Social Media for Invisible People..How?

I had the pleasure of speaking to the Texas Council on Family Violence this week about Social Media Fundraising. However I came out learning a ton from these amazing folks. So let’s say you work for Best Buy or Target, you might not be able to get away with certain things in your Social Media conversations, right? Maybe you can’t curse or comments on politics. Understandable right?

But let’s say you work with adult victims of domestic abuse. Let’s say you work with children of domestic abuse situations. People who are barely coming to terms with what happened to them, much less ever wanting to tell their story. And when they do tell their story on YouTube, Facebook or other methods there could be retaliation from their abusers who see or hear the stories.

Yet telling their story empowers them. And it empowers your Non Profit to show people the change and help you cause in our society. So it needs to be done.

So how does “Telling your Story” work for these populations? Is it changed names and voice overs over stock photos? Is it fake names and photos on Facebook fan pages?

I would love to hear people working in this space, and what other Social Media folks think as well? Please leave your comments below and let us know what you think the solution is?


  1. The issue you raise goes back long before social media existed. This is such a sensitive topic and one that can not be approached easily.

    With situations like this the key is that the person that is having harm done to them must come forward for things to get better. Going into a court of law or the police is one thing, but going online for the whole world to see is another whole step.

    I think once they are comfortable enough to tell their stories then let them do what works for them. What works for one person is NOT going to work for all and with something this sensitive the solution must be on a case by case basis.

    I know I don’t have the answer to this and I don’t think anyone is going to even if they’ve done something similar already because again it is so personal that it must be handled on a case by case basis.

  2. Wow, what an amazing question to ask Dave. I think telling real, powerful stories but using a high level of discretion is the key. There could be multiple ways of doing this — using stock photos or even digital animation with real voiceover in video, having a counselor tell the story from the perspective of the abused to protect the identity, disguising a real person (digital distortion, disguises) in a first person vignette or even using a spokeperson(s) that has survived abuse in the past and are now comfortable talking publicly who can advocate and speak on behalf of the greater group.

  3. It’s the most personal of issues and everybody has an opinion, so the last thing you want to do is talk about it on social media or the Internet in general, right?

    I agree with above. Case by case. There are many levels to “telling your story” and many good reasons to do it. Right now we’re trying to tell the stories of homeless people, and it occurs to us to be concerned about exploiting them for a supposedly “greater good.” It’s a delicate conversation, and certainly not one that should take place on a public stage. We must agree upon our shared comfort level.

    Victims should always have the option to tell their story. It can be empowering and provide some redemption. It just has to be their decision, and nonprofits have the responsibility to educate them on the entire range of advantages and repercussions.

  4. I think this could be the start of a great campaign—the stories of the “invisible.” They are important and need to be told. I don’t think stock photography will get the point across though, unless you use it in a creative way. Sometimes it’s really easy to spot a model posing. Using real people who tell their own stories is much more compelling.

    You could even literally make the people who are telling their stories “invisible” to make a point similar to this campaign:

    I’m interested to see what becomes of this. Great question!

  5. Wow, I hadn’t thought of this. My initial reaction is that security trumps the confessional; the entire world should not hear your story if it puts you, or most importantly, your children, at risk.

    Note I said the “whole world.” There are methods and venues that support such sharing without using the Web to do it.

    If security allows, some sort of online community (Ning group, etc.) might help the healing , but unlike so many other social media sites, the users would have to accept anonymity as the norm, not transparency.

  6. You know, social media is always best when it is done with authenticity, but if there was ever a case where protecting the identity of the person is important, this is it. The beauty of a lot of social media tools is that they don’t FORCE you to be you. You could have a lot of real story-telling done via avatar. The words will carry real weight. You would have to be careful with pictures, hiding anything that could be used to identify the person.

    There are alot of existing communities where the people interact as a version of themselves. for those that need to community, this will be OK. The organization could also gate who gets in there.

    Finally, the organization could take the stories that really speak to the issue out of the community, with the proper permissions and moderation, and use them in their marketing.

  7. It’s absolutely a case-by-case kind of thing, as the previous commenters have said. I totally agree.

    I was lucky enough to interview past clients of Rubicon Programs in Richmond, CA and to take their picture for fundraising and marketing materials. My experience was that for those who agreed to be interviewed/photographed it was a powerful, cathartic thing to be asked for their story. Over the ~20 min that we talked they warmed up, realized how much they had achieved, and felt proud about where they are now. The lesson for me is that we all want to be heard. It may feel uncomfortable to ask for someone’s story, but it’s worth asking.

    BTW, the stories & photos can be found here:

  8. Amazing question and comments. I was just having a conversation with a colleague last week about a similar issue. He helps nurses with mental health or substance abuse disorders enter back into the workforce, which is a vital service to the profession. Similar problem – the public typically doesn’t want to see their actual nurses, who might be recovering addicts or living (well) with a mental health disorder, on a social network for the whole world to view. As a nurse myself, I can tell you the nursing profession as a whole is not too keen on this idea, either, since our profession is consistently ranked as one of the most ethical and trusted professions in the world. (Numerous professions have these crucial social services, and they have the same issues telling their stories.)

    I agree with many of you that telling individuals’ stories is a powerful way to raise awareness to the problem and/or helping organization as well as bring healing to the individual. I love the idea of an “invisible person” telling the story in his/her own voice or even another person telling the story. Creative cinematography could easily capture the essence of being invisible to the rest of the world. I also think that the written word, which would offer some protection from visibility, can creatively and wholely capture a story. Twitter or Facebook notes/posts could enhance this idea.

    Again, this is a truly thought-provoking question that sounds like it is giving rise to some much needed advocates in this field.

  9. Dave – great post. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get around to commenting. It’s interesting because I was on Cathy Brooks’ Social Media Hour podcast a few months back and the guests following me were Angela Shelton and Alison Leigh. Both are doing a ton with social media to help victims of abuse/trauma. If you get a chance, take a listen to the last 10-15 minutes of the show (they tell a much better story than I ever could).


  10. I deal with this issue on a daily basis. I work for a non-profit that helps children in crisis. These are children that are dealing with mental health issues, mostly due to the abuse and neglect of others. There are many children who are protected by the court and we are legally restricted from using their images, names, etc. For others, their parents often are concerned with the stigma of talking about the issues of mental health. It’s a real struggle to find ways to talk about the services we provide and put a human face on them.

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