Social Networking: Creating Transformational Change

If you follow this blog at all, you know I am an advocate for non profits and businesses becoming more strategic about social media – in particular social networks.  It’s not just because social networks are cool online applicati0ns. My reason for pitching social networks is because people use them. They use them a lot. But don’t take my word for it. Here are some trends from The Neilsen Company – just published in March 2009 which .

“Social Networking has been the global consumer phenomenon of 2008. Two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visit a social network or blogging site and the sector now accounts for almost 10% of all internet time. ‘Member Communities’ has overtaken personal Email to become the world’s fourth most popular online sector after search, portals and PC software applications” (emphases mine).

Think about that. People are using and communicating on membership sites (i.e. social networks) more so now than using e-mail. Think of the ramifications to your communciations and marketing activities or how you sell your product or service or raise money.

Between 2007 and 2008, time spent on the Interent by all users world wide incrase by 18%. A pretty big number, but get this.  Time spent on membership communities increased by more than 60%. And Facebook! Wow. Time spent there increased by 566%., making Facebook the ninth most popular “brand” online.

As Neilsen points out, “The staggering increase in the amount of time people are spending on these sites is changing the way people spend their time online and has ramifications for how people behave, share and interact within their normal daily lives” (emphasis mine).

While it is true that social networks like Facebook and MySpace have been predominated by younger people, the real story is that younger people were the early adopters. Today the demographics are changing. Neilsen reports:

“In terms of sheer audience numbers, for example, the greatest growth for Facebook has come from people aged
35-49 years of age (+24.1 million). Furthermore, Facebook has added almost twice as many 50-64 year olds visitors (+13.6 million) than it has added under 18 year old visitors (+7.3 million). Consequently, people under 18 years old
are making up less of the social network and blogging audience, whereas the 50+ age group are accounting for more of the audience.”

I encourage you to read the Neilsen report. While it is seems focused on how these trends impact advertisers and call for change in their approaches, the data is, I believe, a tell tale sign that businesses and non profits need to get a handle on the social networking phenomenon and begin making some major changes in how they communicate, sell, and build relationships.

While I imagine there will also be a place for the traditional website, the trends suggest that cutting edge organizations will be “re-inventing” that particular medium. We already see how blogs are impacting website. Many websites now have them embedded inside them (not the best idea in my mind but that’s another story), but imagine a different kind of website that is a hybrid website-social network.  That would be a place your customers or donors could go not only to find out things about you or sign up to volunteer but to also meet others, engage in dialogs about issues and solutions they identify, and through that involvement become increasingly involved in your brand!

As I have written before, just putting you organization on Facebook won’t accomplish much. In fact, engaging in social media will be a fruitless activity unless guided by strategy based on a strong understanding of what is happening on the Internet. That being said, the challenge is not a technical one. Setting up your own social network is not difficult. In fact the example network we created recently – Collaborating for Success — is a fullyfunctioning social network. You can join it and see how it works. Just remember, it is a demo site. It just took a few hours to get that network up and running.

For non-profits, imagine integrating your online fundraising work within a social network.  The days of just having an online donations form are over in terms of being effective tools.  Some major charities have developed e-campaign software. United Ways in the US and Canada have done that through, respectively, E-Way and United Way@Work. These are sophisitcated applications that allow for sending out targetted emails, assessing campaign progress in real time, creating automatic upsells, not to mention providing a landscape where custom messaging and images can appear throughout the application. Such applications are the \”beginning\” of a community site, but they are not there yet.

Imagine integrating that kind of sophisticaton with your own social network, where people go to be engaged with one another and your mission and vision and work and have a constant opportunity to donate funds, target their money toward particular causes, as well as dialog about what you are doing, should do, or should not do. Of course the latter is what worries us sometimes – the risk of dialog does mean people may say things you wish they didn’. I get that concern for sure. The reality is though is that social networks are not just what people want, social networks are where people are at. And I suggest you need to be there, too.

One thought on “Social Networking: Creating Transformational Change

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