provides lots of great advice on mitigating the risks of social media.

Social media is here to stay. And like most young technologies we’re still figuring out, as a society and as individuals, how to harness its power while minimizing its potentially harmful effects.

Do you think your use of social media or that of your child might be problematic? Screen your use with the tools in the above paragraph and share your thoughts on what you find.

Tweet: Social Media and Mental Health: The Promise and the Peril

Facebook Post: (To be posted as a link post to blog)
Your social posts could help mend your mental health?
[Photo of lead image for blog-a phone with Twitter and Facebook app showing]
Mental Health and Social Media
The Promise and the Peril


Abrams, A. (2017, March 5). Mental health and the effects of social media [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Adamson, G. & Donaldson, L. & Whitley, R. (2016). Sharing Recovery Stories. Digital Journalism. 5. 1-16. Retrieved from

Beaulieu, C. (2018, November 26). Advanced Symbolics Inc & AI : Working together for a better social future [Website]. Retrieved from

Donnelly, L. (2019, February 7). Social media fuels ‘addiction’: Chief Medical Officer backs duty of care. The Telegraph. Retrieved February 8 from (2015, July 13). Unplug (from Technology) and Connect: Keeping Families Strong in a Wired World [Webpage]. Retrieved from

Gratzer, D. (2019, January 29). The future of psychiatry promises to be digital – from apps that track our mood to smartphone therapy [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Mental Health Commission of Canada (no date). e-Mental health [Webpage]. Retrieved from

Mental Health Commission of Canada (2013). Making the case for investing in mental health in Canada. Retrieved from

“Mental health: There’s an app for that”. (2019, January 28). TVO. Retrieved February 8 from

US psychologists claim social media ‘increases loneliness’. [No author]. (2017, March 6). BBC Newsbeat. Retrieved from

Wolpert, S. (2016, May 31). The teenage brain on social media: The findings in a new UCLA study shed light on the influence of peers and much more [Webpage] Retrieved from

Harness Social Media for Social Change

Convert online engagement to offline action

Photo from Pexels

Some see social media as the magic bullet for social change—the ultimate community-building and social mobilization tool that puts power into the hands of the little guy.  Others argue it doesn’t so much inspire social change as “slacktivism” where likes and retweets substitute for real action. Whether online engagement can be converted to offline action is under debate.

What’s the evidence?

The research seems sparse. However, some researchers credit twitter as an important organizational tool in movements like the Egyptian Rising (Alexander, 2016, para 4) and Occupy Wall Street (Scott & Maryman, 2016, p. 3). Certainly social media was a powerful advocacy tool in the hands of Saudi Arabian teenager, Rahaf Al-Qunun, who recently captured international attention with her plea for asylum and now lives in Canada. And, although this week’s Bell Let’s Talk campaign has been alternately praised as a prime example of corporate social responsibility and criticized as a giant advertising campaign, there is no denying that it has raised over $100 million dollars for mental health since 2011, and registered over a billion interactions (Bell Let’s Talk, 2019).

A U.S. meta-analysis by Scott and Maryman (2016, p. 11), which examined social media as an advocacy tool, also offers insight. It found people who used the internet were more likely to engage in civic action than non-users. Indeed, one study found Facebook users were more likely to vote than non-users.  This tendency seems to extend beyond the political realm. Their research also highlighted a nationally representative survey that revealed that 82-85% of social media users are active in some kind of voluntary group or organization, more than the U.S. national average of 75%.

A building block to expand your community

While social media as a stand-alone advocacy strategy is unlikely to achieve your advocacy goals, it does get you on the ground floor.  It overcomes barriers like geography, disability and timing (Scott & Maryman, 2016, p 3). It expands the pool of potential new supporters from which you can recruit and build relationships over time, gradually increasing their level of engagement. The challenge is to move them from low-level engagement where they click and share, to moderate actions online such as signing petitions and finally to high-level, off-line activity, like volunteering (Scott & Maryman, 2016, p 4). In short, social media increases the chance for change.

An inexpensive way to level the playing field

Social media is especially attractive for small organizations and nonprofits with strained budgets. Compared to traditional advocacy activities like face-to-face meetings and ad buys, the start-up costs for social media advocacy are relatively low (Scott & Maryman, 2016, p 4).

What you need to know to get started…

Social media may be low cost, but it’s not free

  • Dedicate staff time. Genuine engagement requires quick responses and thoughtful interactions. Consider a 2012 study found that organizations that use social media effectively spent about 2.5 hours a week on Facebook alone (Scott & Maryman, 2016, p 12).
  • Earmark money for resources to plan, monitor, evaluate and modify to your social media strategy as needed. If your needs are simple, one of these free social media monitoring and listening tools may be enough or you may need to buy something more sophisticated (Whalley, 2018).
  • Invest in subscriptions and/or paid content. It will help you maintain a good flow of posts.
  • Commit time to improving your organic posts. Check out Neil Patel’s blog post (2016), Facebook’s Algorithm Revealed: How to Remain Visible in the Cluttered News Feed? At a minimum, let your followers know they can use the “See First” feature of Facebook’s newsfeed preference tools to ensure your posts appear at the top of their Facebook newsfeed (Patel, 2016).

