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How a Nonprofit Uses Social Media to Help Keep Kids Safe

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® was established in 1984 to serve as America’s clearinghouse on issues related to missing and sexually exploited children.

In 32 years of operation, NCMEC’s hotline has handled more than 4.2 million calls. NCMEC has helped recover more than 218,000 missing children and has distributed billions of photos of missing children.

Technology and innovation are key to its success. When it comes to missing and exploited children, NCMEC wants to raise awareness about these important issues. Social media helps expand the audience base and makes it possible to instantly connect with people.

February 2016 marked the 15th anniversary of the organization’s NetSmartz® Workshop, the official online safety program of NCMEC, geared toward children, youth, parents, and teachers. The anniversary coincided with Safer Internet Day (#SIDUS2016). Safer Internet Day is organized by Insafe and takes place globally to promote safer and more responsible internet use.

We spoke with Mike Hill, the senior digital media producer at NCMEC, to hear how the organization uses social media to promote internet safety and support the organization in helping bring missing children home.

Teaching internet safety via Twitter chats

Hill and his team at NetSmartz use Twitter mainly for cyber security chats. We asked him to elaborate on the importance of internet safety and the role of social media, specifically Twitter chats.

“Part of internet safety is getting our materials out there and helping kids stay safer,” Hill says. “Social media allows us to host educational sessions and drive brand awareness. We want people to know that if their child goes missing, they can turn to NCMEC. We also want to educate today’s children and youth, who are growing up with digital technology at their fingertips, on how to navigate the space safely.”

NetSmartz used to video stream live animated puppet shows across the country, but it took up too much bandwidth. “When Twitter came along, we realized how much more scalable and engaging we could be,” he says.

How NetSmartz’s Twitter chats work

The cartoon character, ‘Clicky,’ is the NetSmartz spokes-robot, who helps answer internet safety questions during Twitter chats. Teachers across the country  create a hashtag and have a class Twitter handle. Students formulate questions and together they Tweet questions to #ClickyChat. “Some schools block social media, but there are so many positive ways to use it if we teach responsible behavior early on,“ says Hill.

The team uses Hootsuite to schedule regular Tweets in advance, freeing up Hill’s time and resources to participate in more live Twitter chats. During the chats, he uses Hootsuite Streams to monitor mentions, search terms, and classroom and chat hashtags and handles. Once the chat is over, he can easily remove unnecessary streams to stay organized. “Hosting Twitter chats through Twitter native is too difficult,” he explains. “With Hootsuite, I can monitor and participate in many chats at once and have all the questions and comments laid out.”

Getting the word out about internet safety

NCMEC shifted focus to social media in 2013. Today, every state has viewed one of NetSmartz’s three websites for either kids, parents, or teams. Analytics show they get more than 5.5 million website visits a year. Hill tells us that they no longer have to advertise about NetSmartz Workshops and their Twitter chats—teachers now reach out to them.

“You know that you’re making change happen when teachers across the country take it upon themselves to sign classes up for our internet safety programs on Twitter,” explains Hill.

Since NetSmartz’s Twitter launch in 2013, the audience has grown from zero to 11,000 engaged followers. There has been a constant increase in traffic and engagement with other NCMEC initiatives.

Bringing missing children home

NCMEC’s core mission is to help bring missing and exploited children home. Deborah Hennig, community manager at NCMEC, uses social media to raise awareness and help bring missing kids home.

When missing children posters are published on the website, Hennig shares the poster on social media, linking back to Using Hootsuite, she can tag the location, hashtag the state, and include local news stations where the child was last seen. Through this process, NCMEC is seeing an increase in number of children coming home.

“We’re getting the word out fast, our brand awareness is increasing, and we’re getting Facebook missing children posters and Tweets out in front of the entire country,” says Hennig. “We’re seeing a yearly increase in website traffic and more people than ever are responding to our posters.”

Since the launch of NCMEC’s CyberTipline in 1998, the organization has received more than 7.5 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation, with 4.4 million of those reports coming last year alone. 

“It’s exciting for us to see just how powerful social media can be,” says Hennig.

Using Hootsuite, NCMEC can achieve its core mission of bringing kids home through increased awareness, education, and timeliness.

Learn more about how other customers #WinWithSocial using Hootsuite.