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12 Tips for Social Ventures and Nonprofits

Social Networking Is Investment in the Future
By Joanne Fritz,

Sites such as MySpace and FaceBook could be a nonprofit's dream market - millions of users engaging in activities and all interconnected.

But just setting up shop and collecting "friends" will not necessarily result in donors and supporters. Sarah DiJulio and Marc Ruben co-authored a chapter in the book, People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities,, Wiley, 2007. They provide information from a guide to the "lingo" of social sites, to an approach to planning your entry into social networking.

We have adapted DeJulio and Ruben's guide to getting started with social networking:

1. Pick the right social networks.
Don't just pick sites based on the size of the network. Other communities may be smaller but more effective for your organization. It may pay to start small, with one to three social networks, rather than trying to take the entire virtual world by storm all at once.

2. Find an 'expert' to help you.
Look around your organization or community for someone who has experience with social networking. It might be a young staffer, an intern, a volunteer. Get that person involved so you won't be starting from 'scratch.'

3. Extend your reach.
Select a social network and then use a 'scattershot' approach. That is, don't just set up a profile. Create a group as well and attract more supporters that way. On Facebook, for instance, you can be a group and/or an event. Just make sure you understand the rules of the site. For a fee, some social sites will allow you to become an official sponsor of a group or community. This might be worth experimenting with. Many large companies, such as Victoria's Secret and Apple, sponsor groups.

4. Prepare to lose control.
There is no way you can vet every word of every person who wants to be your friend or join your social networking group. If you or your lawyers are not comfortable with that fact, social networking probably is not for you. You can set up an approval process for 'comments' that people post but if you go this route, make sure the approval process is reasonable and fast.

5. Know who is already pretending to be you.
There may be MySpace or Facebook groups for your organization that you did not set up such as unofficial profiles created by enthusiastic supporters. If you find such a profile, reach out to that person. He or she may be a committed supporter who might be willing to promote your content.

6. Make a good first impression.
Try to 'wow' your 'friends' right off the bat. Make your profile look good. Control what your organization will look like on other people's friend lists--pick a great picture and title that will get noticed.

7. Post your edgiest, most viral content.
Social networks are at their best when people are passing content around and they will only pass yours around if it is creative. Come up with jazzy profile names, use video or Flash animation. If it does not make you think 'Cool!' then it is probably not viral and you need to go back to the drawing board. You might do better with a campaign or a specific gimmick rather than just a generic page plugging your nonprofit. Look around, see what others are doing.

8. Find out which of your supporters are already on social networks.
Survey your members and find out who has MySpace profiles, Facebook accounts, or belong to other social networks. Send them an e-mail inviting them to become your friend or to join your group.

9. Communicate with your social network friends on a regular basis.
Update your pages with new content. Use MySpace 'bulletins' and Facebook 'notes' on other users' profiles to get the word out on important issues and drive people to your page. Don't be 'static.' Be dynamic.

10. Devote staff time to making your social networking effort a success.
Assign a staff person to accept friend requests, post comments on other people's pages, and invite others to become friends. That is what social networking is all about.

11. Activate your social network supporters.
Eventually you will want to start turning your 'friends' into activists, donors, and volunteers. Make sure your social networking pages always feature lots of opportunities to get involved. Also include donation opportunities on your social networking pages. Even if you do not raise much in the short run, it helps to set expectations for the future.

Be specific when you do ask your friends to do something for your organization. And always let people know what happened at an event or with a campaign even if they did not participate. They might get involved the next time.

12. Think of social networking as an investment in the future.
The mostly young people you will dealing with are your donors and supporters of tomorrow. Get into the game now and learn how to use social media or you might be left behind for good.

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Tags: 12 Tips, Nonprofit, Social Venture

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