Tag Archives: myspace

why nonprofits should care about bebo & aol

Nonprofits have a hard enough time determining if, when, and how they should get shaking on Facebook or MySpace, the two massive players in the United States social networking space.

Now comes news that AOL has acquired Bebo, a popular social network in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, but a bit of an also-ran in the States, and nptechies in the US will be forgiven if their response borders on the “so what” or “please shut up” side of things.

Charlene Li at Forrester Research analyzes what the deal means for the future of social networking, and Kara Swisher breaks down the numbers a bit, if you’re into that sort of thing.

But even if you’re not interested in the numbers, don’t lose sight of these numbers:

AOL users still number in the 40 millions (remember that this includes the still-popular AIM and ICQ instant messaging services). And a committed core of users is, in fact, still loyal to the walled garden AOL community that made the company successful in the 1990’s.

If AOL can successfully integrate a true social network into its core community, then this will introduce an otherwise somewhat internet-shy group of users to the culture and mores of social networks. This integration would have the effect of making social networks more mainstream to these older, more tech-resistant groups.

“Older” and “more tech-resistant” describes the core donor base of many nonprofits today.

So it makes sense for the nonprofits to whom these donors are important to become fluent in that culture as well.


Ceci n’est pas une pipe

One of the news articles I tagged for re-reading last week was this one from the Wall Street Journal — it’s from August 2007, but was recently tagged by somebody with the nptech tag.

The article includes a nice round-up of online places — social networks and other tools — that young people have been using for charitable and philanthropic endeavors. I’m especially interested in the evolution of sites like DonorsChoose.org and Kiva.org, because I think these person-to-person charity and micro-loan networks are among the most compelling new developments in philanthropy in a long time.

Because I work so much with artists and cultural organizations, I’m naturally curious about how this type of philanthropy could be tweaked to benefit these groups.

Sure, you can donate art supplies directly to an art teacher on DonorsChoose.org. But what about a new fire escape to the children’s theater down the road? Or framing and mounting supplies to the new artists’ co-op downtown?

I’d love to see something that connected donors and individual artists and smaller cultural organizations like this. Bigger cultural organizations have online donation systems, capital fund drives, and special earmarking funds. But a lot of small nonprofit arts organizations just know that their pipes just burst, and if they don’t fix them stat, they’ll have to cancel the next five months’ worth of children’s music/dance/drama classes.

For example.

The other thing that jumped out at me in the WSJ article was the bit at the end about the Salvation Army’s attempt to join the fray on MySpace, with a profile page for a character/personification of the brand called “Red Kettle.”

It so happens that I am reading Naked Conversations right now (finally), so this reminded me right away of the case study they made of Claire, the brand-personification of Vichy (L’Oreal) that “wrote” a blog for a brief, ill-fated time. Here’s the section of the book that talks about Claire.

Notice that it’s in the chapter entitled “Doing It Wrong.”

If there’s one thing that’s true about the new media, it’s that truthfulness and transparency are paramount. Even if you’re transparently personifying a brand, as with a cartoon character or whatnot, and you expect everyone to be in on the joke, it just doesn’t ring true.

A brand isn’t a person. I know it’s a standard marketing exercise to figure out what kind of person a product would be if it were a person, but that’s exactly where it should end: as an exercise. At least where social media are concerned.

The interwebs are now populated by People. Real, living, breathing people who, more and more, use their real names and faces and interact as real people. With other real people.

A brand isn’t my friend (or fan) on FaceBook. A brand isn’t someone I will follow on Twitter. A brand isn’t, in short, a person. It’s an abstract idea. Same goes for a product. A car is a car. A pipe is a pipe. A cigar is, in fact, just a cigar.

What doesn’t work in blogging also doesn’t work on social networking sites. If you want to promote your product, or your brand, you, or your CEO, or the guy in the cubicle down the hall who helped develop it, should write a blog, should build a profile, should twitter. As yourself/himself/herself.

Be who you are. Authenticity is legal tender.

social media logic models

So I spent the day after Thanksgiving wrestling with logic models, which is way more fun than doing the dishes.  If you want to cut to the chase and see what I made (two logic models for nonprofts considering using social networks) just click here.

My last post on social networks and decision trees was picked up by Beth Kanter, who wanted to see a logic model developed for nonprofits considering engagement in social network sites (SNSs); Amy Sample Ward, who was kind enough to back up my somewhat vague assertions with cold hard data; and Kevin Gamble, who shared his organization’s experience with trying to launch a custom site (based on Elgg) while simultaneously experimenting with creating a community on Facebook, and the surprising results.

