#Sharing the Success: Sharing stories of hell and hope – Chris Reardon @refugees

Chief of Content Production for UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, and currently #14 in the UN Social 500 leaderboard, Chris Reardon shares his thoughts on the use of social media and gives some super advice on how to make the most of the different platforms.

  1. Who are you, who is your audience and what social media channels do you focus on?

I lead a global team of storytellers for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. We produce multimedia stories that help to humanize refugees, build empathy, and drive action. As the agency’s Chief of Content Production, I guide the work of writers, editors, photojournalists and video crews and develop content partnerships like Searching for Syria, our latest project with Google.

My team also manages UNHCR’s largest social media accounts, a community of over 4 million followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We’re trying to reach beyond our core supporters and win over some of the anxious, conflicted middle – people who want to help refugees but have concerns about security or the economic and cultural impact. Many of our posts show that these issues are manageable and that there’s so much to be gained by standing with refugees.

2. What themes and content do you cover?

On my own Twitter I mainly reflect on injustice and hope – humanity at its worst and at its best. Often I showcase the resilience of people fleeing senseless wars and shameful persecution, or the generosity of people welcoming vulnerable refugees into their homes and communities.

As a former journalist who still works closely with the media, I also share articles about the news industry, which is in a period of tremendous flux. As an American, I also post about inequality and opportunity in the United States, and about cultural memory and the legacy of slavery – issues that captivate me even if they don’t relate as directly to my current job.

Instagram is where I turn more creative, looking for glimpses of beauty in the world around me. I’ve shied away from Stories so far because I want these moments to last. On Facebook I keep up with friends around the world and try not to overwhelm them with too many refugee posts. On Snapchat I mostly chat with my daughter and admire her puppy-dog ears.

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

I recently posted a few job openings with UNHCR in New York and Washington, and naturally, those sparked a lot of likes, retweets, and replies. When sharing news and feature articles, I try to pull out a salient quote and, if space permits, add a brief comment. Or I’ll essentially write my own headline, calling attention to what resonates most with me. I never just post the original headline, because Twitter Cards and Facebook Open Graph will usually pull that in along with the subhead and image.

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

In this line of work, we hear and see a lot of harrowing stories – things that can easily erode your faith in humanity. The positive response to my social media posts gives me the encouragement I need some days to keep at it. They’re a welcome reminder that compassion still has a place in this world, and that the cause I’ve devoted the last six years to has a broad and dedicated base of support.

Social media has helped me reconnect with old friends and colleagues, and get to know many fascinating people I’d never heard of before. I’ve actually hired people I discovered on Instagram and Twitter, and become friends IRL with some too.

My most meaningful conversation in recent weeks came as I prepared to read the part of @MukhtarMai, a fearless and inspiring Pakistani woman, at an event in Geneva. She’s the central character in Seven, a documentary play about gender violence and women’s rights. Just before the event I tweeted that I was humbled and honored to step into her shoes and give voice to her experience.

Less than 30 minutes later, Mukhtar Mai liked my tweet and posted a reply from her village in Pakistan: “Thnku for compliments”. In that moment, the world felt so incredibly connected, and for the next hour I was able to deliver her words with conviction and passion. To me, this is a great example of how social media can close the physical and cultural distance between us

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

The UN Social 500 has helped me discover many smart and inspiring people working for other parts of the UN family. I’ve also used it to motivate UNHCR colleagues to strengthen their own social media presence. As trust in institutions declines, we’re hoping more staff members will use their individual accounts to serve as ambassadors for the refugee cause. This month, 13 of the top 100 people on the leaderboard work at UNHCR, starting with my boss at #1.