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Episode Flyer for EP #45: How Social Media Can Be Used For Social Good
Episode Flyer for #45: How Social Media Can Be Used For Social Good

Guest: Doug Foresta             Guest Title: Producer of Human Potential at Work

Date: March 01, 2017            Guest Company: Ruh Global Communications

[Intro Music]

Debra: Hello this is Debra Ruh and you’re listening to Human Potential at Work. Today I’m joined again by my friend and colleague Doug Foresta and we’re going to talk about how social media can be used for great good. We’ve been talking about sort of the problems associated with social media over the past couple of episodes and so we’re going to talk about the power for good with social media. So Doug, thanks for joining today.

Doug: Thank you, Debra I’m really excited about this topic.  I think it’s an important one.

Debra: I agree. I think that technology is like anything else. Anything can be used in different ways. I think of a good example many people use: fire. Fire can be used for great good but it can also be used to destroy things. I think that’s a good analogy for social media since it seems like the world is on fire when you’re looking at social media.

Doug: I think that’s a great analogy, Debra, and when you think about fire, one of the things you think about is that it is so powerful, right? That’s the thing that makes it so dangerous and yet it allowed people to go outside at night.  When you think about how fire revolutionized society- it was massive. And I think fire is a great example because it inherently has this power and then that power can be used. It’s how you apply that power

Debra: And it has the power to sweep through things- sweep over things.

Doug: Right.

Debra:  And same thing with social media. Social media can start trending and become very powerful for good. I think of the ice bucket challenge. That was amazing to watch that trend and watch that happen from all over the world and everyone get involved and really want to make a difference but of course at the same way we can see social media used for really really fearful things. We’re seeing a lot of that, especially right now in the world. I have had people say to me, “I’m not going to use social media anymore because it’s too negative”. There are actually ways that you can stay away from the negativeness. I’m always checking as I go on to do searches or something. I’ll look and see what is trending. And sometimes I don’t understand the hashtag. It will not be evident to me what the hashtag is about. So I will click on it to see why it’s trending. Quite often, about 50% of the time, it’s trending with very fearful messages. And so as soon as I realize it’s a fearful message I get out of it and I just go back to whatever good thing I was looking for. Or, hopefully, something that I was doing that would add value to society as opposed to just make everybody a little more afraid.

Doug: I wanted to ask you when did you first come online? I mean you have done so much on social media and we’ll talk about that, but do you remember, like around when you first came online? And what social media, what mediums, did you first get on?

Debra: Yeah, that’s a great question; a little walk through my history. I have always loved technology. My father was a technologist before anybody knew what technology was. I remember when I fell in love with technology and then the internet came out and I was just so fascinated by it. Then I started seeing social media. Most people feel that social media was born in 2010. I would say I got on it very early. I remember I had teenagers in the house and they were doing some fussing on MySpace and being really mean to each other on MySpace. I started being aware of that then. And around the time when Facebook was getting out, I joined Facebook and LinkedIn.  LinkedIn was my social media back in 2014, which was the dark ages these days if you talk about social media. In my book I talked about when LinkedIn was my preferred medium because it really was. I still am a big fan of LinkedIn. I like the professional conversations that go-on on LinkedIn. I also like that so many people are finding jobs on LinkedIn. That’s a great question. How about you, Doug? When did you start?

Doug: Yeah, you and I met in a group on LinkedIn.

Debra: Right.

Doug: In 2009, I think it was.

Debra: So it was even before.

Doug: Yeah, in 2009. We were definitely some of the earlier people in LinkedIn. I’m not sure when LinkedIn started.

Debra: I am trying to remember the year it started. I had a presentation I did for years and at the time it was ten years old. I think at the time it was coming up on ten years, so I need to go back and look at my notes. It’s hard to think about a world without social media.

Doug: I know, but it’s funny to realize how relatively new it is. When we talk about being early adopters in 2009, you think to yourself, “Wow, it really hasn’t been around for that long.” To answer your question, I had Facebook but I didn’t really know what to do with it. Facebook launched in, I think, 2004. 2005? 2006? Something like that. I was on Facebook by, about, 2008. Then when I went to LinkedIn I started really thinking, “I want to be online. I want to meet people.” LinkedIn is how you and I met. I think it was a spirituality and consciousness group that we both belonged to.

Debra: Right.

Doug: It’s just funny to realize that it hasn’t been that long.

Debra: I know. I was looking online because I was curious and Facebook started in 2014; February 2014.

Doug: 2004.

Debra: Sorry, I was saying that incorrectly. February, 2004. You were correct.