Kevin recommends that we think about where the people are already assembled – if they are already gathering on an existing SNS, then his experience suggests that it is far easier to just build your community there.

I think this is true – but he does mention that his constituency is largely  progressive, which I am going to take here as meaning, at least in part, tech-savvy.  Or at least tech-willing.

How do you make an assessment about where to build community if your constituency is tech-resistant?

As I said in my original post, I think you have to be forward-thinking about this.  It is very easy to say my constituency isn’t on social networks. But what about in five years?  In ten?

That’s why I think it’s important to take some of that cold hard data and build a matrix of some sort that would allow people to input their constituency demographics (60% female, 35-50, and white-collar, say) and see what sort of participation this segment currently enjoys on exisiting SNSs, what the trend is, and predict out from there.  There’s not a TON of data, but there is some.

If one were really crafty, one could make it into a widget, an online calculator of sorts, where you could just answer a few questions about the basic make-up of your audience (either the one you have OR the one you wish you had), then click a “submit” button, and get a nice little read-out of how those folks are using the social web, and how that usage is expected to trend in the future.

Wouldn’t that be helpful?

So I decided to take a stab at creating a logic model to help think through some of the issues of time, money, resources, mission advancement, and measurement that arise when one wonders if one’s organization should get involved in social network sites.

I agree wholeheartedly with Amy’s assertion that the question is no longer Should we network? but How should we network?  However, I’ve had more than my share of the Koolaid on this here dude ranch, so I thought it would be useful to walk people through that decision for themselves. 

So I roughed out two draft logic models, based on this recently discussed logic model tool:

  1. Should my organization use a Social Networking Site?
  2. Should my organization use a custom or an existing Social Networking Site?

I’ve posted them on Beth’s wiki for social media metrics, so head on over and have a look if you’d like.  If you’d like to suggest changes, edits, improvements, either request an invitation to the wiki or leave a comment here.

  Add Small Dots to your feed reader…

social networks, walled gardens, and decision trees

Once again, it would appear that Beth Kanter is reading my mind.  Or at least my email!  Not two hours after I had a meeting to discuss the pros and cons of rolling out an organization-specific social network, I found this post in my feed reader.

She raises the question of whether or not it makes sense for nonprofits – especially small or medium nonprofits – to roll out self-contained social networks, rather than just go ahead and use, in whatever limited way, the big box SoNets we all already know and love, like Facebook, MySpace, and the like.

Three key points jumped right out at me, because they were practically verbatim the main topics of the conversation I had just been having with my web development folks:

  1. Facebook and MySpace are only good for reaching younger supporters.
  2. Custom SoNets offer branding and data integration that you can’t get on those sites
  3. Most organizations’ donors aren’t on those sites anyway.

This seems like circular thinking to me, to be honest.  Of course most of your current donors aren’t on Facebook and MySpace – it’s still a pretty new thing for most of the population.  However, most internet usage has historically been led by the young and the early adopters, followed – in time – by the rest of the general population.

When your constituency finally makes it to Facebook, MySpace, or whatever global site we are using in 5 to 8 years, don’t you want to be there when they go looking for you?

And don’t you want to be already quite good at it?

I take a long view of the return on investment in social networks.  It’s like learning to conjugate your French verbs or memorizing the multiplication table:  At the time, it seems like a waste of time and utterly impractical.

But one day, when you’re scrambling for the right bon mot in an interview, or need to rapidly figure out just how many blasted seats you need at your tables of ten at your next big fat fundraiser, the knowledge is THERE.  It’s just there, ready to be used.

The time when you need to be fluent is NOT the time to start learning the language.

And, just like learning French, immersion is often the best method.  You just have to get out there and hack away, atrocious accent and all, until you get the hang of it.

So, first of all, I believe that it is just a matter of time until most of our constituents are all over Facebook, etc.  As it is, right now there are Boomers swarming all over MySpace.  And we should be there to greet them.

Second, you have to make a decision about whether or not you are content to only reach your current members.  Although it may be true that most of your members are not currently using SoNets, could not those who are using SoNets be your next obvious target market?

I work with a lot of cultural organizations, like opera companies, theaters, and symphonies, and these groups have long bemoaned the aging of their audience.  Eventually, all of our current constituencies are going to age up.  Smart organizations will have a plan for recruiting the next generation of audience members, supporters, and donors.

All this having been said, I find the idea of rolling out a custom Social Network very intriguing indeed.  And I am intrigued for all the reasons Beth talks about in her post:

  1. I want to integrate the data I am getting from web users with the data I am getting from my members offline.  I want, in short, to put a face with the IP address.
  2. I want to customize the experience to the particular needs and interests of my organization’s constituency, so that I can further our mission, not Facebook’s mission.
  3. I want to brand the heck out of it.

