In the past few years, we have seen a massive growth in the use of social media; what was started off by a bunch of Harvard students has now become the mammoth Facebook with almost 1.2 billion users. Many organisations have been using social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in order to disseminate their message further and reach more people, whether that is through advertising or through general organic growth.
Jewish organisations have rightly joined this bandwagon and have amassed followers. The ability for these organisations to reach around the globe through this new medium is astounding and is a significant advance on the days when their communication was limited to individual telephone calls and snail mail. Chabad’s #ShareTheLights campaign, The Maccabeats’s 9 million YouTube views on its Candelight video and Matisyahu’s Twitter announcement about shaving his beard, all show how Jewish organisations and personas can powerfully use social media to reach as many people as possible.
However, whilst it is a powerful tool, there are dangers of exclusively using social media. Nowadays, one can advertise and market for an event to thousands of people with the simple click of a “create event” button on Facebook. Whilst this tactic is most definitely an alluring one, as one can instantly reach out to thousands of people, it should be treated with caution. Yes, it can be extremely effective, especially for large-scale events as you can create a buzz around the event when everyone can see that hundreds of people are going including 20 of your closest friends; but, it lacks that personal, human connection. Numerous times, I have been told by people to “just click attending” on a Facebook event, even though I was unable to make it, just so that it can appear to invitees that more people were going, enticing them to go. Nobody wants to be one of only a few people at an awkward event and so most young people will first look at who is attending the event before deciding if they will attend. Furthermore, we have gone from a time when people used to knock on doors and call people to get them to come to an event, to one in which we they will now exclusively advertise via a Facebook event, as they figure that it reaches out to the same number of people in significantly less time.
I’m not one to throw down and bash technology or social media, but I just think that we can use it in a more effective and personal way. We’ve seen with many of our hosts, that when they’ve tried creating a Facebook event for their Shabbat meal, theyive often got back only a couple of positive responses, usually from some of their older friends who are Jewish community ‘insiders’. However, when they’ve reached out and individually messaged or spoken to their guests, especially if done in a non-generic way, the response back has mostly been positive, with ‘outsiders’ often commenting on how thoughtful the gesture was.
I really do think that our communal organisations need to stop exclusively using social media in a generic way to reach out and engage individuals. We need to use a combination of methods but also to realise that picking up the phone, speaking to someone when you see them or individually communicating with people can really do wonders and engage people as people, rather than as mere followers or ‘likes’.