Doug: Yeah, it’s not that old.

Debra: Yes!

Doug: And in 2004 nobody was on it.

Debra: And LinkedIn was 2002.

Doug: Wow! Really?

Debra: Yeah, it’s even older than we realized. It’s definitely over ten years. Almost fifteen years, right

Doug: Wow.

Debra: So much has happened in that amount of time. So much has happened on social media. It’s how we consume news. It’s how we consume everything. To me, a few years ago, when the news was saying “Let’s see what Twitter has to say about this.” I thought “You’re getting your news from Twitter?”. How things have changed since then!

Doug: You know, I’m curious, for you Debra. I know for myself when I did go on LinkedIn I was working with a coach at the time and I was speaking and I wanted to have a bigger impact. I did want to get a message out to the world in a bigger way. I don’t mean a messianic message. I consciously thought about wanting to be an influencer. That’s why I created a LinkedIn profile. That’s why I started meeting people and that’s why I started doing podcasts. Did you, from the very beginning, have a sense of why you wanted to be on social media or why that was important to you?

Debra: You know, I didn’t. I really think I didn’t because I remember when I first got on Facebook and LinkedIn I was more fascinated by it as a medium and I was trying to figure out how society was going to use it. I got on because I was very curious. I dabbled in it and played with a lot of the mediums for a few years but when I started Ruh Global Communications back in March 2013, I looked at my twitter account. I remember at the time I had 2500 followers and I was following about the same number of people. And I thought, “You really need to up your game on this. You need to really have more of a conversation on these things if you really want to help change people’s minds about what people with disabilities can contribute to society and the workforce. You need to get more active on this.” So I do remember deliberately thinking- Doug, you were thinking about this earlier than me- that this was a medium I needed to be more deliberate on so I could be a bigger voice and allow other people to have a bigger voice at the same time. I did it a little differently than you did.

Doug: There isn’t any right or wrong way. I was just curious-

Debra: Right.

Doug: and obviously you are the co-host of the second largest Twitter chat in the world, what do you think, when you look back so far, what are some of the things that you are most proud of in terms of what you have been able to accomplish through social media?

Debra: Well, I would say the thing that I am most proud of is the engagement that I have been able to have on social media with people that I have been able to reach in the farthest corners of the world. I remember going to a conference I was invited to because of social media and I met a mom who had a daughter with Down Syndrome a very similar age to my daughter and we started comparing our lives. What was it like to have a daughter her age. Sarah is 29 now so this was years ago. What was it like to have a daughter with Down Syndrome on the East Coast of the United States? And she was from South Korea. What was it like for her to have a daughter around the same age in South Korea? And the opportunities that my daughter and my family had were a lot more robust. Even though there is still so much more to do in the United States, I still had so many more opportunities than this woman did. And I remember she was telling me people would tell her, at first when her daughter was born and she was growing up, they said they didn’t want her to go to school and that it was best to keep her at home. She refused to do that. Even though her culture did not encourage her to do it, she started taking her daughter to work and started educating her at home and it was just a real eye-opener to me. I was thinking at the time, because I had never thought of it from that perspective, “What is it like to have a child with a disability in another country?”. I have thought about different states. I remember one time talking to a mom whose son had Down Syndrome and she had just moved from Texas to Virginia and the differences in the services at the time from Texas to Virginia was really discouraging to her. Texas had offered her so much more where she had lived than where she lived in Virginia at the time. Of course, lot’s of things have changed but that was fascinating to me. And then I remember (and I have talked about this one time before on an episode on the podcast) when I was searching one day in hashtags and I saw that Richard Dawkins was trending. I was just curious why he was trending. It was because he had made a horrible comment about people with Down Syndrome and I responded back in a very, maybe emotional, motherly way saying that my daughter may not be a talking head on BBC or a famous scientist from Oxford but her life mattered and she added value to society. Just with that couple of tweets I gained 3000 new followers within 24 hours.

Doug: Wow.

Debra: Yeah, so I thought, “Wow, this really is a powerful medium to engage and to really have this community that is very siloed, very disjointed, come together to share our voices.” This was when I really started realizing-and I still am the same way, Doug- I still think there is so much power on social media for good. I just think there is so much power. One thing I have always been curious about is how can we as consumers do a better job of rewarding brands that support us. So if Tommy Hilfiger is including a line of adaptive clothing in his clothing line, I need to, as a consumer, make sure that I am purchasing from Tommy Hilfiger. I need to actually write to the CEO and executive of Tommy Hilfiger and say, “This is why I am buying products from you, across the board, and not just your adaptive clothing.” Same thing with any other. If Barclay’s Bank (a favorite of mine) is making sure that all people with disabilities, aging employees, and customers that might have a different language than the primary language where Barclay’s Banks are, make sure their products, their services, their tools, are fully accessible to us then the community needs to reward that effort and we need to make sure that we talk about it on social media. We also need to write letters and e-mails and reward these companies that are actually doing the right thing for us. I think that’s where the future of social media should go. I am hoping to help lead the conversation so we are rewarding brands that are including us by doing business with them and telling them that. I think that’s the next step.

