Birmingham, Alabama, is renown for its chefs, restaurants and food scene. Here, food is entertainment.
So when I recently learned about a hunger crisis happening in my own city, I began to evaluate the disconnect between what we share on social media and what we choose to ignore. Even in our backyards.
The opening of a local restaurant is sexy. And perfect fodder for Instagram.
The VIP section at a local bar or pub is where it's at. It's where you'll find all the cool kids with a significant social media following.
The seasonal food-du-jour from an award-winning chef makes mouths water all over their phone screens. Being the first to try it makes being an influencer worthwhile.
But there's a dark side to the success of "food" in our city. Many people are going hungry.
I recently hosted an event at the United Way of Central Alabama on the topic of "Bookmarking Birmingham." During this event, digital experts such as Javacia Harris Bowser and Rachel Awtry shared not just the latest social media trends, but how they make a difference in their cities and beyond through their digital efforts.
It was during this event that the United Way rolled out an "Influencers Toolkit," which empowered content creators to tell a full, robust story about the UWCA and its programs.
One particular pdf in the toolkit stood out to me. It was titled, "What a dollar buys."
From a branding perspective, it showed in more detail how a contributed dollar is allocated to specific programs — such a clear illustration.
But, from a responsible social media use perspective, it highlighted to me the gap between what we see and interact with on social media vs. what's happening in many of our neighborhoods.
I know what many people think when they read this type of post: (this is where I use my sarcastic font) excellent – another person telling us we can't enjoy something on social media. How original.
That isn't what I'm saying at all.
I love going to new and fantastic restaurants, VIP experiences, and product launches as much as the next influencer.
In the past, I've even organized these events.
They offer tremendous publicity for local businesses, which is very important to our economy.
What I am saying, however, is that we have a unique opportunity as influencers, bloggers, digital content creators at the local level to use our influence and social media prowess to shed light on the issues affecting our cities and towns.
For every piece of clothing you promote on social media, you can also ask your followers to give or donate clothing to shelters.
For every IG-perfect shot of your latest vacation picture you post, you can encourage others to use their off time for volunteering.
For every new restaurant opening you attend or James Beard award-winning dish you taste, you can give money so that someone a few blocks down from the restaurant doesn't go hungry.
For every holiday shot you capture with the hot cocoa in front of a fire, you can shine a light on the fact that many people can't pay their utility bills this winter.
Social giving and "living your best life" can peacefully coexist in social media.
It's all part of using social media responsibly.
What are you going to do to use your social media efforts to make a difference at the local level?
All photos, courtesy of Eric Gray Photography