Over the past month, I've been doing a little action research for an article on ways to be effective using online social networking sites. To do the research, I've been asking my "friends" in different online social networks, "What is your best practice or tip for using online social networking sites for your organization." I didn't just ask people from nonprofits as I wanted to get a multi-disciplinary view.
So, I started with reading and reflecting on some recent blog posts by two gurus on the topic: Chris Brogan and Connie Bensen. In response to a query, Connie provided a brilliant synthesis of the key networking principles which were my starting point for putting some ideas into practice.
Today, in a quick interview conducted via a socnet messaging system, Micah Sifry mentioned something that crystalized Connie's point #1, "Meet people as people first."
I have only one best practice to share, based on my watching how various sites have succeeded in becoming hubs for community activism, and that is to devote real resources and authority to whomever is going to tend and grow that community. The DailyKos started as one person's blog, and that person, Markos Moulitsas, spent untold hours building his community. He once told me that in the early days, when he had maybe several hundred regular readers, he knew the names of every single one and would notice when someone hadn't been on the site for a while, and when they returned, he'd greet them personally. It takes that level of leadership engagement to build a successful socnet around activism. I have yet to encounter a site, no matter how well designed, where random people organize themselves around a cause. So when I see all kinds of NGOs setting up their mini-socnets, I wonder if they are also assigning staff to spend real time cultivating those sites and giving them real authority to speak on behalf of the organization.
So, looking at the "Meet People As People First," the "maintenance" work of approving people as friends isn't a matter of clicking on "approve" and adding them to your list of friends. Take a minute or two to learn something about them. (I am assuming here that if you are doing this on behalf an organization that you will soon surpass the "Dunbar Number" the magic number of friends a human can handle.)
I often get friend requests from people I have never met face-to-face or names I do not recognize. Rather a knee jerk approval or rejection of friendship, I always message first with "How do we know each other? How are we connected?" I take a peek at their profiles and their friends list and try to figure out the connection and reference it. I also ask if they read my blog.
I have many people who leave comments, but I also suspect that I have lurkers too. What Facebook has been able to do is help know my readers a little better. What constantly amazes me is that I am able to connect with people who I may not have met otherwise, but we're interested in a lot of the same topics. Here's a few folks I've met through this experiment.
If you are working for nonprofit organization and have established a profile on a social networking site, what is the benefit or value of getting to know your "friends." This assumes you've stepped back before you jumped into a social networking site and have concrete metrics and goals - and that your taking a step back as your use these networks.
If you are enjoying this post, subscribe for free.