Lay the groundwork

Before you jump in with both feet, take time to plan out your social media strategy for social change.

  • Clearly define your target audience. How old are they? What platforms do they use? How often do they use those tools? For what purpose do they use them? Information? Entertainment? How technically savvy are they? The answers to these questions will help you pick which platforms are best for your cause and better allot your resources. For example, older audiences like to receive information and put more stock in credible sources that align with their social groups or political parties. Younger people expect to participate and share information and they do this based on what interests them Scott & Maryman, 2016, p 13). This Pew Research Centre report on social media use in 2018 (Smith & Anderson, 2018) offers insights on the various platforms.
  • Set goals for your social media communications. Decide how you will define success and what metrics you will gather to measure that success.
  • Identify pivotal individuals who believe in your cause and can influence key decision makers.
  • Put together a social media style guide to steer employee and volunteer participation. Georgy Cohen’s blog, Creating a social media style guide (2012) will get you thinking.
  • Individual campaigns need plans too. That’s all the more important if you’re a small organization where every penny count. While you may want to use different platforms, the infographic below offers a great checklist for non-profit advocacy campaigns.

Reproduced with permission from a Co-Communications presentation at the 2012 Annual Connecticut Nonprofits Conference.

Content tips

You’ve laid the groundwork and now it’s time to create and share your content. Scott and Maryman’s meta-analysis (2016, pp. 12-13) found general consensus around the following strategies:

  • Post positive stories
  • Make your messages relevant, short and easy-to-read.
  • Include links to more information
  • Favour personal stories over statistics
  • Include calls for action more often. These are more likely to be shared, yet some research shows the majority of not-for-profits use social media primarily for one-way information sharing. Indeed one study of a random selection of social work organizations in the U.S. found that only 8.1% of tweets sent out called on followers to act.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:

  • Use images and video. Did you know live video is three times as popular as recorded video? (Patel, 2016).
  • In Facebook, use link posts and make it newsworthy if you can. Link posts get twice as many clicks as photo posts. Facebook’s algorithm slightly favours content that is newsworthy or trending. (Lee, 2014)
  • Create a unique hashtag for your campaign or mission. It allows you to track your campaign on Twitter and Facebook and find potential new supporters and influencers. Read, 5 Ways to Use Social Media to Support a Digital Advocacy Campaign to find out more. (Dan, 2018)

Schedule it!

Schedule your content in advance. As Dominique Jackson’s explains in his blog, 4 Steps for Creating a Social Media Calendar (2017) a consistent schedule of quality posts is key. Here are a couple more important takeaways from this blog:

  • Be strategic in who you follow and retweet. Make common cause with other organizations to amplify mutual messages and stimulate ideas and interactions in each other’s networks.
  • Pick the right time and day for your posts. Optimal times depend on the platform but the rule of thumb is to avoid peak times when competition is highest. Check out this infographic for the best days and times to post (Kolowich, 2018).

Track and analyze

I can’t stress enough how important it is to track, analyze and report on whether you’re meeting your goals. Only by beginning to measure will you understand what works for your organization’s cause.

Make social media part of your advocacy strategy

Social media can’t replace traditional advocacy activities like face-to-face interactions. But whether you’re an individual, a nonprofit with a mission or a corporate giant like Bell, social media is a critical complement to your overall communications strategy as you drive change and build community around your cause of choice.

Do you know of an individual or organization that has successfully used social media to create social change? What do you think contributed to that success?

Tweet: Do you want to harness social media for social change?

Facebook Post: (To be posted as a link post to blog)
Tips on advocating for your cause using social media
[Photo of volunteers holding cellphones]
Harness Social Media for Social Change
Convert online engagement to offline action


Bell Let’s Talk (2019). Growing the global conversation and supporting Canada’s mental health [Webpage]. Retrieved from

Alexander, M. (2016, April 17). Social media and social change: An evolving narrative [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Cohen, G. (2012). Creating a social media style guide [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Cyr, D. (2012). Using social media marketing for non-profit advocacy [Infographic]. Retrieved from

Dan, C. (2018, September). 5 ways to use social media to support a digital advocacy campaign [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Jackson, D. (2017, September 25), 4 steps for creating a social media calendar {Blog Post]. Retreived from

Kolowich, L. (2018, May 15). The Best Time to Post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ [Infographic]. Retrieved from

Lee, K. (2014). Anatomy of a perfect Facebook post: Exactly what to post to get better results [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Patel, N. (2016). Facebook’s algorithm revealed: How to remain visible in the cluttered News Feed? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Scott, T. & Maryman, V. (2016, March 15). Using social media as a tool to complement advocacy efforts. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 7(I), 1-22.

Smith, A. & Anderson, M. (2018, March 1). Social media use in 2018 [Report]. Retrieved from

Whalley, B. (2018, December 17). The 13 best free social media monitoring tools for every marketing team [Blog post]. Retrieved from