Friday, September 12, 2014

Reaching Victims in the Social Sphere

What do the 1.3 billion active Facebook users have in common? Or the 645 million Twitter, 300 million LinkedIn, and 200 million Instagram users? They make themselves reachable. Marketers have known this for years, and have taken advantage by aggressively targeting consumers through their social media networks. There is no doubt that social media provides great potential to reach specific audiences, and the California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) is demonstrating how government agencies can tap into this digital dialogue to better serve their citizens.

CalVCP processes over 50,000 applications for services to victims and survivors of crime each year, an average of almost 1,000 each week. Still, nearly half of violent crimes are never reported — that’s almost 50% of victims who are not represented in published statistics. How can we reach these hidden populations? Enter social media. While CalVCP continues to conduct traditional outreach through advertising, PSA's, event participation and the like, we recognize the importance of joining the online discussion to better assist victims of crime.

No, we didn't immediately dive into the deep end of the pool; we took a “dip a toe in the water” approach, starting with Facebook and Twitter accounts. However, we quickly learned one thing: our audiences were online. Now it was just a matter of connecting them with the right message, through the right social platform.

First, let's look at our target audiences. Over one-third of the applications for services are a result of domestic violence and sexual assault, and of those applications, victims are primarily women between the ages of 25 and 45. A second major CalVCP demographic is comprised of California's first responders, mainly law enforcement and EMT's, as they are the professionals who come in direct contact with victims at the scene of an incident. Last but not least, we utilize social media to collaborate with the incredible victim advocates who assist survivors in navigating the justice system and getting to the services they need.

After determining our primary audiences, our next step was to examine which platforms they utilize most. Here's what we've discovered: Much of our general audience communicates with us via Twitter. They follow media, celebrity and local Twitter accounts. They engage with CalVCP when there is a message of hope or a relatable story.

Our first responders tend to utilize both Twitter and Facebook. While we do engage with some of the general public on Facebook, these individuals don't tend to "like" the CalVCP page as frequently as our partners in law enforcement and district attorney offices. Among our Facebook “friends,” there is a mutual sharing of information, especially in the areas of events or programs. This collaboration of victims’ services allows our messaging to be seen by victims who may not be directly on our page, but are connected with their local DA or sheriff on social media.

CalVCP also relies on the assistance of many dedicated victim advocates from both government agencies and nonprofit organizations who provide direct service to victims of crime. Again, we utilize Facebook to reach victims via these advocates, but we have also begun creating a unique relationship with professional service providers through LinkedIn. On this platform, we engage with advocates and providers on a variety of subjects, discussing trends, statistics and new methods of therapy. What is most impressive is that these conversations are taking place not just at the local level, but on a national scale. As CalVCP shares program information with similar agencies in other states, we’re also given the opportunity to hear their case studies and examine best practices for potential inclusion in the California system.

While the use of social media is a cost effective way of communicating, it does require a consistent effort. We aim to provide and share information on a daily basis, never allowing our pages to go silent. We are engaged in conversations and respond to inquiries in a timely fashion. After all, this is what social media is all about — being social and connecting with others.

Through social media efforts, we are able to reach audiences we may not have otherwise been exposed to. We are sharing information, answering questions, clearing up confusions, dispelling misinformation, and most of all, helping to change lives. As I often say, "the conversations are happening out there with or without you. Why not be a part of them?"