«Dialogic Connections: An Analysis of Groundwork Anacostia River, DC’s Use of Facebook and Twitter Madeleine Shaw The George Washington University ...»
Lovejoy and Saxton do not stop their discussion of the framework at this step. They continue on to state that in order for organizations to use Twitter to its maximum capacity, they must employ all of these steps at once. They essentially argue that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Community organizations are constantly growing in size and, subsequently, are increasing their connection to the community. They must employ tweets regarding “information” to not only grab the interest of new audience members, but also to update their current followers on information regarding the organization. The situation is similar in regards to the “community” paradigm. This portion of the interaction is the beginning of audience involvement. Once followers feel that they are involved and participating in the work of the organization, they will respond even more to calls to “action” by the organization. These calls to “action” must occur frequently enough to maintain the interest of the audience, however not to the point at which their meaning is lost.
Lovejoy and Saxton, at the end of their discussion, emphasized that these techniques be used as a “ladder” instead of individually8. They specify that the information is used to “attract” followers, who are then engaged with the organization through the community-based tweets, and go on to mobilize through “action” after building up that knowledge base through information and community. When these three categories of messages are used hierarchically and simultaneously, they can create the dialogic connections that organizations need in order to successfully connect with their audience.
Applying Lovejoy and Saxton’s Framework to Facebook Lovejoy and Saxton employ the three categories – information, community and action – to analyze the Twitter rhetoric of community organizations. These categories can also be used to analyze Facebook posts of nonprofits. For the purpose of studying Groundwork’s social media habits, both Facebook and Twitter need to be analyzed in order to gain a complete view of their use of social media. The framework can be directly applied to Facebook while maintaining the information, community, and action categories. The information category, when applied to Facebook, includes posts made that do not foster any type of dialogic connection between the organization and the audience. These are posts that are solely used to inform the public about the workings and happenings of the organization. The community category consists of posts that encourage interaction and involvement through Facebook by the target audience and the organization itself. Finally, the posts categorized as “action” encouraged involvement with the organization outside of the realm of Facebook. These posts are used for calling the community to 8Kristen Lovejoy & Gregory D. Saxton, “Information, Community, and Action: How Nonprofit Organizations Use Social Media,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, no. 17 (2012): 350.
DIALOGIC CONNECTIONSparticipate with and for the organization. With this framework we can look at the Facebook and Twitter practices of Groundwork Anacostia River, DC in order to determine how efficiently they are using these tools.
Overview of Groundwork Anacostia River, DC (GWARDC) Groundwork is an organization based in Anacostia, DC that functions as a smaller trust of Groundwork USA. They are a small nonprofit focused on increasing the environmental awareness, education and recreation of high school students and their communities. GWARDC’s largest program is their Green Team initiative. This is an after-school program for which high school students apply and are selected. The students work with Dominique Skinner, the GWARDC Programs Coordinator, and learn about different environmental issues facing their community along with ways to counteract those issues. The students then perform some of the work within the community necessary to combat these problems. Groundwork also hosts various events throughout the year, such as hikes and Days in the Park to engage the community and encourage interaction through environmental work9.
Within the past couple of years Groundwork has moved towards using their social media websites more regularly. Their most frequently updated sites are their Facebook and Twitter pages. GWARDC posts to Twitter frequently, usually at least multiple times per week. Their Facebook posts are slightly more sporadic, often manifesting as multiple posts in one day followed by a period of no posts. This piece is not attempting to analyze how frequently GWARDC posts on their social media pages and whether that is efficient, but rather the type of posts they are making and whether their posts are targeted towards forming dialogic connections.
Further, I will attempt to answer whether or not Groundwork is fostering dialogic connections within their social media platforms, and if not, in what ways they could change their practices in order to do so.
Groundwork’s Use of Facebook To begin the analysis of Groundwork’s social media practices I will analyze their most recent Facebook posts to gain an understanding of the way they use this website. The majority of Groundwork’s Facebook posts fall into the “information” category laid out by Lovejoy and Saxton4. Over a three month time period from August 8, 2014 to November 8, 2014, Groundwork posted to their Facebook page a total of fifteen times. Of those fifteen posts, twelve fall into the information category. However, while the majority of their posts were information based, Groundwork’s “information” category was still more interactive than it may seem at the surface level4.
The majority of Groundwork’s information posts on Facebook involved photographs of Green Team events. These were usually created as photo albums and then posted onto their main Facebook page, or the photographs were attached to a post made to the main page. Posts with photographs attached to them were categorized as informational because they are relaying information about the events that occurred at the Green Team meeting. Part of the Groundwork audience group is high school students who have some sort of previous connection to the organization, most likely through peers at school, and who may be interested in working with the Green Teams during their high school career. Uploading the photos to Facebook allows people looking into Groundwork from the outside sphere, whether they are donors, potential volunteers,
9 Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Website, www.groundworkdc.org DIALOGIC CONNECTIONS
or people trying to learn more about the organization, to physically see the organization at work.
Photographs of the Green Team at work allow Groundwork to present arguably the best program of the organization in a manner that utilizes more involvement that just text on a screen.
