The rise of social networking and virtual connections is changing things around here
Facebook is no longer just a silly tool for tracking down old flames or notifying the world that you are enjoying a fine sandwich. Along with other forms of digital interaction, organizations use Facebook to mobilize meetings and movements, reunite lost pets with owners, alert residents to prowlers and track down wanted criminals, to name a few. Social media can forge relationships, improve efficiency, boost business and promote safety within communities. Of course, like any technology, it comes with a few pitfalls, and not everyone is on board.
• What’s a friend and a follow? Click here for a glossary of basic social media terminology you’ll see in this story.
• Read about how the Advocate is using social media.
• Get ideas about how social media can benefit your neighborhood organization, business or group.
At 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday in the Woodbridge neighborhood, a young man in a gray hooded sweatshirt is checking every car door on the block. He even approaches a car parked in a circular driveway, just feet away from the homeowner’s kitchen window.
Right after said homeowner calls 911 and yells at the kid to “scram,” he alerts his neighbors via the Woodbridge Homeowners Association Facebook group, accessible only to Woodbridge residents. Of the approximately 230 families in the neighborhood, about 121 have joined the online group. (Woodbridge also uses Google groups, members say, for weightier discussions that affect the neighborhood.)
Murray Morgan, who is on the Woodbridge homeowners board says Facebook acts as an “early warning” system when it comes to crime watch, but it’s also been great for a million little things. Indeed, via the Facebook group, families with teenagers find families who need pet, house or baby sitters; photos of strange sightings (a possum or a coyote wandering down the street, for example) are posted; residents who own businesses share information and discounts; meeting and party plans are hatched; and lost pets are reunited with worried owners.
And in an effort to prevent doggie escapes, the Woodbridge group started a pet photo gallery, where members post photos of their pets along with their addresses, so that if an animal gets out, neighbors know where he belongs.
“Facebook is for us what it is supposed to be,” Morgan says. “It connects everybody … I try to encourage other Lake Highlands (HOAs) to use it more. I think we do a really good job with it and enjoy a lot of participation.”
But what of the pitfalls? “Actually, drawbacks are few and far between,” Murray says. “Sometimes, in their comments, people overreact.” There have been instances when Morgan and the other administrators have had to censor comments that could be offensive to other members. “We usually wait it out awhile … often we just let an argument play out … because we want to respect people’s freedom to speak,” he says.
Online outbursts are really no different than what one might hear at an actual neighborhood or business meeting, he says. Still, it’s a private Facebook group whose comments need to be monitored for appropriateness.
“I would always recommend that neighborhoods using social media have someone in charge monitor the comments,” he says.
Some experts argue that social media prevents people from getting to know one another personally. “The hours per day of face-to-face socializing have declined as the use of social media has increased,” writes Aric Sigman in his 2009 book, ‘Well Connected? The Biological Implications of Social Networking.’ “People who use these sites frequently are prone to social isolation.”
Morgan disagrees. “That’s not the least bit true,” he says. “Our neighborhood meetings used to be 25-30 people, now it is 75-100, and I think that has everything to do with Facebook. Before, people might not come to a meeting because they felt like a stranger; now they come to look for the faces they know.”
In Woodbridge, Morgan’s home is also known as the “community center,” he jokes, noting there is no shortage of face time with his neighbors. “But where I really get to know people, and get a feel for who they are, is Facebook.”
The Lakewood Neighborhood Association often links to Nixle, the online service that alerts the public to police, traffic and emergency information. Users can receive alerts on their phones or by email, and within a few minutes, the Dallas Police can alert thousands of people through Nixle and iWatch Dallas, a similar service offered as a smart phone app.
Police recently put out an alert about a man impersonating a police officer in the White Rock Lake area. By the time the perpetrator’s face made the evening news, iWatch users already were on the lookout.
The Dallas Police Department also has arrived on the Facebook scene, posting regularly about wanted criminals, safety tips and crime trends, as well as department news. As far as solving crime goes, iWatch Dallas has been more effective than Facebook because it allows neighbors to send tips to police, says Deputy Chief C.L. Williams. Facebook is so public and personal that people rarely use it to send in crime tips, but it is an effective way for people in the community to feel connected to police, he says. To “like” the Dallas Police Department on Facebook makes the department seem more accessible.
Neighbors also use social media to stay connected to their children’s schools.
J.L. Long Middle School PTA president Stacey Stabenow says she never was interested in Facebook, and she stayed away from social media until recently.
