Siloam Mission, a Winnipeg non-profit offering services to people experiencing homelessness, has done an amazing job reaching out to the community through social media.
Blair Barkeley, Siloam’s Website and Social Media Coordinator, has been a “connecting point between the compassionate and Winnipeg’s less fortunate”, and I chatted with him about his experience.
Unfortunately Blair, along with 17 other staff at Siloam, was laid off “due to a 15 to 25 percent decrease in donations and public support”. Today is his last day, and I’m sorry to see this channel of public outreach temporarily lost.
You can donate to Siloam Mission right here.
Q. Siloam Mission is using many social media channels (Larry Updike’s blog, Facebook, Twitter, Twestival, YouTube). Where did that social media savvy come from? Was a it a directive from management that resulted in a social engagement hire, or did a young person with a digital skill set come on board and bring the idea to the CEO? Was there an identified need to engage with Winnipeggers (either in the online space, or just in general)?
Blair Barkeley: Siloam’s social media savvy actually came from both. A web & social media position was created by management for the very purpose to get into the whole social media world and start connecting with new people and new possible supporters. And then I was hired to fill the position.
My job and goal was to engage with people online and starting entering the new social media phenomenon so that Siloam Mission could capture a whole new rage of supporters.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish with social media? How are you measuring your goals?
BB: Measuring social media is a tricky thing. Some days I spend a whole morning on Facebook and Twitter answering peoples questions and inquires about Siloam Mission. I figure as long as there is daily interaction, then I am accomplishing my goal of spreading awareness for Winnipeg’s less fortunate.
I can say that because of Siloam’s presence online, mostly from Twitter and Facebook, I have been on Global TV talking about how we use social media, I’ve been on Kick FM talking about social media and homelessness, countless food, equipment and clothes has been donated, a number of events have been organized and put on.
Q. How did you get involved in the first Winnipeg Twestival, & how much did it raise (money & awareness)? What did you learn from participating in a social media-driven fundraising effort?
It all started with Twitter. I followed a guy named Justin Davey on Twitter and it just so happened, he was looking for a charity to support for the first Winnipeg Twestival he was organizing. He was originally going to choose three charities to support, but because I met with him in person and stayed in contact with him via Twitter, he decided to just go with Siloam Mission.
So really, without Twitter, this connection would not have been made and we would not have been part of this growing event. This is exactly how social media should work and is a great example of how social media is helping non-profits make contacts and organize events.
Not that much money was raised, but that is due in part to it being the first event of its kind. I hope to partner with Justin again as he plans to organize the second Twestival as well. Any exposure is good exposure and even though the first Winnipeg Twestival didn’t raise a lot of money or create that much buzz, it got us into the loop so that next time round, Siloam Mission will be there. It should only grow. So it’s kinda like an investment, the first was kinda small, but the event and exposure and money raised, will only grow as social media continues to to take off.
Q. I know from working in non-profit that when you see the amazing difference only a few dollars makes to people experiencing poverty, you just wish you could share that success with everyone you know, because then they’ll be inspired to get involved/give. Social media makes it so that we can share that experience (videos, photos, your own observations).
What are your business goals in using social media – a gentle sort of fundraising? Awareness?
Awareness is the big goal. Awareness of what poverty in Winnipeg and in Canada at large, really looks like. I hope to break myths or stereotypes, and show people an honest look at the daily struggles a person experiencing homelessness really goes through on a daily basis.
Most people use the phrase “Why don’t they just get a job?”.Well, there are a few stereotypes in this phrase alone that need to be broken. The word “they” is not really acknowledging that “they” are actually a person. And the second is that someone can’t just get a job for many reasons. Not having an address for one, not having a computer to type up a resume, not having clean clothes for an interview, and that’s just the practical stuff we all take for granted.
And let’s say that someone had accesses to all of these tools, it’s not taking into account mental illness, past abuse, parents who are bad role models, lack of confidence and demoralization, lack of social skills and immaturity, depression, and the list goes on.
Poverty is not just about not having a home or resources, it is really the lack of everything that makes us human. Poverty not only effects our pocketbook, it effects our very self worth and identity of who we are.
The other thing I hope to accomplish is to give a behind-the-sences look into Siloam Mission and what really goes on here. I hope creating awareness of poverty issues and Siloam Mission means that people will more likely volunteer, get involved, be advocates themselves for Winnipeg’s less fortunate and give financially to help they’re neighbors in their own city.
Q. You’re putting a personal face on poverty & homelessness in Winnipeg through your use of social media. You observations as a person in direct contact with people who come to the Mission are an honest gateway to Siloam’s work. What do you hope humanizing and sharing the experiences of Mission patrons does for your audience?
I hope that people stop using words like “they” or phrases like “they’re dirty” or “they’re scary” or, you get the point. We have a couple editors at Siloam and one in particular, Sarah Enns, uses a phrase that really made a shift in how I viewed people on the street, the phrase is “People experiencing poverty or homelessness.”.