Doug: So I want to pull out a couple things that you said here. I do think that this is something that social media does really well: it builds community and it’s fundamentally changing the way in which we connect with one another. If you think about it, if you were someone who had a child with a disability or you had a disability and you lived in a small town, before these communication tools you may have never connected with someone else who had the same issue as you. You would feel isolated and you would be isolated. It’s funny because you talked about being siloed. I think you used the word “siloed community”, right?

Debra: Right, Right.

Doug: And that’s interesting because one of the ways in which oppressive regimes, for example, one of the techniques that they use in places like North Korea, Russia, and other places, is to silo people. Silo you and make you feel like you are the only person experiencing what you are experiencing. I know you meant “silo” in a different way but it is just interesting to use that term. One of the things that I think social media does so powerfully and what you’re doing, Debra, you’ve gathered a community. But you’ve gathered a community not by saying “I’m the leader. Come follow me.” but you’ve gathered it by just being a leader by speaking your truth. And that example, of speaking up to Richard Dawkins and 3,000 people followed you- that’s kind of the best of what social media can do in my opinion. You brought those people to you by speaking your truth and you’ve gathered a community. Like I said, just by being yourself. By putting your own voice out there and sharing your experiences you’ve gathered these people to you and created this community. I think that’s one of the things that is completely a game-changer in what social media can do.

Debra: I agree and when I think back, Doug, to when the doctors told us that Sarah had Down Syndrome, she was four months old and I didn’t know anybody that had Down Syndrome. I didn’t know anybody and we were so caught off guard. At the time, if you think back, Sarah was born in 1987, there was barely internet.

Doug: The internet existed but I think only Al Gore was using it.


Debra: Right, yes. So what did I do? I went to the library and checked out these books and they were so dark because most of the data we had at the time about Down Syndrome was based on people who had been institutionalized. And so they did not have long lives and did not have very healthy lives. It was really dark stories and they were very frightening to us and so what I decided, being the eternal optimist [laughter]  is: I’m just not going to read it. I’m just not going to pay attention to that negative stuff. I’m just not going to do it. But I did know how to get to my community. I remember I finally did find a small community (at the time I lived in Florida) of parents with Down Syndrome, but it wasn’t a super good fit for me because Sarah was functioning a little bit higher than some of the other kids. Keep in mind, Doug, we are all new to this having a child with a disability, but some of the parents were almost competitive with Sarah when she was doing something sooner than somebody else and that scared me. It was my one choice of community and it did not feel like a good fit. I was still walking the path of grief. The reality is that I did not realize Sarah had a disability and my husband had to walk the same path, but now we did and we did not have support groups. We didn’t. We had no idea where to go. And so social media now is so powerful because all you have to do, if you have a child with a disability, is type in that tag and you will get instant community. You might have to do the same thing I did. You might have to work and move around and look and maybe that initial group you find on Facebook isn’t your cup of tea. You have to keep finding your community but now it is so much easier to find community and to truly engage these days than it was before social media.

Doug: So one thing that social media can do really well right, is that creation of community. What else do you think, when you look at it what it has done for you, does social media do really well?

Debra: Well, when I’m worried about something, I’m looking at it just from my lens. Recently one of the things I’ve been worried about with Sarah was she was having outbursts and stuff. I could tell it was because she was frustrated. So I was trying to figure out “How did other families handle these situations?” and “Was there something I could learn from it?”. I was worried about Sarah’s weight and things like that. I found that it was so easy, once again, to find data. Not only on the internet but, again, on social media people who had walked these same paths. One thing, from my perspective, that I love, is that pretty much you can almost reach out to any expert, anybody that is doing something clever or has had an experience, you can get to them. I remember years ago we used to say that everybody was like 2 or 3 or 4 stages away from Kevin Bacon. It was this game we played in the United States where you could pretty much get to anybody if through the seven stages of who knew Kevin Bacon.

