Social Networks, Nonprofits, and Nonprofit Staff: How to Make It All Work (Part 1)
Recently, blogger hero and energizer bunny Beth Kanter asked me and several others the following questions, via Facebook message:
I’m writing an article that is about the best tips, tricks, time savers, tools, for managing your time/work on social networking sites to support your organization’s presence or your professional networking presence.
Can you reply as soon as possible with your best tips?
I’m looking at these specific questions.
How do you find people with relevant interests to your nonprofit or your professional interests?
How do you efficiently manage updates on your social networking profile on social networkings? Particularly if you have a presence on more than one?
What are your best tips for working between multiple social networking sites?
What are the best tools and tricks for getting most of out your social networking profile — for non-web designers, non-techies, etc.
Those are questions both specific and huge, and I’ve been thinking about ‘em for a while. Here, the first of two rambling posts that unload a lot of my thinking on some of the questions; I’ll follow with answers to the others at some point soon.
Tips, Tricks, Time-Savers That Work for Me
I can’t begin to quantify how valuable it’s been to me career-wise to build out an online identity around my professional interests.
- To present my own stuff I blog, use Twitter, LinkedIn, del.icio.us, Facebook, upcoming.org, Flickr, etc. And I’ve got profiles all over creation; those listed here are just the ones I remembered to register in one place.
- To find other people with similar interests I use blog search (technorati, ask.com, blogpulse), blog-popularity measures (technorati Authority, techmeme), del.icio.us tag search and del.icio.us popular; recently I’ve started playing with Particls and AideRSS to help me sift out the best stuff. I compulsively join Facebook, Google, Yahoo groups and listservs on subjects I’m interested in and scan them occasionally. I use MyBlogLog.
- To stay tuned to what’s actually coming across wire on all these channels, I… shoot myself? Well, not yet, though I am constantly struggling with attention overload and with finding a “stance” from which to relate to the info firehose that allows for some semblance of a balanced life. And I know I’m not at all unique in this. T’other day Marshallk wrote “RSS has changed my life” — that’s absolutely true for me. As much as possible, I absorb and manage info from the social web within RSS aggregators. I use different aggregators for different levels of importance — critical updates I get through Rasasa (RSS-to-instant messenger); quick headline scans of a top layer of feeds (news, podcasts, blogs, pingbacks to my stuff, etc.) I do in NetVibes, a couple times a day. For heavy-duty feed-reading and keyword searches within all the feeds I’ve found valuable enough to subscribe to (currently about 650) I use NetNewsWire; haven’t found time to decide whether Google Reader would be better for this.
- Re social networks, I use networks that let me stay tuned to what’s happening with others via RSS, email, or IM updates. If I have to go to the site to see updates I’m not using it. (Facebook being the exception, but I’m very frustrated with FB’s refusal to give me external access to the activity I and my contacts, my groups, etc produce in Facebook.)
How do I efficiently manage updates or work between multiple s/n sites? I don’t — not efficiently. I’m waiting for portable social networks like everyone else. Meantime, though, I pretty much don’t use social network “portals” that don’t at least allow me to pull in my blog, my del.icio.us links, Twitter, my Flickr feed etc. I don’t have time to update them. I have certain tools that I use to capture content and data, and I want to be able to freshen up profiles with the streams those tools produce. (This’d be one “tip” for working on multiple sites.) I like OpenID but remain slightly confused by it (probably not a good sign for more widespread adoption). Another tip: use widgets to connect up the different threads of your online identity.
As of now, a lot of the above isn’t going to blow the doors off fundraising or advocacy goals for a typical nonprofit and its staffers. The people I want to connect with professionally are web/media pros — a group that’s way ahead of most on the adoption curve. For most nonprofits, literacy in using social software isn’t there — yet.
That said, I sincerely believe that nonprofits need to encourage staff and constituents to use these tools. And use ‘em in the right way — in an authentic way. Get your people — who are probably incredibly effective at advancing your mission through *real-world relationships* with others — online. Encourage them to bring online the same values/passion they exhibit in real life. Give your members online tools to participate in the mission — it’s not enough any more to say “Here — you can push this button to donate, or that button to send a form letter to your congressperson.” It’s not yet crystal-clear exactly how this will work, but someday soon it will be a given that you can become an *empowered social-web activist* who spreads word, fundraises, monkeywrenches, and otherwise is truly a part of the team.
Right now, blog/myspace widgets and Facebook Apps are the best examples of how this is actually beginning to work. But the truth is it’s all still terra incognito.
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