And our constituency is older and rather tech-resistant.  However, they have increasingly been voicing their desire for more online delivery of services (online grant applications, online tutorials and webinars, online resource sharing and collaboration). 

Are they saying We want a social network?

Of course not.

But is a custom social network a potentially powerful and practical way to build the core around which these services can be provided?

I think so.

You want clear objectives and a measurable way of gauging our success?  I’m going to suggest we stick with what we know: Advance Our Mission.

For us, this may simply boil down to increased service delivery.  We have a set menu of programs we offer our members – how can a custom social network help us increase the reach and grasp of these programs?

We can easily enough look at what our current numbers are along such metrics as:

  1. Number of grant applications received
  2. Number enrolled in workshops and classes
  3. Number assisted through collaborative marketing
  4. Number of members renewing each year (in as much as this implies satisfaction with service delivery)

And there are many more – these are just a few.  Then we can measure those numbers again after a year on a custom social network.

And finally, I hope that I can find somebody to design a site that will be able to take part in the OpenSocial wave of the next few years.  Whether the site is based on Ning or some other platform, it should be built on open enough architecture to allow for widgets to be built and used on your site.  Otherwise, you run the risk of creating yet another silo of information – yet another walled garden.

And good God, do those things get weedy.


So, what were those main points again, from way back at the beginning of the post?

  1. Facebook and MySpace are only good for reaching younger supporters.
  2. Custom SoNets offer branding and data integration that you can’t get on those sites
  3. Most organizations’ donors aren’t on those sites anyway.

What if we changed that to:

  1. Facebook and MySpace are good for reaching younger supporters
  2. It’s likely that usage by oldsters will increase over time
  3. It would be great to reach those younger, tech-savvy audiences we are currently not reaching
  4. It’s clear that our organization should be fluent in the language, etiquette, and mores of Social Networks
  5. Let’s consider developing some small, manageable project – suited to our mission, strategic plan, and budget – that might be obtainable by getting started on a big box social network.


  1. A custom social network might fulfill different needs and desires, such as better branding, more custom features, and improved data integration
  2. We could improve our services to our current members
  3. We could help introduce our more tech-resistant constituents to the language, etiquette, and mores of social networks by giving them a safe, familiar place to get started
  4. Let’s see if building a custom social network fits our mission, our strategic plan,  and our budget.

The most important thing is to keep our mission firmly in sight at all times.  Resist mission creep!

at first blush: one nonprofit’s response to web 2.0

Interesting.  I made a presentation on web 2.0 tools for nonprofits, mostly just touching on blogs, photosharing, and social networks.  Before the presentation, I would have predicted that the most readily adopted tool would be blogging, then photosharing, then social networks.

 This was based mostly on my perception of the current mainstream comfort level with these technologies and with these methods of conveying an organizational presence online.   I felt that blogs had been around the longest, had gotten a lot of press over the years, and especially in the last presidential election, had made real strides in becoming accepted as a valid media form.  It seemed like a short conceptual hop from let’s send out a press release and hope people publish it to let’s just publish the damn thing ourselves.

Then I figured Pictures!  Who doesn’t like pictures!  Again, it seemed a natural leap.  Most organizations are used to creating and deploying images to further their public relations.  Tools like flickr offer a free and easy way to get your images out there in the community, to invite comment and engagement, and to hopefully create a network and a community around your cause and brand.

The tool I expected the most resistance to was social netowrks like Facebook and MySpace.  I felt that these sites had a bad reputation among older, less technically-inclined folks, and that there would be a great deal of skepticism about the usefulness – and even the appropriateness – of using these sites to promote an organization.

I was off by a little.  Here’s what I heard:

Social Networks

  • We can use this right away.  We need more young people engaged in our organization, we want to recruit young vounteers, interns, and entry-level employees.  Creating a page on MySpace or Facebook seems like a great way to do this.


  • We’re concerned about rights, use, and attribution with this model of distribution.  More information on how copyright is handled on Flickr in particular, and online in general, and especially on the Creative Commons movement, should be included in this presentation.


  • We’re concerned about the long-term maintenance of a blog, both in terms of staff time allocation and staff skill in creating and maintaining engaging and relevant content.  Blogs seem like a great idea, but they seem like they need a great deal of care and feeding.

Interesting, no? 

I wonder what patterns of acceptance other nonprofit technology advocates are seeing, and how it matches up with their expectations and preconceptions.  Anyone care to chime in?