A photo of meeting Jayne Cravens face-to-face after following her work for ten plus years online.
I've been a big fan of Jayne Craven's work at Coyote Communications since the mid-1990s. That's when I was working with the New York Foundation for the Arts on its technology capacity building programs, including offline/online workshops for online skill building called SpiderSchool. I finally got to meet Jayne about a year at the netsquared conference.
Just received word that Jayne is off to Afghanistan at the end of February 2007, to serve as Communication and Reporting Advisor for the United Nation's National Area-Based Development Programme (NABDP), part of UNDP. (She worked in with UNDP's Volunteer Programme from 2001-2004 and is a subject matter in virtual volunteering, among other topics). She notes in an email, "I'm very happy to return to my former employer, UNDP, but I'm ecstatic to have the opportunity to work in a country in which I have been interested since the 1990s. I'll be in Afghanistan through part of August."
She is hoping to make connections with organizations and individuals who are running programs based in Afghanistan. You can follow her adventures in Afghanistan on her blog.
I'm really glad that she sent me this email because I had bookmarked one of her recent commentaries on nonprofits and online social networking. I like Jayne's perspective because she has been on the web since 1993 (although I got started online in 1985 with BBS, followed by WELL, Echo, and MetaNet)
Her piece begins with a simple definition of online social networking tools and asks: What's the appeal?
The appeal is mostly for young people -- these communities are easy ways for offline friends to "gather" online, and to meet new people, either for entirely online encounters or to meet eventually face-to-face. These communities also feel exclusive and special, something young people find particularly appealing.
She goes to ask whether or not online social networking should be of interest to nonprofits? She suggests that if organizations are targeting young people, particularly teens and 20 somethings that platforms like Myspace can be a good tool. She offers some strategies ideas, including asking current volunteers to put information about volunteer service into their profiles on OSN platforms in the employment sections.
If enough people start noting volunteer service in their profiles, these OSN platforms may start creating fields specifically for such. Having volunteers highlight their service in these profiles benefits your organization by giving your work exposure to potential new volunteers and donors, who will see the listing as they use the platforms to network with others.
She also observes that organizations cannot necessarily control how their organization is being portrayed or assocated in an individuals SNA profile. She adds, "But the reality is that your volunteers may be engaging in offline activities your nonprofit wouldn't necessarily want to be associated with either (think about the t-shirts organizations hand out to volunteers -- such doesn't come with a list of where you should and shouldn't wear such)."
What Jayne is describing is an example of the change of thinking that is required in using Web2.0, social media, or social networking tools. The idea that stakeholders can create their own experience with your organization. She also recommends:
Nonprofits should also consider asking current volunteers what OSN platforms they use, and if these volunteers would be willing to:
- occasionally post new information about their service or new activities by the organization on their OSN profile or blog
- to post public events hosted by your organization under "Events I'm Attending" on MySpace and similar areas on other platforms
- be on the lookout in any OSN platform they use for someone commenting about your organization, positive or negative, and to let you know what's being said
- to have onsite trainings for staff on how OSN platforms work, and how they are using one or more to track and promote information about the organization
She also recommends that nonprofits should make it clear to volunteers, "that while it's fine for them to highlight their role as volunteers for your organization in their online conversations, that does not necessarily make them official representatives of such, and any comments or questions about your organization they see online, including on OSN platforms, should be brought to the attention of the organization's staff."
She isn't an advocate of online social networking for all nonprofits all the time. She gives us a reality check:
Most nonprofits are struggling to keep just their simple web sites up-to-date and answering the many, many inquiries they already receive. These organizations don't have the time nor the staff to figure out how to use OSN platforms, nor which ones to use, and also don't have the staff or resources to keep their information up-to-date on these various locations as well their web sites. In addition, "traditional" online communities, whether on YahooGroups or via email, as well as the "old" WWW, are already connecting nonprofit professionals with many more people and organizations than they can keep up with. If a nonprofit has a web site, has an email newsletter, staff members who occasionally use online discussion groups, and volunteer recruitment posts to something like VolunteerMatch, I consider that nonprofit very techsavvy -- to be using podcasting and OSN as well takes an enormous amount of time and resources that the vast majority of nonprofits just don't have.
I agree with Jayne's points above, but I see it a little less black and white. I think there are ways to design and deploy limited experiments or action learning around these tools - and take incremental steps towards adoption. This can only happen, of course, with making available a small amount of time to experiment, figuring out how the experiment will help the organization reach particular outcomes, and keeping it very simple. I also think this is where the role of technology stewarding comes in.
Jayne also shares some reflections about her use of online social networking tools:
As regular readers of my web site an the various online forums of which I am already a member, I am a huge fan of, and advocate for, networking with others online. So, do I use any OSN platform? I've joined an alumni association that has its home on Linked In, and have joined and posted a few things to Omidyar, but so far, rather than reaching potential clients and new resources, I'm reaching lots of people looking for employment. For me, simple theme-based online communities via YahooGroups or an email platform remain the easiest to use, the easiest to integrate already-published information on the web, and the best way to reach both colleagues, new resources and potential clients. I'm already on overload when it comes to email and online profiles -- unless more hours get added to the day and I also become agoraphobic, I'm at my online membership limit.
I can relate to some of the feelings of overload and I've noticed that I'm constantly challenged to change some of my workflow/system habits more frequently than in the past.