There is a member round up over at the NTEN blog that points to a blog post where TechSoup discusses a new report that suggests the appeal -- and therefore organizational usefulness -- of social media networks may be declining. I agree that it means organizations need to think strategically about how they use social media, but I'm not sure I agree with social networks are becoming "old" technology in a hurry. (hat tip to Leyla Farah for the pointer)
First, it's okay to just say no to social networking, particularly if there are more pressing organizational needs. With that said, you may find yourself ready to jump in. But don't just jump off the cliff. As Jeremiah Owyang who summarized the challenges mentioned in a comment, "Please note, that each of these challenges can and will be overcome, plans and strategies just need to be laid out."
Maybe we don't yet have the best practices for GTD on social networking, but some people have learned some secrets to effective networking. Alex De Carvalho suggested in the comments that "From my experience, another challenge is people tend to expect immediate results after starting to use a social network. They tend to underestimate the personal and corporate learning curve to using social media; results generally take months, not weeks. As in so many things, the challenge is how to manage expectations and measure results."
I pushed Alex to unpack his thoughts about managing expectations, and while he doesn't work in the nonprofit sector, I thought his insights were valuable and wanted to pull these up from the comments in the last thread:
-Discussing and setting objectives at the outset, and not just quantitative objectives. Figure out what is measurable and be sure to include the systems to track progress. If systems to track qualitative results are not in place, then keep a journal and also be sure to share positive and negative feedback from customers with the organization.
-Customer (Client) Service is Key: When you reach out to people, you're breaking down the membrane that exists between your customers and your organization. This means that people will give feedback about what's working and more importantly, what's not. Be sure to have a system in place to deal with these problems and requests. Customer service is key, and social media changes the feedback loop by multiplying customers' access to the organization.
-Determine goals first and break them out into short-, medium- and long-term. Don't get into social media if you're not planning to stick with it over the long-term.
-Learn how to listen and spend a long time listening. So much of advertising, marketing and PR has been about broadcasting crafted messages to consumers (and then managing feedback though outsourced centers thousands of miles away!). Social Media is about conversations and relationships. Someone said "Information is a noun; to inform is a verb". To inform is a social activity: people pay attention to those they trust. If you don't listen to people, they will not trust you.
-Hire people who are familiar with and have been using social media; they're most likely to understand online culture and behaviors and to be competent in the technologies (for instance, blogging). Most importantly, they're already up on the learning curve and can train the rest of the organization.
-Hire people who are part of the community. They understand the product, the company, the industry and are respected by their community. They're change agents for the company and evangelists with their peers. Understand that they're in between a rock and a hard place, because they're bridging the gap between the company's priorities and the community's interests. Trust these people and address their concerns. Set expectations with them, but don't treat them as buffers or they'll burn out because of company inaction.
-Give your community managers the tools to measure the micro stuff, down to the individual level. Top executives love to see macro figures and set new types of equations. Community managers need day-to-day operational data about the activity of individual customers. Who left a comment where? Who is friending others? Who's activity is going up or down? It's only by seeing this type of activity at the individual level that community managers can act to get in touch with these individuals, learn what's working and not recognize valuable community members. Macro figures won't give you that.
-Finally, review and revise the objectives with time and learn what to measure and not. As you go up the experience curve in social media, what you thought was important is not, and vice-versa.
This is a really rich comment Alex, thank you. There's enough here for a blog post on each one of these points to translate it to nonprofits. The first point about measurement, Paul Hyland is working on this right now and just blogged some thoughts here.
What are your suggestions for translating some of these points for nonprofits?