#SharingTheSuccess: When refugees protection meets storytelling -an interview with Kathryn Mahoney@refugees

With the new dawn of 2017, our world is facing the most challenging refugee crisis since WWII. UNHCR is at the heart of fighting for the rights of refugees worldwide. This month, UN Social 500 team has the pleasure to interview Kathryn Mahoney – Social Media Manager at UNHCR, NY.

1.Who are you and what themes and content do you cover on social?

I’m Kathryn Mahoney, a fighter for refugee rights, storyteller, and new mom. For the past year and a half, I’ve been a proud member of UNHCR’s small but mighty global social media team, helping to manage content distribution and social strategy for all of our institutional social accounts.  

I first started working with UNHCR in Djibouti in 2009 and have since worked and traveled to more than a dozen countries on three continents to shine a spotlight on the plight and resilience of the world’s refugees and displaced people.

Where refugee protection meets storytelling is the intersection of most of the content I share on my personal social channels. Refugee stories are the ones that make my heart beat and I’m grateful to work on these very issues professionally every day.

2.What social media channels do you focus on and who is your audience?

When I’m not in the field, I focus most of my social energy for my personal accounts on Facebook and Twitter – mostly sharing news stories on refugee issues or features that humanize refugees around the world.

I desperately miss the field every day, and dream of going back sooner rather than later, so I preserve my Instagram for those first-person field stories. As an amateur photographer, the visual nature of the platform speaks the most to me and remains the one on which I’ve had the most success.

My audiences across all three of these platforms are starkly different. Twitter has varied the most as I’ve used it to target local journalists from all of my UN duty stations. So while my followers range from international media personalities to aid experts, many of them are the local journalists doing the tough job of reporting from some of the world’s darkest corners.

As the debate on social media echo chambers reaches a fever pitch, it is becoming more and more important for all of us to reach outside of our follower base, outside of our filter bubbles to tell these humanitarian stories of critical importance. More than ever before, we now need to diversify our audiences, reach the unconverted, and in my case, humanize refugees to the very people that may not want to welcome them in their own communities.

3.Have you changed your approach recently? What’s really working well for you now?

I’ve had to dramatically change my personal social strategy in the past year and a half as I’m currently based in New York and not in the field. With most of my followers on Instagram, a platform I mostly save for deep field stories, I’ve truly had to up my game on Twitter, the platform that speaks the least to me (sorry, Jack Dorsey). I’m trying to tweet more frequently, which can be a challenge with a heavy workload and a heavy baby 😉  But as a social media manager, it’s important that I set a good example. That said, as I funnel my efforts into Twitter, I’m hoping the platform makes some changes too – especially at a time when many are predicting its death and demise!

4.What impact have you seen from your social media presence?

The greatest – and most unexpected – outcome for me was growing a mobilized, global social community that engaged with me on refugee issues via my Instagram account while I was in Yida refugee settlement on the border of Sudan and South Sudan. I hope the photos and stories that I shared from there humanized refugees, emergency aid operations and humanitarians to an audience that had never before had a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of a refugee camp.

For me, both personally and professionally, the ultimate goal is always to build empathy for refugees and displaced people to new and existing audiences. The stories I share across my social platforms – from first-person accounts to breaking news stories – seek to humanize refugees as well as to educate people on refugees’ capacity to survive in the hardest of circumstances. Given shifting political landscapes and rising xenophobia, this is certainly becoming more and more challenging, yet ever more important. While my social channels may be just a drop in the ocean when it comes to fighting intolerance with empathy, I’m motivated that my audience of 50,000+ followers who are on board to consume stories that help put the needs of refugees on the map.

5.How have you benefited from being part of the UN Social 500?

I really enjoy the fact that the UN Social 500 unifies the diversity of our collective missions and mandates under one banner.

Those of us at UNHCR are grateful to work for an agency that is so pro-social. In that regard, the UN Social 500 is a platform we flag to colleagues to incentivize them to be more active on social. Some of the most incredible and inspiring people I’ve met are my UNHCR friends – the people who’ve dedicated their lives to serving refugees. If more of my colleagues were motivated to share their stories on social, our job to show the human side and impact of UNHCR would be so much easier. I think the UN 500 can play an important role in that.

Raya Alchukr

Worked for the UN for over 13 years. Passionate about youth empowerment, humanitarian work, education, child protection, women and gender issues.

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