Tag Archives: socialnetworks

we’re the young generation

The New York Times reported the other day on the growing use of virtual worlds by young children, who are getting engaged in record numbers on sites like webkinz.com, Club Penguin (A Disney site that looks like Habbo), Pixie Hollow (another Disney site), and Nicktropolis (a Nickelodeon virtual world).

As a nonprofit technologist, I’m interested in

  1. What social networks children are getting involved in on the web, because this is teaching them what to expect the web to do for them
  2. What parents need to feel comfortable with their kids’ online engagement
  3. How these children might use social networks (existing or yet-to-be-built) to learn about philanthropy and support causes that matter to them.

What Is It?

Of course, the virtual worlds discussed in the Times article are easily recognizable as just generationally-adapted (and VERY carefully moderated) social networks, as they share the basic components of any social network:

  1. The ability to create your own avatar, or profile
  2. The ability to customize your “home” or profile page
  3. The ability to interact with peers, both asynchronously and in real-time

Why Does It Work?

From a kid’s point of view, it’s characters and worlds that they want to be a part of. They see a popular movie or cartoon, and they want to extend the experience. From a parent’s point of view, it’s a trusted brand.

In this case, both Disney and Nickelodeon put information right on the front page for parents, explaining what the site is about, how it is moderated and vetted for safety, addresses concerns about fees and permissions, and gives parents a contact form or email for answers to any other questions.

So on both sides of the user-end, it’s about trust. Again, no big surprises.

What Does It Mean for Charities?

Obviously, not every charity can (or should) create a virtual world. The lessons here are larger-scale than that. What I’m learning is that:

  1. Kids are getting involved in record numbers on social networks
  2. They are drawn to SocNets that are created with them in mind
  3. Parents are willing to allow participation because of lessons the industry has learned about privacy, safety, transparency, and trust.

In meantime, more and more parents and educators are teaching their kids about philanthropy and social action at a very early age. At the same time, charities are struggling to adapt to the new web, to engage the folks who are online and using social networks. There is also considerable concern about where the next generation of nonprofit leadership will come from.

Today’s kids are the activists, donors, and leaders of tomorrow. And no, not ten or twenty years from now, but literally: tomorrow. Every month or so I come across a story in the news about a third-grader who used the web to send aid oversees, or a 12-year-old who rallied support for a local cause through the savvy use of technology.

I’m curious:

  • How does your charity’s web presence make it easy for youth to get involved?
  • How does it address issues of privacy, trust, and transparency?
  • How are you working to turn young activists into future leaders?

thirst for knowledge, appetite for change

I’ve been thinking about Jeremiah’s recent Utter, his post on paying yourself first and about how we get where we eventually go.

Jeremiah asks if we are moving too fast in the Social Media Sphere.  My answer – for me – is (1) No, and (2) Maybe.


As Chris Brogan urged us to recently, I took a moment to step back, pause, and reflect on why I use social media, what I think I am getting out of it, and what the actual effect has been on my life. 

In response to Chris’s questions, I know why I connect on social networks.  I have very clearly defined goals and reasons behind that.  These things really put the wind in my sails, and I want keep going and see where this thing will take me.

About six months ago, I committed to spending more time and effort exploring the things online that really jazz me.  This includes just about everything that comes under the term New Media, or Web 2.0.  I’m pretty passionate about my work, too, so I’m naturally interested in seeing how these new technologies can advance the mission of my organization and organizations like mine.

So, in a pretty short span of time, I have attended three conferences relevant to these interests, and presented (on web 2.0 for nonprofits) at one of them.  I’ve made an effort to meet and connect meaningfully with the people whose work I admire.  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on building a new network, both online and in person, to support and reflect the interests that really spin my wheels.

But in the process, am I losing touch with the non-tech Real Life world that surrounds me, with the reality that MOST of the folks I see every day don’t even feel that comfortable with email?  To them, I must seem like a multi-tentacled alien from outer space.  Which brings me to


Only one month ago, I gave a presentation on web 2.0 tools for nonprofits at a regional conference for the philanthropy sector.  Out of about 125, there were two bloggers in the room.  Five who read blogs.  The blogs they cited were old media blogs – like the blog of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, etc.  Several folks approached me after the session to say they had no idea blogs weren’t just for kids and stalkers “anymore,” and that they would certainly look into this blog business now.

As I go zipping along, lapping up as much knowledge as possible on the trends and movements of things SocNet-ish, adopting what makes sense to me or intrigues me, and dropping less intriguing things as I go, I wonder how far ahead of my Real Life world I am leaping, and how that might damage my ability to talk sensibly about new media to the decision makers in that RL world.

When I taught geology to undergrads at Syracuse (in my former life as a paleontologist and aspiring academic), I worked hard to keep the content of my presentations at an approachable, yet intriguing level.  It’s tough to hit just the right note of tension between delivering the information at the level the audience is at right now, and offering a glimpse behind the “advanced” curtain to see how amazing and interesting and COOL things get once you’ve got the basics down.

The point is, we all have to memorize the formula for apatite and feldpsar and dolomite before we could even think of making sense of an outcrop of rocks.  (I had the best mneumonic device for apatite, to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Show theme song.  Maybe I’ll utter it later…)

I’ve gotten pretty good at carving out time to feed my own interests – creating and maintaining this blog being one singular example, as my old blog just wasn’t serving my needs anymore – but I think I might need to spend some more time with the folks around me in (the internet equivalent of) Rocks for Jocks.  Help them out a little with the Moh’s Scale.  Tell a few corny jokes. Sing them a little song

Or at least remain aware of where they are now, and not confuse and disorient them by speaking in foriegn tongues.  The community that I am trying to serve at work is, by and large, tech-resistant or tech-laggards.  It’s really important to meet the people where they are now, and try to offer them something of tangible value to their lives as they are living them now. 

Why?  Because I’m purporting to be a community builder in some ways.  (I have my online community, with whom I hardly ever enjoy facetime, and my RL community, with whom I get nothing but.

My mother remains resistant to my attempts to keep in touch with her via twitter.)

However, there being only so many hours in the day… where should I spend my time and energies? 

Should I change my habits to match my surroundings (spend more time with the tech-laggards, work on bridging the digital divide in my area, etc.)?  Or change my surroundings to match my habits (travel more, go to more conferences of like-minded people, collaborate more on tech projects that interest me)?

What do you think?

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.

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