Over the three-month period Groundwork made one post categorized as “community5”.
The post was made to promote an online fundraising campaign in which Groundwork was partnering with the Johnsonville sausage company. The post included text encouraging readers to follow the link to the campaign website where they could support Groundwork at no personal cost. It is categorized as community because while it does not explicitly begin the creation of an online community, it encourages community members to participate in an activity benefitting the organization online.
Groundwork’s two action posts are technically two separate posts made by the organization on separate days; however, the posts contained the exact same wording. The posts consisted of a text paragraph about volunteering to “clean up our waterways” accompanied by a graphic, essentially an online flyer, explaining the details of the event10. The posts were encouraging participation in these events by volunteers, donors, and other community members connected to GWARDC’s Facebook page. While the event was primarily to improve the river, it was also an opportunity for attendees to gain insight into the inner-workings of Groundwork.
Once people had the opportunity to see the organization in action, they would be more likely to contribute their time or money to the cause.
Groundwork’s Use of Twitter The same three month time period of August 8, 2014 to November 8, 2014 used to examine Groundwork’s use of Facebook was also used to evaluate their Twitter habits.
Groundwork’s Twitter posts during this time were much more evenly spread across the three categories of Information, Community and Action. Over the three month time period GWARDC had seven tweets categorized as information, six categorized as community, six categorized as action, and one that did not relate to the work they were doing as an organization.
All but one of Groundwork’s “information” tweets contained a hyperlink to another website4. Most of them were articles on various topics that relate to the environment in and around DC or environmental education. While these were categorized as “information” because they did not foster direct communication between entities, they are still encouraging online activity4. Many of Groundwork’s information posts on Facebook did this as well, by posting photos online for people to look through. While this does not directly correlate to an increase in the amount of communication between the two parties, it helps create the platform within which that communication has the potential to grow.
Approximately half of the tweets by GWARDC that were categorized as “community” involved the direct, online action of community members5. Two of the tweets included hyperlinks to an online sponsorship campaign Groundwork undertook with the Johnsonville sausage company (the same campaign as in the aforementioned Facebook posts). Followers could click on the link and would be taken to a page on which they could donate to GWARDC without needing to contribute any money personally. In order to fundraise on the behalf of Groundwork, individuals had to simply follow a few basic steps, such as signing up for a newsletter and answering a few questions. This made the campaign much more popular among
10 Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Facebook Post, September 19, 2014 DIALOGIC CONNECTIONS
individuals because it did not require them to spend any of their own money, nor did it involve the hassles that come with donating money online.
One of the tweets included in this category was an example of inter-organizational interaction on Twitter. Groundwork retweeted one of the Potomac Piranhas tweets, an organization that works to “bring together the business and environmental communities11”. The tweet was originally made to @PotomacPiranhas by the Prince George’s Green (PGG) Twitter page. PGG is an organization invested in growing the green economy in Prince George’s County, MD12. Therefore, this interaction involved three environmental organizations in and around the DC area. The “community” paradigm involves fostering interaction between the organization and their audience, which for all organizations involves other groups performing similar work to their own5. Interaction online between organizations is as important as communication between organizations and potential volunteers or donors. Organizations, especially nonprofits, are constantly growing and evolving, part of which is due to learning from other organizations like them.
One of the tweets in this category was a small piece of text asking individuals to sign a petition that was to be sent to the EPA, asking them to cut carbon pollution. Signing the petition was as easy for online community members as typing their name and email address when redirected to the website. While this post did not encourage direct communication between the organization and members of its audience, it fulfills the portion of the “community” paradigm that is focused on the beginnings of mobilization5. The “action” posts are those meant to directly encourage mobilization of resources and individuals for the cause5. However, the communitybased posts can begin this process by increasing mobilization efforts online, which this tweet does.
The majority of Groundwork’s posts within the “action” category were invitations to events5. Four of the six tweets either included an address and time period for an event or had an attached hyperlink to a page where individuals could register. These events were the Washington Post Award Application Session, a Business Opportunity Reception, Celebrating the Future of the Anacostia, and a Coalition International Leadership Training Team event13. Followers of the Twitter account were invited to attend the events and connect in person with the Groundwork management team. The other two events that were promoted on the Twitter page were both encouraging GWARDC followers to vote in the election on November 4. While this does not encourage interaction between Groundwork as an organization and their audience, it nevertheless involves audience members interacting with the community, which is part of Groundwork’s mission. Groundwork’s inherent goal is to make their community more connected, which they choose to encourage through environmental activities and awareness. Voting encourages individuals to have input into the way their community will function; therefore, these tweets can be categorized appropriately as “action5”.
Analysis of Groundwork’s Use of Twitter – Are They Fostering Dialogic Communication?
After looking at GWARDC’s Facebook and Twitter posts we can begin to notice patterns within their use of these sites and subsequent consequences from those patterns. Groundwork’s 11 Potomac Piranhas, Website, www.potomacpiranhas.org 12 Prince George’s Green, Website, www.pggreen.org 13 Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Twitter Feed, 2014