After examining the ways in which the Dacotah Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Bismarck, ND, uses – or, more aptly, fails to use – its online presence to amplify its presence in the communities it serves, I chose to take a look at HIT, Inc., another local nonprofit. I visited its website and Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter pages to get an idea of how it integrates its social media presences into a cohesive and effective system, an ecology of outreach efforts intended to increase community awareness of the organization and its services. While what I found wasn’t particularly impressive, – not a single tweet since 2015! – I recognized 1. each page included an accessible link to HIT’s website; and 2. the content available on each social media page was interesting, relevant, and reflected the stated goals of the organization. Its efforts to get in on this fraught social media game, to embrace Web 2.0, indicate that HIT, Inc. is committed to reaching out to those who need its services most in the most efficient and effective ways available. However, if HIT wants to avoid obsolescence and keep its media ecology healthy and functional, it needs to devote more attention to its Twitter and YouTube pages (or get rid of them).
I visited the “About Us” page on http://www.hitinc.org to learn more about the organization, its history, and its mission. While a list of services provided and a shadow of a mission statement are available on this page, there’s nothing about when or where the organization was founded or by whom. I tried Google. No luck! I tried HIT’s YouTube page next. There’s a mission statement there, but nothing about the organization’s history. Twitter? The same mission statement found on the YouTube page, but nothing else. Evidently, HIT, Inc., like language, community, and ritual, has existed in some form or another since the beginning of recorded human history – perhaps even longer. Perhaps it was founded by the same celestial visitors who inspired the Sanskrit Epics and built the Great Sphinx of Giza.
. . . Facebook, maybe? Jackpot! HIT, Inc. was founded in 1979 in Bismarck, ND, as Housing, Industry, Training Incorporated. It offers a variety of services, including education, recreation, housing, and vocational training, for people with disabilities, whether congenital or acquired. Its mission is to “[support] people with disabilities through self-directed services that promote independence, dignity, and respect.” Additionally, it offers services, like its Head Start preschool program, intended to educate and support children and families of all ability levels.
‘Round these parts, HIT, Inc. is an institution. It provides not only important services for people with disabilities but also employment and volunteer opportunities for those who value and want to advocate for and serve members of our community who are frequently misunderstood, forgotten, neglected, ridiculed, and abused. Its Head Start program is synonymous with “preschool” in the Bismarck-Mandan area – I remember feeling ashamed as a third grader that I’d never been to Head Start! (I started elementary school in Jamestown.) I have more friends and acquaintances who’ve worked or volunteered for HIT, Inc. than I can count, and because my mom worked in human services when I was a kid, HIT swag – pencils, t-shirts, notepads – was ubiquitous in our home growing up.
A sight for sore eyes, indeed! HIT’s website is beautifully designed in navy, gold, and orange. It’s also easily navigable, with a search bar at the top of the page. Links to the organization’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages are situated beside the search bar. I was glad to see these links – to me, they indicate HIT, Inc. takes its online presence seriously and invites virtual interactions.
The Facebook Page
As of 31 January 2018, HIT, Inc. has 1,346 “likes” on Facebook. 35 users, mostly former employees and parents of children who’ve benefitted from the services offered by HIT, have written reviews of the organization; the average rating is 4.6/5.
Most of the posts on the page’s timeline promote events sponsored by HIT, including fundraisers and employment seminars. Posting is semi-frequent and becomes more frequent as important events start to come up on the calendar. Many of the posts written after events have taken place include photos from the event, each of which is accompanied by a relevant caption. Directions to HIT’s offices are included on the “About” page, and links to the organization’s website and YouTube videos are easily available, bringing some cohesion to HIT’s media ecology. Most significantly, no clickbait!
HIT’s Facebook page is the most frequently updated of all the organization’s social media pages. I was glad to see HIT actively promotes the events it sponsors on its Facebook page. Additionally, I was glad to see some reviews of the organization – not many people feel comfortable interacting with an organization so directly. All things considered, HIT does an excellent job using Facebook. The posts on its page are timely and relevant and encourage visitors to get involved by attending events and volunteering. None of the recent posts is an article shared from another page. The photos both accentuate the influence of HIT, Inc. on the Bismarck-Mandan community and, in an indirect way, encourage visitors to learn more about the organization and its services. (It’s almost like they’re saying, “Don’t we look great? You want to be like us? Check us out!” But in a positive way.)
The Twitter Page
The page’s last tweet is dated 14 May 2015. What can I say? If HIT’s Facebook page is a well-tended community garden, its Twitter page is a vacant lot populated by the charred remains of a discarded sofa. With only 34 followers, it’s a ghost town here, partner. While many of the tweets that were sent seem as engaging and interesting as some of the posts on the organization’s Facebook page, very, very few of them were ever liked or retweeted. Evidently, the administrator simply gave up and caught the next Greyhound out of town.
I get it. Twitter’s a different game. You have only 280 characters to convince visitors to give you a second look. And it really seems like they gave it the ol’ college try, with 652 total tweets.
Perhaps HIT, Inc. and Twitter were never meant to be. Again, I get it. I was never meant to look good in lime-colored jeggings (but God knows I tried).
I think HIT needs a come-to-Jesus meeting about its Twitter page. Either you get rid of it, HIT, or you give ‘er another go. If it stays the way it is, it’ll be worse for you than if you didn’t have one at all. It’s disrupting your ecology like a rusted-out VW bus abandoned in the middle of an old-growth forest. Chance visitors will assume you’re defunct or, even worse, no longer relevant in the community you serve. What’s more depressing than a Twitter page that hasn’t been updated in two years?
The YouTube Page
. . . A YouTube account with only three videos and eight subscribers, that’s what. My little brother managed to do better than that as a ten-year-old posting short clips about Rubix Cube solutions.
I was mistaken. I thought the videos included on HIT’s Facebook page had been shared from its YouTube account. But, no – those videos were posted directly to Facebook. I have to ask – why run a YouTube account if you’re just going to post videos directly to Facebook?
I watched several of those videos. They’re great. They’re sweet and endearing and interesting and funny and they make me want to donate my time to HIT and serve the people it serves. Same with the three videos posted on HIT’s YouTube page.
Again, I think a come-to-Jesus meeting is necessary here. A social media page is like a kitten, or perhaps a newborn baby. You have to give it a lot of attention or you’re going to have some trouble in River City. I think HIT could really make a splash on YouTube; again, the videos are excellent. However, considering that a majority of them appear on Facebook and Facebook only, I think HIT needs to either export them to YouTube and pray they get as many views as they do on Facebook or retire the YouTube page for good.
For the most part, HIT, Inc. is doing it right. Its website is beautifully designed, its Facebook page is frequently updated, and it’s branched out into Twitter and YouTube. Clearly, HIT has embraced Web 2.0 in an effort to amplify its presence in the community it serves and reach those who would benefit most from its services. However, its Twitter and YouTube pages are twin albatrosses, preventing it from cultivating a flourishing media ecology. It’s evident HIT is “always seeking ways to improve” its services and ensure the people who need them most have access to them. I hope HIT keeps demonstrating this commitment by continuing to do what it’s doing well and rethinking what it’s not.