The 'Heart' of Social-Networking Communities
This past week my computer died. To most people, this would be an inconvenience. But to someone who makes her living using online tools and a consistent Internet connection, it was a slightly different story. I was nearing hysteria by day four of using a loaner computer that would probably be more useful as a coaster than for accessing the Web.
Once I got my computer back and stopped twitching, I thought back on why exactly my inability to be as “connected” as I’m accustomed to was so frustrating for me. I realized it was the online communities and supporter relationships I was concerned about damaging. It wasn’t the inconvenience of not being able to perform my normal day-to-day tasks that bothered me (although that was frustrating). I’ve got a system to respond and monitor community discussions and comments regarding organizations I work with down to a science, and I’ve worked hard to make it efficient. Without my tools, my system gets more complicated and speed of response is left wanting.
Like most clouds though, there was a silver lining. My technical failure highlighted a social-networking takeaway. Social networking, at least in my opinion, is about people and relationships. When my Web world threw me a monkey wrench, the first place my mind went was to the communities — not the technologies. This may sound pretty basic — social networking being focused on relationships — but as nonprofit professionals we also have social-media strategies, goals, tactics, tools, analytics and results taking up some serious real estate on our priority lists.
I keep a “best of” list of comments from supporters of organizations that I help implement social media; these comments range anywhere from explanations of why a donor decides to sacrificially give to a specific cause each month to a high-school student asking for ways to spread awareness about a cause at school and in the community. I don’t know if these comments came from a donor who gives $5 a year, $5,000 a year or nothing at all. What I do know is that the comments on my list remind me of why social media is so important for organizations to be involved with and, more importantly, where the majority of their focused efforts should be — in the communities and relationships. This list is my go-to when I’m overwhelmed with the ever-changing technologies and new social-media tools popping up almost daily.
So how do you get comments like these? Invest in your communities; they are (or should be) at the heart of your social strategy. When we correspond with our online communities genuinely and consistently, we open the door for meaningful conversation and dialogue, which has the potential to translate into greater actions on and offline. Building these types of communities takes time, trial and error, and lots of energy, but just like relationships in the real world, you will get what you put into them.
This brings me to the discussion of quality. Two-way communications is more than saying “thanks” for the comment on your Facebook page, or “thanks” for the retweet on Twitter. Real-world translation of the quality level of this type of exchange can be equated to bumping into an old college friend at the grocery store and saying, “Hi! How have you been; what's new?” You don’t really care what this person has done in the last five or 10 years, and he doesn’t want to summarize his life for you in five minutes or less, but it’s the socially correct thing to ask — so you do.
The difference is shallow conversation with supporters on social networks seriously affects the quality of relationships you're trying to build. Be real when you interact. Ask thoughtful questions because you want to know the answers, not because you want to “engage” your audience. Be aware of the 5,000 fans on your Facebook page, of the 10 people that always comment on all your posts, and when you address them on the wall use @theirname, creating a more welcoming environment.
Not every fan on your Facebook will want to connect with your organization at the levels I’ve mentioned here, but it is our challenge to create the environment where this communication is welcomed, to notice and respond genuinely when it presents itself, and most importantly, to allow ourselves to be inspired by the commitment supporters have to their beliefs.
Christina Johns is online media manager at International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.