It is a phrase that reveals the person or individual, that people we all see on the street are not homeless, or are not bums or lazy, but they are people caught in a situation without a home. That person on the street is someone’s daughter or mother, is someone’s partner or spouse. These are people who where once married and had a home, people who once had a job, who were once professors or engineers, or people who were abused and taken advantage of.
“They” are people like you and me. I hope humanizing people experiencing homelessness urges people to do something and realize that we are in this together. That ultimately we are responsible for caring for one another.
Q. Conversation on social media platforms will help spread your message. What do you hope to do to involve your fans and get them talking with you?
Sometimes I toss out questions to spark debate and get people thinking outside the box about preconceived notions of homelessness.
Q. You’re also using social media to reach out and offer personal engagements, such as tours. Is this direct engagement part of Siloam’s strategy to make more friends in the community?
I don’t know if it’s about making more friends, but it is about engaging people right away by asking followers on Facebook and Twitter if they want to come out for a tour. (It’s) just a way to get people to come to Siloam to see for themselves what we do.
Once they see Siloam in action, a lot of misconceptions are quickly washed away and then they are more likely to become a supporter of Siloam and get involved.
Q. My attention was captured by Siloam Mission on Facebook by this status update:
Yes. I think telling real stories is what social media is all about. If social media doesn’t tell these stories, how will the public know about the daily lives of those struggling with poverty and homelessness?
Informing people of the daily struggles of poverty breaks the myths and stereotypes people have. I believe that once all of those myths and stereotypes floating around out there are broken and dispelled, then everyone in Winnipeg will pitch in and help out their neighbor. Everyone wants to help, most people just don’t know how or feel overwhelmed.
Hopefully Siloam meets it’s mandate and lives up to our slogan, “Siloam is a connecting point between the compassionate and Winnipeg’s less fortunate”. Breaking myths about people experiencing poverty using social media is really just another way to connect the compassionate with the less fortunate. On top of giving hope to the less fortunate Siloam wants to connect people to their community, so that we can realize we are all in this together.
Q. How important is Siloam’s Christian message, in the context of social media engagement? Does it matter if donors/fans/supporters agree with that aspect of your message?
That’s an interesting question. It is true we are a Christian organization and all staff are Christians. We really try to stick to the simple model Jesus laid out for us, which we believe is pretty universal, “Love thy neighbor as yourself”. We’re not trying to convert people, and those needing our services are not forced to listen to a sermon when what they really need is food.
At Siloam Mission we believe the love of Jesus is something that is to be given and cannot in any way be forced upon people. How can love be forced on people? Forced love is not love at all. Forced love means you have a hidden agenda. Siloam Mission has no hidden agenda. Our agenda is to just love everyone.
Whether people give that back or not is not why we give love to begin with. We give love because Jesus first loved us.
I think it is for all of these reasons that people from all different cultures and backgrounds get involved at Siloam Mission and volunteer. We have 10,000 volunteers a year after-all. People from different religions feel comfortable volunteering at Siloam Mission because we aren’t trying to convert people to our way of thinking, we’re just trying to love and help those in need.
Of course, we hope by loving others, people would want to seek out Jesus and come to know Him, but that is not our place or our job.
There are many patrons who have come to know Jesus because they have felt excepted and valued at Siloam Mission. For people who want to know more about Christianity we do offer Bible studies and counseling, but this is in no way a prerequisite to getting food, help or medical care. If love has a prerequisite to getting help, then that is not love at all, is it? It is something else entirely. It is this very reason of unconditional love that I wanted to work at Siloam Mission.
Q. Any other comments on using social media for non-profit marketing?
I recently realized myself that another word for social media is “target marketing”. On Twitter I don’t just randomly follow or friend people, I used other apps to help me find Winnipeggers on Twitter. I specifically followed and targeted Winnipeggers.
Social media can be a very big waste of time and energy if an organization or non-profit doesn’t use tried-and-true basic target marketing techniques.
Many organizations, non-profits and business who are developing a social media position forget this very important strategy. Many local organizations and non-profits on Twitter, if you take the time to look at their followers, have random followers from all over the world. So when they send out a call to action, or are posting an upcoming event, or are asking for donations, there is no reply or response because they are talking to people from Sweden, Brazil, Tokyo, and or California.
One of the main reasons Siloam has been successful in social media in getting people to respond, donate and get involved is because I have targeted Winnipeggers – target marketing. And if done right target marketing is not annoying. If it’s done right people won’t even know they are being “targeted” or “marketed to”. Social media is the perfectly disguised marketing tool if it’s done right.
You have to be honest and build real relationships. In this way, honesty and relationship building are not what marketing used to be about, but is a much better marketing practice, resulting in a more genuine and committed supporter.
I guess that is why social media is also called the “new media” or falls into the alternative media and marketing category. Social media is today’s new media marketing tool. Siloam was very wise for getting involved in new media because it will ensure the next generation will support Siloam, who are then able to help Winnipeg’s less fortunate.
Hopefully Siloam continues in this direction. I hope Siloam continues to foster it’s online community. I’m positive that they want to, but it’s going to be whether or not they have the time and staff to do so effectively.