Is Social Media the Best Channel for Educating the Public?
Over the past 15 years or so, social media has transformed from a mere digital novelty to an integral part of daily life—at least for most people. In the right hands, it can be a powerful tool that can help you build an audience and spread important messages, but as we’ve seen, it can also be a tool to propagate fake news and misleading information.
If you have an important message to spread, whether you’re educating people on a public safety hazard or simply raising awareness of a political issue, you may turn to social media to provide that information. But is social media truly the best channel for educating the public?
The Advantages of Social Media
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits social media has over other educational channels:
- Free and widespread accessibility. It’s free to create a social media account, and generally free to post (unless you’re advertising). Similarly, there are literally billions of active social media users constantly consuming content. That means it’s incredibly easy to use social media to spread a message, and your audience is practically unlimited. Compared to other platforms, like hosting an in-person seminar or starting your own website, this is massively beneficial.
- Versatility. There are dozens of different social media platforms, each of which has features and demographics that makes it unique. You can also tailor your message with different mediums, broadcasting it in writing, in photos, or perhaps most effectively, in videos—and videos of different sizes, so you can cater to different audiences. Depending on what your message is, you can tweak your approach to perfection.
- Reputation and audience size. The bigger your audience is, and the greater your reputation, the more seriously your message is going to be taken. Granted, this is only an advantage if you manage to build your following; however, at the upper echelons of social media development, your potential reach becomes unstoppable.
The Disadvantages of Social Media
There are also some disadvantages, however:
- Time investments. To get the most out of social media, you need a respectable audience, but to get a respectable audience, you need to spend time investing in new followers and nurturing your content. Compared to quicker methods, like using paid advertising, this can be too slow.
- Fact checking and competition. Part of the reason fake news is able to circulate on social platforms quickly is because people don’t often fact-check. Even if they did, if you’re spreading correct information, there will be plenty of competitors spreading the opposite information. Accordingly, it’s exceptionally difficult to stand out as the correct version.
- Echo chambers and education. Social media naturally segregates users into echo chambers, limiting them to seeing only the content that appeals to them. Your educational message is most effective when read by people who haven’t already accepted this information, meaning you’ll need to penetrate these echo chambers to do it; this is notoriously challenging.
How to Get More Out of Social Media Education
Social media may not be the best channel to use when educating the public, depending on your circumstances, but it’s almost always worth adding to your arsenal (since it’s neither time intensive nor cost intensive). If you use it, there are a few strategies that can help you increase your return on investment (ROI), including:
- Use the right mediums. Videos and other visual mediums tend to transmit information more efficiently than written posts. Make sure you harness them to their full potential.
- Target your audience selectively. Understand who you’re trying to reach, as well as the best ways to reach them. Choosing a different platform or targeting specific users with advertising could be exactly what you need to make it happen.
- Make your information shareable. The easier it is to share your message, the faster it’s going to spread. Encourage your users to spread your message, and package it as conveniently as possible.
- Encourage conversation. Posts with lots of comments and interested parties tend to get shared more frequently (and tend to be more visible) than other posts. Try to encourage conversation between users in your educational material.
- Back up your information. If accuracy and legitimacy are important to you, it’s vital to back up all the claims you make. Listing your citations, linking back to your main site, and verifying your claims can help you develop a better reputation over time.
If you have an important message to share, social media can help you spread it, but there are weaknesses that prevent it from being a perfect platform. Make sure you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your chosen mediums, and perfect your approach to reach the greatest number of people with the purest and most accurate message.