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Social Media Dos and Don’ts for Human Rights Workers

For human rights workers, social media is an important professional tool. It can be used to spread information, to raise awareness, and to find employment. But it’s also the place where you keep in touch with family, pursue private passions, and share adorable cat videos.

So how do you balance a rich online life with creating an employable, professional human rights profile? And how can you use your social media prowess to land a great job?

Here are some simple dos and don’ts to help you build a strategic and thoughtful social media presence.

Do

  • Cast a Wide Net – There are all kinds of social media accounts where you can create connections that lead to jobs. For basic business networking, LinkedIn is the easiest place to start. Once you complete your profile it will even show you relevant job postings. Twitter can be a great place to expand your network of contacts or even find a job. Engage with people who are doing the work you want to do and join in their discussion. Share their posts, respond thoughtfully, and extend your reach with the use of trending hashtags. If you’re adding important information to the conversation people will eventually take notice.
  • Engage with Organizations – Beyond connecting with people, there’s a lot you can learn from following, liking, and subscribing to the official pages of organizations themselves. It’s a great way to get a sense of the work they’re doing as well as the language they use to articulate their goals and values. You can also stay up-to-date on new initiatives and even hear about job and volunteer opportunities. When you finally land an interview, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you know the organization and their culture.
  • Plan Ahead – A great way to amplify your voice on social media is to engage with campaigns planned around holidays and days of action. Check out resources like the human rights calendar to anticipate when there will be social media buzz around an issue you care about. Then sign up for a social media manager like HootSuite to schedule tweets and posts for important dates. This allows you to be more thoughtful in your posts and eases some of the social media time pressure.
  • Divide and Conquer – Experts advise individuals to think about both the content and the audience for their social media posts. It’s perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged, to have different accounts directed to different audiences. You may want to use Facebook to share information about the great work your NGO is doing but keep an Instagram devoted to pictures of your dog. On many platforms, you can even create multiple accounts targeted to different audiences. This way, you can use Twitter to chat with both UN workers AND fellow Star Wars fans without confusing or boring anyone. Just remember, accounts with your name attached will be easy to find by anyone looking for your professional profile.
  • Be Personal – Even if you use the divide and conquer strategy don’t be afraid to give each online audience a glimpse of the person behind the screenname. Your human rights twitter followers might not care about the daily minutia of your football team, but feel free to publicly celebrate their big championship win. Jokes, personal observations, and interesting stories help potential employers and coworkers see you as more than just a resume or list of skills. If your personality and passion come through online then they will most certainly translate to the office or the field.

Don’t

  • Be a Pest – Social media is a great opportunity to network, but you must follow the social norms. It’s great to send messages to your contacts to let them know you’re job searching. You can also follow up with former bosses, mentors, and close friends who have a vested interest in your professional success. But if you send a Twitter DM to someone you’ve been interacting with and they don’t respond then don’t push it. Maybe they don’t know of any jobs, or maybe they just don’t feel confident in recommending you. Focus on building your profile and highlighting your skills and talents rather than hoping someone will do you a favor.
  • Assume Anything Will Stay Private – There is no shortage of stories about people whose bad internet behavior has ruined their lives. In fact, there’s an entire book about this phenomenon. Private accounts are for organizing your audience and interests and should never be assumed to guarantee secrecy or anonymity. Not sure whether your joke or meme could be taken out of context? Play it safe and keep it offline.
  • Be a “Hashtag Activist”… – NGO and aid workers can use social media to help raise money and highlight important causes. While these campaigns can be powerful, they are often criticized for being overly simplistic or having little long-term impact. If you’re jumping into the conversation surrounding #bringbackourgirls or #heforshe be sure your posts are centering local voices and showcasing research, historical perspectives, and a nuanced understanding of the situation. That way your future employers will see you as thoughtful and engaged rather than a mindless trend follower.
  • … or a “Charity Tourist” – When you’re sharing images of your volunteer or aid work make sure they show you as a conscientious human rights professional and not as a tourist or savior. These posts should highlight the hard work of local resident and community partners not bolster your own ego. Also, be sure to ask permission before sharing images of anyone, especially children. While the law is evolving in this area, The European Court of Human Rights has declared the right for individuals to protect their own image.

It can be difficult to balance the personal and the professional in the social media world. But with a bit of strategizing and organizing it’s easy to build a social media presence that will showcase your talents, passion, and commitment!

About the author

Margaret Lebron

Margaret Lebron is an academic, performer, and social justice worker based in Chicago, IL. She has a PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University where she studied theater groups that worked with military veterans. She has also worked in nonprofit theater and housing justice organizations across the United States.

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