Doug: Six Degrees of Keven Bacon, I think is the-

Debra: Yeah, yeah, I just remember thinking it was so funny especially as I was watching it unfold and there was a real cleverness about it. But that’s the way social media is. I think another thing that is beautiful and powerful, for me, on social media is when I go and speak at events all over the world I am always meeting people for the first time that I’ve known for years on social media. And, Doug, you and I have been working together for years and yet we have never physically met face-to-face.

Doug: We have to change that one day but it is amazing the deep connections you can make on social media.

Debra: Yeah, and I would say one more thing about that. So those are just some things that I value-

Doug: Right, Right.

Debra: the community and the engagement and the data.  But also where I feel where I need to contribute is making sure that I am contributing data that I am finding: good tools, good articles, good content. Obviously, we do content ourselves. We do podcasts, Access Chat, I write a blog for Huffington Post and so on. I not only want to be a consumer but I also want to be a contributor of data. And I love that with social media you don’t have to be Oprah or Arianna Huffington. You can actually contribute to content just by doing Twitter today or you just join Facebook. So I love that. And of course we are seeing negatives with that as well. Anyone can say whatever they want to say but there is also a real power in that because I think it gives people hope when they know they can get the information; they can share it.

Doug: That’s right.

Debra: You have to be careful of the content you’re consuming. We’re having big conversations about fake news on social media and so I’m more cautious over the last few months of sharing content without checking into it, clicking it. I was a little bit, you might say, careless but I didn’t think of it as careless in the past. I felt that if your title and a few sentences said this than I could go ahead and add and share it. I’m a lot more careful of what I share now. I take the time to scan it and read it and to make sure to avoid accidentally adding to the fuel of that fire we talked about earlier and making people a lot more fearful. And so I’m a lot more careful about what I pass these days on social media to make sure I’m being a good “social media citizen”? [laughs]

Doug: I like that a lot and you know I think that what you said about social media allowing us to be an active participant in content. it allows us to be a content creator rather than just being a consumer. I think that is one of the huge benefits of social media because if you think about traditional mediums- whether it’s radio or TV or film- your job is to passively consume content, right? You know, [laughs] it’s called the idiot box.

Debra: Yeah.

Doug: Sit there and watch the idiot box. And for the first time in human history we actually can reach as many people as any corporation. We have the potential to reach people all over the world and that’s one of the things that I, personally, love about social media. It allows me to be a creator rather than just a consumer and in a world where we’re constantly being fed by the media to consume, we actually have this ability to share our voice and you’re absolutely right; with that comes a responsibility-

Debra: Right, Right.

Doug: to bring content that is uplifting the world. With balance, it is a positive thing for humanity that we can all become content creators.

Debra: I agree and something else I found was just a huge personal benefit to me and to many others- social media breaks down the barriers, breaks down the walls, breaks down the borders. I had met, for example, multiple people from Turkey and then I went over and spoke in Turkey.  Unfortunately, I was there during one of the bombings and my heart broke for these beautiful people. They became so real to me. These are real people. I mean they became real to me when I first started talking to them on social media but Turkey became not just some place out in the world that got attacked. So I have become much more of a global citizen because of my efforts and engagement on social media, more than I ever was before. I was always interested in the world but there was a lot I did not understand and I think that’s something a lot more people have the opportunity to do. I think we are all more alike than we are different. There is certainly bad people in the world but there is also a lot of real beauty in the world, too.

Doug: Debra, you just brought up an interesting point that I’d like to go back to as we kind of get ready to wrap up today. Do you have any thoughts for somebody who says, “Yeah, I have a Facebook page, everybody has a Facebook page, or maybe I have a Twitter account but I’m not really doing anything meaningful on social media.”? Do you have any thoughts for someone who says, “You know what? I really do want to start using these mediums for good.”? Do you have any thoughts about just how to get started? Or where would you suggest someone should start?

Debra: And that’s a great question. And that’s actually what my book, once again, stated.

Doug: Oh, right, you wrote a whole book about that! [laughs]

Debra: It’s dated. I probably really need to pull it down because it’s dated. I mean there is still some good data in it but, you know, it gets dated very quickly. When I first wrote the book in 2013 and it published in 2014, I would say my answer to that question was LinkedIn- go to the groups and get engaged in the group scene answering questions and participating. I still think LinkedIn groups are great but I’ve actually changed my mind and if I would have answered that question a month ago I would have said Twitter because I love Twitter. But what I have actually realized- and Doug, you and Michelle Vandepass have been teaching me this- is that I think I was making some mistakes on Facebook. For example, I was using Facebook a little bit like Twitter. So what I would say to you, to answer that question is I would ask, “What is your goal?”. Why are you there? What is your goal for wanting to be on social media? Are you consuming data and just want to ask questions back-and-forth on the data? Then Twitter might be the right place. Join a tweet chat like Access Chat or if you really want to be going back-and-forth with a community and talking to people and joining groups you could go to Facebook or LinkedIn. Sometimes Insagram is a perfect place to start. I’m finding sometimes people prefer if they’re very picture driven they can start with Pinterest. It sort of depends on what your goal for social media is and I think that in some ways Twitter is one of the easiest ones to monitor and change. But I think it really depends on what your goal for social media is and to which is the right channel to start with. And I wouldn’t recommend trying to get on all of them because it’s too overwhelming.

