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Riding the Wave of Social Media

Hamilton County agency builds community relationship with online tools

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The advent of new media has changed the way people interact and socialize, but its friends and followers are not limited to individuals alone. Businesses and organizations have seen this as a marketing tool, as well as a bridge to personally connect with clients. Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services (JFS), a CWLA member agency in Ohio, has caught on with the trend and is using YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, BlogTalk, RSS feeds, podcasts, and blogs.

Follow Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, BlogTalk, and more with links from their website www.hcjfs.hamilton-co.org.

"We looked at how we can get our message out there on a shoestring budget," Brian Gregg, JFS Communications Manager, says. Government-sponsored organizations, he says, do not usually have a huge budget to allot for advertising, and JFS decided to use social media tools to create a new platform onto which they could raise their organization's visibility.

With the expertise of JFS public rela-tions specialist Mike Boehmer, the agency regularly updates posts on each social medium, and it has been gaining a following since last year. As of press time, JFS's Facebook page had 106 members, while its Twitter account had 280 followers. Its YouTube channel has received 3,980 channel views in a little more than two years. Gregg says the social media has improved the accessibility of the agency's services and has introduced more people to the variety of available programs.

According to the European Travel Commission's New Media Trend Watch website, there were 251,735,500 Internet users in North America as of mid-2009. Around the same time, Internet World Stats said the United States has the second-highest number of Internet users after China, taking a 13.6% share in overall world Internet consumption. Just one web destination for social networking--Facebook--has 300 million users to date, with the fastest growing demographic being adults age 35 and older.

The JFS YouTube account contains informational videos about how to apply for food assistance, Medicaid, and cash assistance; how to become a foster or adoptive parent; and Medicaid questions and answers. Their BlogTalk radio station discusses child welfare and family issues and informs the audience about ways to get involved in JFS's programs and events. JFS also has monthly online chats about child welfare issues on their website.

Sidebar

Brian Gregg

"Moira [Weir] has been very adamant about turning us loose and letting us use every avenue we can to create positive relationships with the community," Gregg says of JFS's director. "She has really been very forward-thinking in this area." Weir has been supportive of social media despite many other agencies' resistance due to the confidential nature of child welfare. "There is reluctance on behalf of many in child welfare to talk at all--not just on social media. But I contend there are many things that can be said without breaking confidentiality," Gregg explains. By posting regular updates online, though, JFS recognizes that they are increasing possible scrutiny of their organization. Gregg says that they have to be careful about what they post, making sure that the information they disseminate is appropriate and timely.

Prior to social media, JFS used radio and television ads, newsletters, and its website to promote itself. One of the big advantages of social media is that it creates a more personal relationship between the organization and its community. Gregg says that through viral marketing, they are given third-party validity, and a heightened sense of credibility. Unlike radio or television advertisements, social media enables JFS to reach out and talk to individuals in the community and give regular updates about what's happening in the organization and in the field.

Gregg stresses the importance of a positive relationship with the community and explains that it shouldn't only be in times of crises that an organization tries to reach out. He says that social media is "really about relationship-building," and that it has become the wave of the future. While some in the field may remain hesitant about social networking, the "wave" Gregg describes seems to be spreading to other agencies.

Maria Carmela Sioco is an editorial intern at CWLA.

High School Day Care

According to the Houston Chronicle, Houston's Lee High School and other Houston-area schools are offering on-site day care for teen moms. This is an effort to support teenage mothers in a city where there are more mothers under 15 than in any other U.S. city, as reported by Child Trends, a nonprofit research agency. The state awards $10 million grants to schools to finance programs for teen parents; 197 schools have already received funding.

Teaching Child Welfare

Louisiana is offering seven state universities federal grants that would help focus their child welfare curriculum on child abuse and neglect and dealing with work-related stress, Advocate Capitol News Bureau reports. Given the high turnover rates for social workers, the Secretary of Louisiana's Department of Social Services, a CWLA member, has said that child welfare is the weakest part of the department. Schools like Northwestern State University are using the grants for training and student stipends.

Keeping More Workers

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Journal Sentinel has reported that the turnover rates for frontline caseworkers for abused and neglected children in Milwaukee County has improved, based on a report from the Department of Children and Families, a CWLA member. Efforts in improving training and support effected a turnover rate of 19% at the start of the year at the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, compared to the first half of last year's turnover rate, which was 32%. The report is presented semiannually at the Community Meeting on Child Welfare to gauge the agency's progress.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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