Civil activists ask: Are you posting too much or too little on social media? (In 5 star hotel, paid for by USAID)

BEIRUT: Journalists, activists, bloggers and marketers gathered Saturday in Beirut to discuss the best ways for groups to make their voices heard through social media. An all-day conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel held by Promoting Active Citizen Engagement hosted around 150 civil society activists and media professionals to explore ways to advance social change. Many attendees already have a strong social media presence, but not everyone knew how to use the various platforms to reach their intended audience.

By Brooke Anderson
The Daily Star. Lebanon

Media Program Specialist at PACE (Promoting Active Citizen Engagement) Nada Hamzeh speaks during an interview with The Daily Star in Beirut, Friday, May 31, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

“This is something new for civil society. They’re learning about campaigning and advocacy with professionals in the field,” said Nada Hamzeh, media program specialist at PACE, during a short break between panel discussions. “There is a gap in the relationship between traditional and social media, and now everyone is learning the importance of the other.”

The day’s first panel focused on how to create an effective online presence using social media. Leading the discussion, moderated by Leila Khauli Hanna, a social media instructor at the American University of Beirut, was Imad Bazzi, online advocacy expert at Trella; Ali Fakhry, from the League of Independent Activists (IndyACT); Ahmad Karout, founder of Kazamedia; and digital marketer Darine Sabbagh.

“We want to show how NGOs can use digital media effectively. Some post too much, others post too little,” said Sabbagh. “They should be using a more integrated approach – and not just post updates on Facebook. They can use LinkedIn when they’re applying for grants, Twitter for real-time news and Facebook for general awareness.”

She emphasized that this integrated approach must also include a strategy for reaching people on the ground – the most vital component of social networking. However, for those who can’t be reached in person, social media can be an important bridge especially in a country as divided as Lebanon.

One member of the audience said Fakhry’s social media work humanized Beirut’s southern suburbs, often seen in the news only when political violence flares up.

“I think social media can be a space to share ideas and understand each other,” the audience member said.

The second panel focused on the convergence between traditional and social media, civil society and marketing. Moderated by Magda Abu-Fadil, director of Media Unlimited, the topic was discussed by Riad Kobaissi from Al-Jadeed TV; Tania Mehanna from LBC TV; Patrick Richa, from MTV; and Omar Sadek, from the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson.

In addition to the panels, workshops and consultancy booths, attendees were encouraged to compete for who could collect the most business cards at the end of the day – a game aimed at boosting participants’ networking skills.

Elissa Shamma, a graphic designer and project officer at the Development for People and Nature Association, said she was excited to have the chance to network with other activists and NGO workers.

“As an NGO it’s always good to be up to date with the social media settings,” she said. “We’re really looking at how we can interact with the community as we’re trying to get funding for a new project.”

PACE was established two years ago with the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development. The program provides grants, technical assistance and training to Lebanese civil society organizations. It says it is committed to nonpartisan, nonconfessional approaches to civic engagement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 10, 2013, on page 3.

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