Social Networking: A Model for Community Engagement

The presidential campaign of 2008 demonstrated the effectiveness of a new model for engaging a community in order to effect change. Whatever your political ideology - liberal, conservative or independent, as you move beyond the euphoria, celebration or anguish, you can learn some useful lessons.

Notwithstanding his oratory, a significant reason for the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States and the immense influence over the future of this country was his effectiveness in mobilizing a network of citizens around the message of “change we can believe in." And the utilization by his campaign leaders of the internet, online communities, text messaging, and technology as powerful socio-political networking tools for engaging communities to organize and collaborate for change.

We can learn and apply many lessons from the national political campaign process to the local efforts for change in West Michigan. Radical changes in economic conditions, shifts in community awareness, and the availability of new technologies, combine to suggest opportunities for adopting social networking in new ways to accelerate and intensify community engagement.

The recent economic trends within West Michigan, fraught as they are with higher than customary levels of business failure, job loss, bankruptcies, foreclosures, budget constraints in government, school closures, and retrenchment of public safety officers, requires new methods and tools. These conditions also require higher levels of participation and engagement from community leaders. Stemming economic decay and revitalizing the West Michigan economy will require the adoption of the principles and best practices that energize and mobilize the most capable leaders of our community.

As a leader in a business, health care institution, religious or spiritual organization, educational institution, government agency, or social network you should consider how you might intensify your level of engagement on community issues. You should mobilize and encourage members of your family or institution, friends and acquaintances to volunteer and contribute their skills and talents to assist with creating, in the vision of the Center for Community Leadership (CCL), a “community of uncommon greatness."

Get connected with community leaders and community issues. Attend events so that you can become intimately aware of challenges and opportunities in the community and have conversations on the issues that require attention, solutions and support. Get connected online in chat rooms, online communities and social networks. Build relationships in person and through online networks. Utilize the best practices of traditional networking, including:

  • Set specific networking goals.
  • Be specific about whom you want to meet.
  • Identify the events you will attend.
  • Schedule time every week for networking activities.
  • Practice the philosophy of giving first and helping others achieve their goals.
  • Thank and recognize members of your network.
  • Sponsor events to support network partners.
  • Maintain enthusiasm and a positive attitude. 
  • Ask for what you want and believe in.
  • Approach networking with an eye to farming rather than hunting.

The capacity to avert economic and social decline in West Michigan will depend on your willingness to participate actively in the process of social networking. Whether it is face-to-face or online, you should leverage the power of social networking to gain access to information, community leaders, and opportunities to engage and influence positive change in your community.