state of the debate: build or join

Brian Oberkirk’s recently posted advice to brands considering launching their own social networks (in short: don’t) has made the rounds in the nonprofit technology blogosphere, mostly thanks to the incredibly useful nptech tag (add this to your RSS feed now if you want to follow other practitioners and thinkers in this field).

It’s another volley in the ongoing debate over brands (companies, organizations, nonprofits, membership groups, etc.) building their own versus joining an existing social network.

I weighed in on this topic (twice) back in November, when I suggested that it depends on what your organization’s most pressing goals are, but that a good starting strategy for many groups would be to test the waters of existing social networks by trying to achieve one or two simple, quantifiable goals. Then you can decide from there how to proceed.

I even created a couple of decision trees (with help from Beth Kanter and Kevin Gamble) to help think through this decision.

Jeremiah Owyang delves deeply into this question on his blog, most recently in the form of an audio podcast in which he debates the question with colleagues Ted Shelton and Chris Heuer, both of The Conversation Group, and Brian Oberkirk.

Beth Kanter also recently touched on this question of Build or Join in her recent interview with Jonathan Coleman, Associate Director of Digital Marketing for The Nature Conservancy. Jonathan says:

…another principle strategy of ours {is} connecting with people where they are rather than making {them} find us. Like many organizations, we used to be under the false impression that “if you build it, they will come.” But nowadays, we’ve come to think different about how we conduct outreach. Rather than force people to come to our site and remember another username and password, we’re happy to find them where they’re already engaged and introduce them to the Conservancy in venues of their choice.

Just like with any venture into new technology, nonprofits need to think carefully about what resources they have available to dedicate to implementing a social networking strategy. Whether you build or join, it’s a commitment to maintaining a meaningful presence in your online community. The rewards can be great, but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that it won’t take time, money, and care.

Fortunately, there are some very smart people out there who can help. I’ve linked to several of them in this post — who else has something compelling to say on the subject these days? What’s your latest thinking on the subject?

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4 responses to “state of the debate: build or join

  1. well…if that’s a direct quote, it’s missing ‘them’ as in make ‘them’ find us.
    :)

    otherwise, it’s 2am and i got nothin. but your picture captures you beautifully!

  2. Nita! So nice to see you on this side of the screen. Do come back often (and thanks)!

  3. Great blog, Beth, found you through the other Beth! I am here in NJ advocating for the arts. We just lost $5.9 mil in state funding yesterday. We have an active capwiz website for public to voice their support to local legislators. I want to reach all in NJ who care about the arts and engage in social networking. We have a cause page on Facebook and a myspace page. I need simple strategies to reach out. Any quick tips?

  4. Ann Marie – thanks for commenting! I’d love to hear more about what you’d like to achieve –what action you want people to take once you reach them. e me at elibates14 {at} gmail {dot} com

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