Earlier this month at Grantmakers In Health’s Annual Meeting, my presentation was titled “The Promise. The Tool. The Bargain: Maine Health Access Foundation’s Use of Facebook.” Clay Shirky, in his book Here Comes Everybody, uses this wording and reminds us that these social media platforms are only tools—they are not an end, but a means to an end. Without the accompanying promises and bargains, these tools will simply be curiosities that won’t improve our work. I described to the session attendees why we at the Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF) used Facebook as the tool to support Fund for the Future, how we implemented Facebook for our purposes (The Bargain), and what the results were (The Promise).

Fund for the Future is a pilot funding initiative, the goal of which is to “improve the health of Maine people through projects or activities that reach beyond the delivery of clinical health care services by engaging the communities where they live, work, and play” and “address a targeted health issue within a defined community”; proposals, ideally, “should address the root causes of the health issue selected”—including any social determinants of that issue.

The Tool: We chose Facebook to tap into the local wisdom of Maine people, engaging the public through a multichannel platform where MeHAF could communicate with the public, the public could communicate with MeHAF, and members of the public could communicate with each other. We also had a captive audience—approximately 20–30 percent of Maine’s population is on Facebook.

The Bargain: We integrated Facebook into the planning of Fund for the Future from the very beginning of the initiative. As program officer for the initiative, I managed the day-to-day activities of the Fan Page (posting ideas, links, materials, and so forth). The overarching rule for the page was that we would monitor the discussions and take down any comments we felt were inappropriate—everything else was fair game. The public could comment on the initiative (what did they think we should fund, how should we structure the initiative, and so on); on possible project ideas (if they were shared); and on the seven Letters of Interest whose authors were invited to submit full proposals.

The Promise: The stated goals, or promise, of using Facebook was to build a better initiative and better projects, and I think the early results are very positive. Although we didn’t get any feedback from the public on the initiative itself, the majority of the respondents to a survey say that they are now more aware of the social determinants of health than they were prior to the initiative’s launch. And two of the three funded projects altered their final proposals in response to public comments on their Letters of Interest. Time will tell if these projects were strengthened by this process, but engaging the public in new ways, such as on Facebook, can only make our work, and that of our grantees, better informed—and, we hope, more successful.