For the University of Georgia student body, social media can be integrated in many facets of everyday life. But for Donna Bliss, an associate professor in the UGA School of Social Work, social media exploration sparked education.
During September, Bliss coordinated the workshop, “Using Social Media to Advocate for Your Cause.” The idea stemmed from her exploring how to become a better advocate through digital and social media.
Bliss’ main research interest is addiction, and she uses digital media to advocate for people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction through a string of recovery.org websites for Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Macon and Savannah.
“Social work is about advocating for vulnerable populations, and not growing up with this medium myself it was sort of like learning a second language,” Bliss said. “Even though these kinds of media are only a few years old, I really believe they’re such a part of our lives.”
Bliss sees social media as more than just a way to share personal information and believes the digital revolution can be compared to the onset of telephones or TV.
“Digital and social media [are] ubiquitous in the world, they’re more than just a way for people to share pictures to their friends of what they did,” she said. “They’re very powerful tools that can advocate or market whatever you’re interested in.”
It is important for students to understand that they can be independently influential, especially those in social work, Bliss said. Social media can be used to broadcast advocacy internationally.
“Say you want to advocate for the environment or for kids; before you would write letters to the editor, maybe send a letter to your congressperson, maybe sign petitions,” Bliss said, “Those are fine but they are limited in scope.”
While encouraging her students to actively use social media as a vehicle to promote a cause important to them, Bliss’ cause is social media use.
“I’m actually advocating for [students] to use [social media] to advocate for what they want, because I think these tools are so powerful” she said.
Deborah Harnishfeger, a graduate student in the School of Social Work from Athens, said Bliss is a consistently excellent teacher.
“She’s so thought provoking and always encourages students to speak out,” Harnishfeger said. “In Dr. Bliss class I’m really seeing just how powerful and useful the social presence can be. It’s really been inspiring.”
Though all social networks have their strengths and weaknesses, Bliss believes at minimum a company or organization should have a website to use as its platform for a Facebook and Twitter presence.
Bliss’ heavy interest in multimedia and social advocacy and inspiration from students has her considering the development of independent research opportunities for students to work with local nonprofit organizations by revamping outdated websites and creating rich, integrated social media packages.
“I’m going to keep exploring and going forward because I think that’s what young people and students need to do, too,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of research out there on the best ways to do this, so you get to be a pioneer.”