Social Networks, Nonprofits, and Nonprofit Staff: How to Make It All Work (Part 2)
Some more thoughts re keys to making staff s/n time pay for your org:
Someone’s Got to Play Pied Piper
There are so many different sites to play around with and so many ways to engage any one of them (Facebook for example: A group? Facebook Pages? Causes or change.org app? etc etc) that you really need a social-web evangelist/strategist/trainer/traffic cop. Even bottom-up adoption will work better if there’s some sort of coordinated strategy re which tools your staff plays around with. Depending on budget and how badly you want to establish beachheads and measure ROI, this pied piper could be a dedicated staff position, a consultant, a self-selected volunteer from among your staff.
A Job for the Many
T’other day, I listened in on a PRWeb Facebook webinar led by Teresa Valdez-Klein — the best bit was a story about an 800-employee company called Serena Software that has instituted a “Facebook Fridays” policy — staff are actually encouraged to use FB as an alternate intranet, spend a few minutes a day updating their FB profile, and about an hour on Fridays to do more substantial reading/writign on FB.
In other words, they’ve explicitly permitted staff to use FB during business hours and even encourage it…. But they’re not making it part of the job description. With a little bit of strategic direction re tools and how to use them a large pool of employees in FB might be a powerful and positive force for an organization BUT any time spent in FB mixes personal with professional and shouldn’t get in between any staffer and his/her “day job.” If it’s just a background thing that people know the org views positively, staffers are likely to experience the suggestion that they get involved in social networks at least partially to help their organization get things done as an EMPOWERING development.
I think this is exactly the ideal way to encourage staff adoption, and I find it encouraging — this mid-size company has made the decision that the upside of employee use of online social netwrks is worth the risk (timesuck, security, employees developing a “personal brand” that makes them more mobile and more difficult to retain — these are not unreasonable concerns, but I’m with Serena’s management on risk/reward ratio).
NRDC has some 60 people on FB and well over 150 on LinkedIn; collectively that means, conservatively, perhaps 10K “first degree” connections and who knows how many second-degree connections or those reachable through groups, apps, etc. This is where the power lies — individual human beings hold it. Getting your people to build out online identities that authentically reflect who they are as individuals — imo that’s the foundation of a killer social-web strategy for an organization. A group, a Facebook Page for the organization that people can “fan,” a character blog or viral video for a given campaign, profile page for the organization — all these have always struck me as weak efforts if that foundation’s not there.
And at this point very, very few nonprofits (or orgs of any kind) are doing it the right way. Most NPO social-web efforts I’ve seen are the work of a few staffers who are charged with doing it along with many other tasks; this is unsustainable, not scalable, and failure occurs when people start to get interested in the organization’s profile ar whatever and the org can’t keep up with it, is unresponsive, doesn’t update content frequently enough, etc. This happens all the time and it’s painful to watch. If, on the other hand, you have a traffic cop or three and a lot of staffers engaged in some low-key, background participation, you’ve got plenty of capacity.
Syndicate Your Content
Does your org have a blog? A magazine? An e-newsletter? Use an eCRM like Convio for action alerts and fundraising appeals? Do you put out press releases? Can you get your people to use Flickr, del.icio.us, Upcoming.org, Twitter, etc etc?
Beat the bushes for content — particularly anything that’s producing or might be tweaked to produce a stream of content — an RSS feed that can be widgetized, which your staff can then display on their FB profile, or a full-fledged Facebook App.
This is where the efficiencies lie — let your people just do what they want to do (within common-sense guidelines) as far as updating their own profiles, participating in groups, LinkedIn Answers, etc. But create “footballs” that each staffer can carry into a social-network context and spread the organization’s message, “calls to action,” and so forth.
If You Can’t Get Your Content and Data Into the Network through Automation: Pick Another Network
Avoid social-networking services that don’t let users bring in their favorite content via RSS feeds, don’t let them embed dynamic badges/widgets, etc. No one — and certainly no nonprofit — has time to waste creating similar content in lots of different networks. You do not want to have to upload photos, blog posts, etc. more than the one time it takes to publish them to the web initially, either through your own site or through a cheap/free host like Flickr, blip.tv, etc.
If You Can’t Get Your Content and Data Out of the Network: Complain — Loudly
Facebook is the biggest game in town right now and it’s impossible to ignore, but oy vey do they piss me off with the walled-garden approach. You can get almost anything in to the FB universe, but most content created in FB — e.g. conversations in Groups, wall posts, who’s joined your group or become a “fan” of your page — I’m pretty sure you can’t get any of that stuff out. And that’s a big loss — it’d be great to be able to feed that activity/content/data back into your own website, to show your constituents how much is going on in different places around the web re your brand and your organization’s mission.
Fortunately, it seems that the arrival of a truly open social-web data architecture and “social network portability” — the ability to pull all your data (profile information, activity on other sites, etc.) into the profile of a site you’ve just joined — is inevitable and not that far off. At least it seems that way to me. There are too many very smart and dynamic people evangelizing this concept and developing technology that will make it happen; there will be resistance while companies like FB figure out how to make money without data lock-in, but users want this and will get it eventually. (If you’re building *your own* social-web site or web service of some kind, it’s important I think to consider building with an eye toward the arrival of things like OpenID mainstreaming, OpenSocial, microformats. Not clear what will become standard(s), but if hooks can be built in I’d do it.)
Enlist Your Constituents
This is the holy grail. But I think it’s at least as important for orgs to concentrate on getting their own act together — i.e. develop content streams to “feed the beast”; learn how to use those streams in widgets and apps; build literacy among staff in use of social-web tools and production of new media (blogging; RSS feed-reading; digital still photography, especially if your staff spends a lot of time out in the field; video capture, editing, and post-production; capture and production of skype conference calls and interviews, etc.) It doesn’t need to be NPR quality. It just needs to be of some use to your constituents, to be human and authentic, and to show passion and commitment to your org’s mission. DiY rules. And if your org’s senior management buys into the idea of trusting their staff to represent the org well in this DiY context, and buys into welcoming staff experimentation with these tools, you’ll discover plenty of talent and inspiration in unexpected places. And you’ll have the capacity to have the nearly real-time, human being to human being interactions with your constituents that they’ll want. People are sick of being treated like piggy banks and another signature on a form letter to congress — they want real work, to fundraise and recruit and get the cause’s messages into the headlines; they want to be an important part of your org’s team. That’s NOT the experience they have when they join your FB group and find that no one from your org is listening, asking questions, asking for help creating a T-shirt design or campaign slogan, etc. To effectively engage on the social web, you need a little bit of time and generosity with personal experience from a lot of your people.
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