“[A]lways seeking ways to improve”: HIT, Inc. and Its Media Ecology

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).

The Organization

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.

The Website

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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Have you heard of the Dacotah Foundation?

Unless you’re 1. a long-time resident of Bismarck, ND, Mandan, ND, or Fargo, ND; and 2. working in community mental health services in one of those areas, your answer is probably no. Although the Dacotah Foundation has provided community mental health and addiction services in Bismarck and Mandan for over 50 years, it’s largely unknown, especially when compared with similar local organizations like Pride, Inc. and HIT, Inc. It’s not very difficult to understand why this is. Pride and HIT operate blogs on their respective websites as well as active Facebook and Twitter pages. The Dacotah Foundation’s Facebook page has fewer than 300 “likes,” and its website looks like some artifact dredged out of a dial-up-era forum.

The Foundation

Dacotah_Logo_615x600

The Dacotah Foundation was founded in Bismarck, ND in 1965. A second location opened in Fargo in 2003. It offers a wide variety of services intended for people with psychological and substance use disorders, including both short-term and long-term housing, medication monitoring, transportation, peer support groups, and mentoring for children and adolescents. Clients are often referred to the Dacotah Foundation by the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services.

I have dozens of friends and acquaintances who have either worked for the Dacotah Foundation or used their services. For the most part, their experiences have been remarkably positive, even life-changing: when I told one I’d been considering applying for a job at the Dacotah Foundation, she told me, if it weren’t for their residential services, she’d have been homeless and hungry for an entire year. Clearly, the Dacotah Foundation has made and continues to make an extraordinary impact on the communities in which it operates. A brief look at its online presence reveals why this impact remains, if not totally unacknowledged, uncelebrated.

The Website

http://www.dacotahfoundation.com is designed in earth tones – burnt orange, reddish brown, and a nauseous olive green reminiscent of your great-grandparents’ shag carpet.  There are no images apart from the Foundation’s logo (seen above) on each page and a few stock photos on the “Services” page.

The Foundation’s mission statement is reproduced on the home page, as well as the addresses of its offices in Bismarck and Fargo. On the right side of the page, there are seven tabs for seven pages: “Home,” “Services,” “Employment,” “Donations,” “Newsletter,” “Contact Us,” and “Recovery Center.” Relevant (although scant) information is available to view on each page.

Admittedly, if I weren’t already aware of the extent and impact of the Dacotah Foundation’s efforts, I’d get very bored very quickly if I stumbled on dacotahfoundation.com. Its design makes me feel uncomfortable and vaguely sick. Some of the links, including a link to an events calendar, are dead or difficult to find or both, and the link to the Foundation’s Facebook page tends to appear somewhere in the middle of the page, obscuring any information found there. Instead of a blog, with updates on the Foundation’s activities in the communities it serves, visitors are offered a link to a a PDF copy of the Foundation’s quarterly newsletter (available not under “Newsletter” but, unaccountably, under “Recovery Center”). Newsletter! They may as well offer to send visitors a welcome parcel via stagecoach!

The Facebook Page

After I’d taken a look at the Dacotah Foundation’s website, I visited its Facebook page. Understandably, I wasn’t expecting much. Infuriatingly, I got even less.

The page is updated frequently, almost every day. The frequency isn’t the problem, however – it’s the content. Most of it’s clickbait relating to addiction or mental health. Articles with titles like “My First Night Homeless” abound. Now, I’m not above sharing an interesting or timely article on Facebook, – and, to the Foundation’s credit, some of the articles shared on its page are serious commentaries on serious issues from serious sources – but that’s no foundation for a strong social media presence. Why offer visitors content they could find on several other Facebook pages with trivial effort?

After I’d got my blood pressure down a bit, I was glad to notice the Foundation offers semi-frequent updates on employment and donation opportunities. Now that’s effective. That keeps interested parties in the loop and may convince them to get involved in an admirable cause under the aegis of an important local organization. More of that, friends, and less of the clickbait, please.

Final Thoughts

In Social Media for Social Good (2012), Heather Mansfield offers a warning to non-profit organizations, writing, “upgrade now, or become obsolete” (39). The Dacotah Foundation seems to have become stuck in the morass of Web 1.0, only having extricated itself long enough to create a Facebook page. The influence of this organization on the communities it serves is undeniable. To reach more people more often, in a time and place in which more and more people need the services it offers, the Dacotah Foundation needs to fight obsolescence and break on through to Web 2.0.

Who Do You Want to Be Online?

“I am the little man who smokes & smokes.
I am the girl who does know better but.
I am the king of the pool.
I am so wise I had my mouth sewn shut.
I am a government official & a goddamned fool.
I am a lady who takes jokes.”

I’ve defined my identity by my interests, by my accomplishments, by my relationships, by the expectations imposed on me by others, by my reactions to those expectations, by my appearance, by my habits. One thing’s remained consistent, though: I’m always trying to be someone else. When I choose to attend church services with my parents, I’m Søren Kierkegaard, lambasting the dispassion of organized Christianity and advocating authenticity and committed, even reckless, religious faith; when I’m at a bar with my friends, I’m Christopher Hitchens, ridiculing religious fervor of all kinds, excoriating untenable political positions, and drinking “enough to kill or stun the average mule.” Perhaps I earned an A on an essay – I’ll be one of the professors I admire or a noted literary scholar until the excitement dwindles. Perhaps I didn’t – so what?! William Faulkner earned a D in English at Ole Miss! I went to the gym this afternoon? I’ll run the Fargo Marathon next year! I started smoking cigarettes again? Good health doesn’t befit an artist, anyway. Today, I’m feeling stable and secure – I’ll be my great-grandpa Christian: constant, diligent, dedicated, strong, and simple, with a clear purpose. Now, I’ve been committed to a psychiatric ward – I’ll be John Berryman fallen off the wagon, or van Gogh at Saint-Rémy, or even Randle McMurphy, before or after the lobotomy. Ancient-Greek-TheaterHow confused! Fundamentally, I don’t know the first thing about myself. I don’t know what to say, what to think, what to feel, or what to do. All I do is play characters – perhaps I should have majored in Theatre!

I can’t even begin to imagine the possibility of understanding the questions, “Who are you?” or, “Who do you want to be?” Maybe instead I can take a crack at this one: “Who do you want to be online?”

I think this experiment I’ve lurched into – running a blog – could represent an opportunity to use this confusion, or to manage or channel it in productive ways. I can use it to interpret events, issues, and questions from a wide variety of perspectives. I can use it to disabuse myself of whatever persistent biases I have. Perhaps most effectively, I can use it to understand how others may approach things or understand them.

Everyone wears a mask online – the mask of the humorist, of the commentator, of the poet, of the photographer, of the troll, of the young professional, of the stay-at-home mom or dad, of the activist, of the geek, of the         -enthusiast or amateur          or aspiring         . I think I can try on a few of the masks I’ve collected over 22 years as I learn more about online communication and try to offer some insight on the content I’ve read and the artifacts I’ve surveyed as a student in ENGL 457.

Perhaps soon I’ll put away all the masks I’ve worn and start to face things as Christian Weber – whoever that guy is. But, for now, I think I can use them to be someone online who’s flexible, empathetic, understanding, curious, and eager to learn.

 

Welcome

I am a student pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in English at North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND. I plan to graduate in May 2019. My interests include the varied relationships between language, texts, material circumstances, and personal identity; texts as commodities intended for sale; and writing fiction and poetry. Featured here are examples of coursework I have completed in pursuit of my degree.