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Ben Rattray

Hey Beth,

This is Ben from Change.org. Thanks for the review of our new white-label service :-)

I think you raise an important issue about whether the 85% of donors who are not on Facebook or MySpace really want to join a social network around social issues if they don’t want to join one of the mainstream social networks.

The short answer is that I don’t think most of them want to join a social network, but I do think many of them want a better giving experience, and it happens to be that social networking tools can help provide that.

Similarly, people who use Yelp don’t want to join a social network, they want better information on what restaurants they should go to, and it just so happens that social networking tools have helped provide great restaurant reviews. (Who knew?)

I know a lot of people are getting tired of seeing yet another social network launching and being applied to a new space. Certainly some of this exasperation is properly placed. But I think much of it also falsely presupposes that all sites that use social networking tools are about socializing. And Change.org for one is not about socializing but about providing a way to get more involved in social causes and more effectively advance social change, and we use social networking tools because they’re a powerful way to facilitate these things.

So I’m completely with anyone who thinks that most of the 85% of donors not on MySpace and Facebook probably don’t want to socialize online. But that’s not what we’re offering, and it’s not why most people think when they go to our site – or to any of the branded social networks that our nonprofit partners are creating. Instead, people join a nonprofit’s network because they want to get more involved in the organization, have more control over where their money goes by directing it to specific projects, and combine efforts with others to magnify their impact (whether in fundraising or taking action). Similarly, nonprofits are excited about using our tools not because they want to have a social network per se, but because they want to personalize their communication with donors, empower supporters to fundraise and advocate on their behalf, and give people a sense of being part of their community. And those are exactly the things we’re trying to facilitate.

I hope that makes sense, and would love to hear your and everyone else’s thoughts as always.

Best,

Ben

Beth Kanter

I think we agree that a white label social networking application creates an online community. However, it isn't because of the software or tool that people will donate or become more engaged or more deeply involved with the organization unless there is a strategy behind. What type of strategy?

-Community building and relationship building
-Not just asking for money, but providing recognition and donor stewardship
-Telling the story of the cause in an interesting and compelling way
-Ongoing contact and conversation

My point is that all that takes work - whether you do it on your facebook profile or you do it on your own branded social network.

I really don't think that if you build a social network, the donors will come unless you have a strategy behind. Am I missing something?

Also, I agree with you that it may not be "Facebook/Myspace versus roll your own" because the larger networks or even niche networks like change - are a way to find potential supporters (if the people on those networks match your .org's target demographic). And I can see the value of a "roll your own" social network as your .org's branded online community - particularly if you link contact information to your internal data systems. However, having them all and doing it well requires time, resources, and staff - (in addition to strategy) -- so organizations are going to need to really figure out why they want a social network in the first place, pick wisely, have a strategy, capacity to implement strategy, have metrics to determine success......

Ben Rattray

Great points, Beth. I should have echoed your comment about nonprofits needing to work to make these networks successful, because you’re right on.

There tends to be a “field of dreams” mentality with social networks that goes something like this: “Facebook/MySpace has 50/100 million members, so if I create a profile and get just a small percentage of people to join my community, we’ll take off.” This is similar to how people used to think of the web and their website ten years ago (e.g. “there are 500 million people on the web, so all I need to do is create a website…”)

As you’ve implied, not only do people rarely just chance upon your social networking profile (or website), but they won’t come back if they’re not nurtured.

This is something we’re definitely sensitive to, so there are two things we’re doing to help nonprofits address it.

1. Strategy:

As you mentioned, having a core strategy and knowing how to effectively use these tools is probably the most important component here. But the honest truth is that most organizations don’t know how to best build community and to get the most out of these tools, and until now we (at Change.org) have done a pretty poor job in giving them guidance. We’re changing this starting next week, when our community manager, Heather Mansfield, is going to start sending around best practices. She’s also started giving Web 2.0 trainings in several cities, and we’re going to be having weekly training sessions for new nonprofits that sign up for Change.org starting in December. (Incidentally, I had the pleasure of meeting Katya Andresen for the first time last week, and she stressed how important providing training had become to making sure their clients were able to make best use of the donation, email, and tracking tools they provide.)

2. Structural:

In addition to giving nonprofits strategic advice, we’ve tried to make sure that our platform is structured to be minimally resource demanding for organizations. There’s no doubt that some amount of time investment is important to make these networks work, but that time investment can very dramatically based on the features of a network. For example, having something like a discussion forum on your network will inevitably demand a significant amount of time, both to monitor and (more likely) seed with content on a regular basis. But for most organizations discussion forums don’t make a lot of sense, and aren’t worth the time investment. This is why the default setting is not to have discussion forums on nonprofit communities on Change.org (instead nonprofits have a blogging tool, which is easier to manage). The desire to minimize resource demands is also why we’ve opted for interconnecting all of the nonprofit social networks on Change.org rather than offering these as entirely independent communities (which would require each organization to provide much more content and activity to sustain). Overall, our aim is to structure things so that nonprofits can sustain an active community while dedicating only 1 hour per week, so long as they have the proper strategy in place. (That said, it's also naturally the case that the more time an organization spends, the more engaged their supporter base will be and the more likely they will be to achieve their goals - i.e. more supporters, more money and more actions.)

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