Social network crowds: Turn your concert into a studio performance

One of the most interesting passages in The Networked Nonprofit for me personally was the discussion about mapping your social network. Being online sometimes feels like watching a performance in a huge venue. You are soaking up the general energy of the crowd, sharing in applause and yes, humming along (thank goodness I’m drowned out by numbers).

And then you map your network.

What was a concert for the masses turns into a studio performance just for you and a group of fellow fans while the artists ask you for any special requests. In other words, all the key players of the performance come to life and it becomes clear you all have a lot in common—a shared interest in the music, which will translate into other interests and so on.

The same holds true for your online network. By mapping who the real fans are of common interests, you identify who you want to continue connecting with on those topics and promoting collective knowledge.

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, authors of The Networked Nonprofit talk about how to map your network and we have featured their book in this month’s Page to Practice on CausePlanet. As part of the Page to Practice, we include an author interview. Below is an excerpt of the interview where we asking about mapping, hubs, crowds and loops.

CausePlanet: Because a small percentage of visitors will always do the overwhelming amount of content on a site, at what point can a nonprofit begin testing participatory campaigns? In other words, do they need critical mass before they begin with “crowd voting” or “crowd creation” for example?

Kanter and Fine: There are no set and fast rules for engaging your crowd or constituency online. It is important to set everyone’s expectations at realistic levels when beginning. If you are just starting, then it is reasonable to expect tens, not thousands or millions, will vote on an issue on your site or blog. And, tens is just great because it means that you are connected to people who are actively engaged in your conversation, they care about your issue and want to participate. But the only way to really know the size and interests of your crowd is to try it out, to participate in a fundraising contest or ask for ideas, learn from that experience and try again.

CausePlanet: Your section on mapping is terrific. Where do you recommend nonprofits focus their energy first after mapping their social networks? The productive hubs or the opportunities among the periphery?

Kanter and Fine: In the use of mapping for a social media strategy, the analysis will reveal who the organization’s key influencers are. The next step after that is to start cultivating them. Here’s a post where I wrote about some more steps to take.

CausePlanet: Can you talk about the importance of learning loops and how to avoid “analytophilia?”

Kanter and Fine: As mentioned above, the key for organizations inching their way into this new world is to summon the courage to try a small experiment, learn and try again. Beth has written a lot about this process on her blog over the past few years which emphasizes the importance of listen, learn, and adapt to social media success. That is the essence of learning loops, an ongoing process of assessing the use of social media in order to learn and improve over time. Alexandra Samuel coined the phrase, “analytophilia” in a post for the Harvard Business Review, and it refers to unproductive efforts associated with measuring social media effectiveness when using inappropriate measures. It is so easy to plug into an enormous number of measurement and analytics tools and very hard to focus on answering important questions. Alexandra’s advice is right on the money in terms of focusing on a hypothesis: what is it you are trying to accomplish and how will you know you are making progress?

This is the hard work of measurement. Once you have defined what you are trying to measure, then using existing analytics tools or gathering data the old fashioned way through interviews or surveys or focus groups is relatively easy. In the end, it all comes back to organizational learning, which is only possible, as we discuss in the book, within organizations that reward rather than punish unexpected results.

Learn more about The Networked Nonprofit and our Page to Practice book summary.

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