For the uninitiated, "Social Networking" is term that's been in use for a while to describe how people interact with one another. It's only recently been used as a way to refer to the numerous internet sites that now allow people to connect with one another online in different ways. While some of those sites (particularly Facebook, and MySpace) have gotten the lion's share of media buzz, the web is a very fluid place - non-profits should focus on creating a online networking strategy and not a "facebook strategy" or a "myspace strategy"
The key idea is to find a way to have a conversation with those who care about your mission. This requires a lot more than the standard informational website. While a website with accurate and updated information is critical - it does not substitute for a conversation. To have a conversation with people, you need 3 things:
- Location - When it comes to social networking, the adage "if you build it they will come" actually rings true. Providing a location where interested parties can interact is the first step of the process. Sites like Facebook and MySpace are good options, but some organizations might choose to leverage an existing blog, newsletter, or partnership with an existing community.
- Content - A location gets stale quickly. If your agency is committed to a social networking strategy, plan on updating your presence at least once a week, if not more. Consider a rotating schedule for staff members, or consider inviting board members or volunteers to contribute.
- Distribution - Once you've found a sustainable content rhythm, and worked out any kinks with the location you've chosen, you're ready to start spreading the word. While Facebook and MySpace have built-in distribution options, you will also want to explore other ways to reach your membership - via email, newsletters, etc. Whatever strategy you choose, it should be immediately clear to your audiece how to sign up to receive notifications of new content, how to create content of their own, and how to opt-out altogether.
For an excellent research paper on the various social networking sites, faberNovel Consulting has posted an excellent research paper that provides an overview of social networks and the trends in this important market. I thought these two slides in particular did a great job of showing the different types of social networking, the sites that cater to them, and how they're positioned. What's really interesting is that in terms of identity, Facebook and MySpace are at opposite ends of the spectrum - Facebook is viewed as "real identity", whereas MySpace is "fantasized identity". For non-profits, a "real identity" is likely to be much more important than a "fantasy identity"
For more specific tips on how to market your organization using Facebook and MySpace, try the tips on this post - http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/non-profits_on_facebook_and_myspace.php