RSY Netzer is a youth organisation that has developed some innovative approaches to using Social Media. They explain their story, journey and challenges below.
What is RSY-Netzer?
RSY-Netzer is a peer led youth movement where people grow up through the youth movement structure and at the age of 17 take part in youth leadership training, becoming leaders for the younger participants straight away. RSY-Netzer runs events throughout the year including small local day events, national overnight events and residential camps. The events that attract the largest numbers are the summer events including three day camps, one 9 day residential camp, four 14 day residential camps and six Israel Tours on a month long trip. All these events are facilitated by volunteer youth leaders who have grown up through the movement and are aged 17-22.
How is RSY-Netzer a peer to peer network?
“This document should never become stagnant and static; rather it should be continuously discussed, argued over, added to and amended, in the spirit of our movement and making educated choices” RSY-Netzer Policies, Beliefs and Actions.
RSY-Netzer functions as a peer to peer network not only by its leadership structure, but also countless opportunities throughout the year for the members of the movement to input into the ideological decisions of the movement. These include a national AGM of all leaders, where motions are put forward and voted on to update and maintain the Policies, Beliefs and Actions of the Movement (quoted above). In addition there are 3 meetings a year of the senior leaders to input in to the functioning of the movement and a day on the residential camps where the young people themselves can put their own motions forward. This means that people from all ages are inputting into the functioning and ideology of the Movement.
Social media in RSY-Netzer
Use of technology is a key focus for RSY-Netzer this year, this is because as a youth movement we see social media as a way for people to easily connect with what we do, and this lets us get to the core RSY-Netzer experience – which is being together as a community and enacting our values. Social media comes with its own challenges, especially as a peer-to-peer network in relation to boundaries and where people’s personal lives are now intertwined with their life as a youth leader or member. In addition we are aware of the potential of on-line bullying outside of our events. This has resulted in the introduction of a social media policy and accompanying sessions where we educate leaders and young people about awareness of on-line risks and we give them this knowledge for life as well as in relation to our network.
In RSY-Netzer we have a facebook account where we post pictures and information and we also use private messaging to easily communicate with our leaders. This is because members check their facebook regularly and this is an easier and more accessible way to communicate with people in a format that they prefer. We created a new Facebook page in September as a page creates a more effective RSY-Netzer presence online as it provides analytic tools which enable us to assess our reach. As well as giving a snapshot and advertisement of what we do, Facebook is a place for our members to come together outside of events. For instance, one of our active facebook groups is for our Netzer farm (the Netzer Farm is a plot of land on our site where members come together to grow herbs and vegetables). This group is really useful in creating a place for conversation amongst our farmers, which helps to maintain and further the success of this project.
On a festival this year, sukkot, we also used facebook to connect with our members with a video campaign that encouraged a way for people to come together and celebrate across the internet. We no longer have to rely on people coming to us; Social media allows us to reach out to them. The video trend also helped show that our members like videos so we have been posting regular videos to engage with our members and also to promote our upcoming events.
This year we started an instagram account as we found this to be a good way to connect and publicise to younger people in our movement. We upload one picture a day to instagram and where possible tag people in the pictures and encourage them to tag their friends. We have found people like to see pictures of themselves and it helps them relive memories from past events and of course remember what fun they had!
We are using twitter more to engage with older members of the movement especially our leaders. We are posting interesting articles and engaging them in discussions and debates on twitter. We have found we can use this to continue our community as well as helping an RSY-Netzer presence remain in people’s lives year round. As a progressive youth movement, we are constantly striving to engage our members with interesting and worthwhile education and discussion and twitter is a fantastic platform for enabling us to do this.
This year we are also working with a designer to create a brand new website. We want to use the new website as a hub of education. A part of the website will be a blogging section, where our senior leaders will send in articles, videos and other things which interest them. This will engage and empower members, allowing for constant debate and learning together.
Something we’re really excited about is a new ‘ask the educator’ section of our website. People will ask questions and we’ll pass them on to educators to answer them.
On line learning and sharing
In preparation for our events our youth leaders are often not in the same geographical location. In the past it has proved successful to use google docs as a way to share and edit content. A recent example of this, is this winter after our winter camp one of our leaders decided that the song book we use should be updated – he started a google doc, so that all leaders could register their interest in what songs should and should not be kept within the book. Within a few hours a significant number of people had already contributed to the document. We also use google docs as a programme store where people who run for instance, our Israel Tour can read and use programmes from previous year groups.
We are in the process of creating a new website. The old website already has a section for people to store programmes that they have written, however, the new website will be an even more important focal point for the community. There will be the same programme store, but in addition there will be an ‘Ask the educator’ page so that people can submit questions to educators who will answer them, but allow for interaction after the answer has been given. There will also be a blog section, so our members can submit their own blogs about things they are passionate about. We have also facilitated an on-line learning seminar with a Rabbi to learn more about an event in the Jewish calendar this year and we will look to do more of these as it proved very popular.
Years ago our youth movement had a paper newsletter that went out 4 times in the year, this has developed with the times in to a digital newsletter that goes out weekly – it contains information on events, interesting articles and updates on things that have taken place within our community. During our Israel Tour programme we email a daily update to parents about what each tour group has been doing, which includes education information for the parents as well.
The most effective way to keep parents constantly updated throughout the events is twitter as the leaders can upload photos and short updates very quickly and easily whilst they are facilitating an event, which allows the parents to feel a part of it. Some parents don’t automatically feel comfortable with twitter, but we have tried to help them through this. It also creates a community that continues after the event as well.
We currently struggle with engaging people who we do not currently engage. This includes reaching out to communities and young people who do not know what RSY-Netzer is and using social media and the internet to help them find us and engage with us. Currently the majority of people who engage with us online are current members or graduates of our organisation. This means we need to be doing more to find and engage those who haven’t heard of RSY-Netzer before.
Top tips to develop an on line youth community
- Use the social media that the age group you are aiming at are most comfortable with – we have found younger people engage more with Instagram whilst older teens tend to use Facebook more.
- Create opportunities for dialogue through posting articles and pieces that you know your target audience are interested in – pose questions when you post them.
- Use it as a way to maintain memories and connections to events people have been on, by uploading photos and videos and tagging people in them.
- Encourage your members to set up their own special interest groups within your online space, so that it is directed by them and allows them to communicate on issues they are most passionate about.
- Videos have proved particularly popular, so using a video to promote your message in an interactive funny way can be very positive.
We think that social media allows us constant engagement with our members, the strains placed on young people’s time has increased in recent years through greater emphasis on academic performance and pressures to take on extra-curricular activities to make strong university applications. Social networking allows us to work with our young people all year round, providing educational content and constant communication without them even needing to leave their houses. It comes with its own challenges, but overall we see it as a way to engage with people outside of our events in a positive way, strengthening our movement year round and putting us in a stronger place in the twenty-first century.
Lucy Stubbs, Natasha Shaw and Libby Burkeman
For further information contact : Libby.Burkeman@reformjudaism.org.uk