The So-What about Social Networking

You’ve probably heard of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and perhaps LinkedIn, but have you thought about how social networking (and its many manifestations) can add value to your organization’s mission, its impact in community, and/or building relationships with donors and volunteers?

So, what is “social networking?”
In the simplest of terms, social networking is an online community of people who share a common interest, cause, or purpose. Some social network sites exist primarily to allow users to socialize. But others are more focused on politics, or a hobby, or a region, and so forth.

While there are rules and guidlines of behavior on such sites, beyond that members of a social network create their own web pages, profiles, and linkages with others. Social Network sites like FaceBook also allow its users to create “groups” that others can join. A group could be about anything. For example you could create a group focused on Architects or Poets or on your city or neighborhood or church. The options are virtually limitless.

Younger people are more likely to be active on social network sites than their parents, but as this form of interaction among people becomes more accepted, I believe generational differences will dissipate.

When you join a social network site, you create a profile. You can say as little or as much about yourself as you choose. Mention where you work or don’t. Share your contact information, your favorite books, your community memberships, and your favorite websites.  When you make a “friend”, they become listed (with a photo if they have one) on your network page.

People can communicate with one another by posting comments to their respective pages. On FaceBook, that is called a whiteboard. That way others can see who your friends are too.

Here’s the So-What
The so-what factor about social networking depends on what you want to use it for, to be honest.  Your organization may benefit by having its own social network of employees (good for larger firms with multiple sites) or one focused on your volunteers or your donors. You don’t have to use FaceBook or MySpace for that. You can create your own social networks using existing online platforms (for free) like Ning, for example.

So, how can a social network benefit your organization?

If you are using a social network for relationship building with volunteers or donors, here are a few of the benefits you can realize.

1. Learn about your constituents’ interests, hobbies, friends, aspirations, involvements and then use this information to communicate to them in a more tailored approach.

2. Keep everyone up to date on the lastest news or program without having to email everyone separately.

3. Create forums and groups for people to participate in. For example, create “interest groups” for donors. Topics could include: Kids, Seniors, Homelessness, Health, whatever makes sense for your organization.

4. Find out what people think and feel about your organization.

5. Share photos and videos of interest to your members.

6. Facilitate your social network members getting to know one another. Connected donors and volunteers are more likely to create synergies around your cause than they will if they don’t know each other.

7. Ask your members to help you solve a problem. You might be surprised on what they come up with.

8. Provide online orientation for your volunteers.

9. Create online surveys and ask for people’s participation.

10. Connect members to your website, blog and other web-based resources that may be of interest to them.

Social Networking is revolutionizing the way people interact. While I was writing this article I was logged into FaceBook and my son was there too. He and I chatted for a while, something we would not have done today most likely. And while we chatted, an old colleague spotted me and shared the news of her soon to arrive grandchild.

The opportunities for connecting with people and connecting people to one another are virtually endless through the use of myriad web-based platforms and tools. Many, if not most, of these tools are free to use. You just need to know why you want to use them and then how to deploy. The knowing why is actually the harder part than deployment.

For more info about social networking and how we can help your organization better embrace the Internet and engage your constituents, contact Mark HERE or leave a comment.

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