Archive for September, 2010

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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Finding time is the new hitch

One of my colleagues came to a social media workshop where I presented highlights from a book we featured in 2007 called Citizen Marketers. Her question afterward struck a chord with me because it reminded me of how I felt when I started experimenting on Twitter. She asked me “How am I going to find time for social networking when I’ve got an overwhelming schedule already?”

I think this is how a lot of us felt early on until we started to hear from authors like Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell of Citizen Marketers or more recently, from Beth Kanter and Allison Fine of The Networked Nonprofit.

We began to connect the dots and realize that because social media presented a world of opportunity if we were willing to make time and strategically incorporate our online networking into the way we already do business. And, that social networking could boost our outcomes in many areas like fundraising, public relations, constituency communication, and advocacy.

And even those of us who try to keep the time we spend online at bay, more myths are debunked about social media, including just how many of us are online. More recently, my sister got involved in a community emissions campaign to increase carpooling and asked “Can I really use social media to reach all ages?”

In Kivi Leroux Miller’s new book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide she says “The biggest increase in Internet use between 2005 and 2008 was within the seventy- to seventy-five-year-old age group and the gap between their usage and other generations is closing quickly.” So it’s time to embrace all that social media can accomplish for nonprofits—even if it requires finding the time. In the spirit of those who are still hedging, I’ve included an excerpt of this month’s Page to Practice™ where Beth Kanter and Allison Fine talk about taking the first step in social media and how they got started as early adopters.

CausePlanet: What advice do you have for readers who are under-resourced and over-extended but want to take the first step toward social media?

Kanter and Fine: They have already started. Everyone has a website, is using email and cell phones. Many are reading blog posts and have set up an account on Facebook. One important first step, and an easy one, is to start to systematically listen to what others are saying about your issue and your organization. Listening includes reading blogs, following influencers on Facebook and Twitter and reading what they say and the articles that they link to. Then an organization can decide what it wants to say online and for what purpose. It does not have to be terribly time-consuming to get started, but it helps tremendously to be purposeful.

CausePlanet: Rather than try to use all social media avenues, you make the point of choosing which work best for you personally. Which tools appealed to each of you when you began working heavily in social media and why?

Fine: We were both early adopters, so at that time, five years ago or so, blogs were the way into social media. I still blog, but my favorite channel of the moment is Twitter because it’s so easy to get in and out. My key influences (like Beth!) save me huge amounts of time by pointing out interesting articles and blog posts, and 140 characters forces everyone to just get to the point!

Kanter: When I first got started, I took on one tool at a time and lived in it until it was second nature. I tend to gravitate toward visual tools because I’m a visual thinker. One of my favorites is Flickr, especially because I do a lot of presentations and I find the creative commons licenses photos really valuable.

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

See also:

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

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The Networked Nonprofit: Let the friending begin

This month CausePlanet is pleased to feature “The Networked Nonprofit” by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. We love this book and think you will too. Here’s an excerpt from our Page to Practice book summary, which looks at Kanter and Fine’s definition of a networked nonprofit.

About networked nonprofits

Kanter and Fine set the stage for their book by looking inside a highly networked nonprofit called the Surfrider Foundation whose culture is open among 70 chapters throughout the country. The CEO and small staff follow and support their chapters rather than direct and control them; share typically internal documents such as annual reports; and engage followers with a unique, purposeful model that begins with granular participation. The result is more than 145,000 volunteer hours dedicated to the mission and an engaged community. In other words, this nonprofit is networked!

Kanter and Fine attribute the following characteristics to networked nonprofits:

Simple and transparent

Easy for outsiders to get in and insiders to get out

Supportive of people shaping and sharing their work to raise awareness, organize and advocate

Efficient–don’t work harder or longer, but differently

Comfortable using social media tool set to engage two-way communication

Aware they are part of a much larger ecosystem of organizations

Not afraid to lose control of programs, logos, branding and messaging

Naturally willing to work with “free agents” or individuals who passionately identify and advocate online

Able to use many tools to engage in different kinds of conversations with different kinds of people

What struck me most about this book was its orientation toward establishing a philosophy of transparency and openness before launching into the social media planning process. I recall working with a nonprofit organization that wanted to “get on the Facebook” (thanks, Sarah Durham, for calling out those well-meaning folks who like to add “the”) and they wanted Twitter accounts but they didn’t want to actually interact online themselves.

In fact, they wanted to approve all the posts! This is where organizations can do an about face. If the leadership can engage in social media personally, they can empower their staff to follow their lead and develop an open policy for communication online. It’s actually very liberating to let go of the old ways and not have every message approved by three levels within the organization. Interaction becomes dynamic and fun for followers. Let the friending begin.

For more information, purchase a copy of the book at Jossey-Bass or subscribe to our Page to Practice book summary library, which features our author interview. Learn more about Kanter and Fine’s services and books.

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