Doug: Right.

Debra: I would actually say, “What do I want?”. And if anyone wants to ask me on social media or send me an e-mail or something I would be happy to give you my two-cents based on where you want to go. But it really does depend on where you want to go. I’ve done a great job, personally, on Twitter and am really active on LinkedIn. Facebook, I’m recently trying to get my hands around it in a different way and build different types of communities and want to get very engaged in FacebookLive. I’m learning quite a bit from you, Doug, but let me turn that around and have you answer that question because it really is a good question.

Doug: I think that I would probably say the same thing. I think what you said, the way I took it was, step one is decide what it is you want to accomplish. So if someone says “I want to do great good on social media” the first question I would ask them is “What do you mean by that? What do you want to do?”.

Debra: Right.

Doug: Do you want to be an advocate? Do you want to change policy? Do you want to change lives? What is it exactly that you want to do? Get clear on that and then I think the other piece i to find the mediums. I am not a terribly visual person so Pinterest for me is like an alien planet. [laughter] I just don’t get it one hundred percent, but that’s just who I am. Share content in the ways you like to take in content. 

Debra: Right.

Doug: Because that is where you’re going to shine the most. And don’t try to be everything to everybody. Find a few mediums and do really well on them and maybe even start with one. But I would say: a) know your purpose and b) find your sweet spot. No one is great at every single medium.

Debra: Right.

Doug: It’s not possible.

Debra: I agree and I am a very visual person so when I first got involved with Pinterest, I fell madly in love with Pinterest.

Doug: There you go. You’re going to be much more successful.

Debra: Madly in love. I loved it and then of course I did i with Instagram and then I actually had to take a step back because I loved it so much I was pinning pictures instead of working or making dinner.


Debra: It’s very interesting also the male versus female users of these different mediums.

Doug: Yeah.

Debra: I always thought that was very interesting. And the age groups- how the age groups were shifting and changing. And the countries. I’m a big social media fan so I love all those dynamics and analytics. But I definitely feel that social media can be used for great social change and it could also be used for just improving your own life and engaging with somebody. I’ll give you one more little story before we close, Doug. I remember in Virginia we had an earthquake a few years ago and I have never experienced an earthquake. It scared me to the core of my being. It just really frightened me and I remember we had aftershocks. We had aftershocks a couple of weeks afterwards. I remember one night there was an aftershock and the whole bed shook and my husband didn’t wake up. I got frightened. I just got frightened in the middle of the night and I got up and my daughter was sleeping peacefully and I didn’t want to wake her up saying, “Did y’all feel that?” and wake them up, scaring them.

Doug: Right. Right.

Debra: So I got on Facebook and started tagging “Did anyone feel this? I’m in Rockville, Virginia and I felt this.” And there were quite a few people who had felt it all over Rockville and the Richmond, Virginia area. We were all chattering and going back-and-forth and it brought me a lot of comfort in the middle of the night talking about this earthquake. Everyone was ok but it really gave me a sense of community and it was really helpful because I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sort of unnerved by the earth shaking like that.

Dough: Right.

Debra: And so I think there is such beauty in social media from the small things all the way up to the enormous we-actually-could-change-the-world-together. We could understand that people aren’t so different from us. People love their children. They want their children to be safe. They want their families to be safe, whether they have children or not. They care about their loved ones. We are more alike than we’re different and I think that’s what social media can provide and it takes away some of that hierarchy, the “Well, you don’t have anything to say because you are this person in rural Virginia. Nobody cares.” Well, no, maybe I actually can contribute to the conversation and the healing of the world. And so I’m very optimistic about social media and think that we can continue to do a lot of social good on it. Doug, thank you so much for having this important conversation with us today. You always add a lot of value to the chats.

Doug: Well, thank you very much, Debra. Beautifully said.

Debra: Thank you so much.

[Outro Music]

You have been listening to Human Potential at Work with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization visit: If you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode and you want to make sure you don’t miss any future episodes go to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast Human Potential at Work. Thanks for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.