“Ms. Petters, the principal, asked me if I had Facebook,” Stabenow says. “She told me, ‘You might want to think about getting that.’”
Now Stabenow uses Facebook frequently, if reluctantly, to communicate with other Long parents. Several years ago, students were sent home with regular communiqués from teachers and principals, but that is less common now, Stabenow says.
“Finding out what’s going on at the school is challenging,” she says. “We keep the website updated, but Facebook is a great way to get the information out.”
Parents can access the page to find how they can help with staff appreciation day, get details on an upcoming Woodrow Wilson High School open house and learn the score of the boys’ basketball game.
Stabenow also uses social media to show off the school’s accomplishments — the math and science team racked up awards at a recent competition, for example. Those aren’t things your child is likely to tell you, Stabenow says.
Long isn’t the only school using social media. Most elementary schools in our neighborhood, including Lakewood and Stonewall Jackson, as well as the Lakewood Early Childhood PTA, use Facebook to keep in touch.
Social media also has become an essential marketing tool for many local businesses.
Porsha Thomas provides social media content for several neighborhood businesses, including the Gypsy Wagon, through her business, Zora Ellison Writing Co. Thomas holds a journalism degree, but when she graduated a few years ago, she couldn’t find a job in the news business. The 25-year-old instead found her niche as a social media marketer through an internship with an online newsletter that offers tips on shopping and events.
About 80 percent of Thomas’s work involves social media.
“There are people who know they need Facebook, but they don’t understand it,” she says. “My clients are either people who understand it and don’t have time, or people who don’t understand it.”
She often designs event posters that never get printed. They’re used only on Facebook. Posting pictures and interacting with customers in social media is a valuable service, Thomas says.
“Photography really helps,” Thomas says of making effective Facebook posts for her clients. “People want to see what you have. Show, show, show. Put yourself on the page and portray that personality.”
Many businesses in our neighborhood maintain a steady presence on social media. Velvet Taco’s Twitter followers, for example, are the first to know what fusion concoction the trendy taquería is offering as a special. White Rock YMCA can show off the good work they do for the community, post pictures of a recent camping trip and alert the community to an upcoming blood drive. Neighbors can use Foursquare to check in 10 times at Mextopia and receive a free margarita.
When Terilli’s on Lower Greenville closed after a fire destroyed the restaurant, the owners and employees stayed in contact with their customers through Facebook. When the place reopened, there was no love lost. Regulars felt they were part of the rebuilding process, as they had watched it unfold through Facebook pictures.
Shortly after the restaurant reopened, one customer posted on Terilli’s Facebook page: “So happy to have you back in the neighborhood.”
Four city hall web functions you probably haven’t used (but should)
Not only does the Dallas Public Library have a thorough and useful app (with the swipe of a finger, search the catalog, place items on hold or renew items checked out) but it also has an extensive selection of eBooks available to borrow. Options range from New York Times bestsellers (John Grisham’s “The Litigators”) to classics (Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”) to popular nonfiction (Michael Pollen’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”). We tried it, and in less than 10 minutes, we were reading on our iPhone. A helpful guided tour takes library cardholders through the process.
2. Find out whether your favorite restaurants passed inspection.
They wouldn’t be open if they hadn’t, but the section located at this lengthy web address allows you to see whether the places you frequent are receiving high scores or barely making the grade. A quick search by name reveals how a restaurant fared on its most recent inspections.
3. Run into Mark Cuban, Ebby Halliday or the Cowboys cheerleaders.
These local celebs are a sampling of the famous names and faces the Dallas Park and Recreation Department recruited to promote its recent trail etiquette campaign. Other than watching the amusing video, website visitors can view an interactive map to find the exact layout of Dallas trails (both current and planned) in relation to streets, rec centers and other local landmarks.
4. Learn which park pavilion beat out Cowboys Stadium as the 2009 “Best of Show” award recipient from the American Institute of Architects Dallas chapter.
This little-known fact is touted in the online brochure “The Park Pavilions of Dallas,” which highlights 44 of the city’s shade-giving structures. Thirty-two of them were designed by respected architects who were charged with making the pavilions “contextual within the surrounding community and embraced by the neighborhood,” among other criteria. That’s how the structure at Lindsley Park, for example, resembles the predominantly Tudor homes of Hollywood/Santa Monica, and the reason Ridgewood Park has a chaise lounge pavilion near its spraypark.