Conference Roundup: Understand Social Networks and Make Them Work for You
Not all social networks are created equal. And nonprofit organizations need to know the differences between them before they can get one to work for them.
A social network can be a useful tool for a nonprofit, providing an arena for meeting potential supporters and contacts. Also, it provides individuals or organizations an outlet for spreading their messages to broader audiences.
But before nonprofits can use social networks effectively, they have to understand the options, said Steve MacLaughlin, director of Internet solutions at Blackbaud, during the session “What Social Networks Should Be Doing for You” at The Blackbaud Interactive Internet Symposium held on May 22 in New York.
He focused on the three major players: MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn. MySpace, he said, is the Wild Wild West because it’s just as untamed and free. A person can “make it look how they want it to look, it has different demographics, and anything goes,” he said. The uber popular MySpace allows a person to create or join groups and post videos.
“If MySpace was a country, it would be the eighth largest country in the world,” MacLaughlin said.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, is what he calls “Button Down East” due to its more conservative environment. This site focuses on creating and maintaining professional contacts.
And, then there’s Facebook, which he calls Middle Earth because, well, it’s somewhere between MySpace and LinkedIn.
“You can’t control the look and feel, and it attracts a different person than MySpace (attracts),” MacLaughlin said.
Knowing the differences allows nonprofits to determine where they’re likely to be the most effective in terms of friendraising and fundraising.
“Your constituents may be on MySpace and not LinkedIn, or they may be using Facebook,” MacLaughlin said. “You need to be where your constituents are.”
Once a nonprofit decides which social-networking site seems like the best fit, MacLaughlin said, it’s best to jump right in.
“Experiment first. Plan later. It’s that simple,” he said, adding that it’s a really good idea to just get out there and see what it’s like to use a social network: “Stop waiting for it to be perfect. It’s not going to be. Just try it,” he added.
Once you get out there, he suggests listening to the networks.
“Find out, who’s blogging about [your nonprofit] and what they’re saying,” he said.
And, finally, enlist savvy people.
“Figure out who you want to go after, what you’re trying to achieve, what you want it to look like when you’re done and what tools you are going to use,” MacLaughlin said.
The most important thing to remember is to embrace Web 2.0. In doing so, nonprofits should personalize their missions.
“The organizations that will succeed will be those that transform their mission into personalized experiences for constituents,” he said.
Organizations should also integrate channels, and create a balance between old and new ways of communicating and fundraising. Because, if you’re not integrating, “you’re creating islands.”
“The organizations that leverage both online and offline channels together will have the agility to communicate in more successful ways,” he said.
Finally, MacLaughlin said, organizations should always measure their progress.
“The organizations that understand that both qualitative and quantitative measures help guide decision making will be best able to confirm success.”
As intriguing and promising as it all may seem, social networking isn’t for everyone.
MacLaughlin referred to “Should Your Organization Use Social Networking Sites?” a whitepaper put out by Idealware, a group that provides reviews and articles about software of interest to nonprofits. According to the whitepaper, the six signs that social networking isn’t for you are:
1. You’re still trying to get a handle on your basic software infrastructure.
2. Your target audiences aren’t using social-networking tools. “If your constituents aren’t there, there isn’t a good reason to be there,” MacLaughlin said. “But, it is something to experiment with.”
3. You don’t have time to experiment with something that might not work.
4. You’re not willing to deal with technologies that don’t work as well as they could.
5. You’re not ready to invest in gaining a real understanding of the medium.
6. You want clear editorial control over your brand and message.
Still have questions? MacLaughlin suggested reading these books: “People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities” by Ted Hart, James Greenfield and Sheeraz Haji; “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” by Clay Shirky; and “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.