Monday, December 29, 2008

Working with Social Media (1)

As a part of my ongoing study of online social media, I've been looking at YouTube (YT). I think there are some significant opportunities here for my organization (a major not-for-profit) to tap into a burgeoning communications phenomenon and build our brand significantly.

Most of what we see and hear of YT consists of independently uploaded videos from users to the YT home site. This is how hundreds (if not thousands) of organizationally-related pieces have already been posted on the YT site. There are other options for us, however.

1. We can integrate You Tube controls (widgets) into our own site(s) in an embedded player. This would bring some of the brand power of YT to our own advantage, giving visitors a familiar means of searching and playing back video. YT freely distributes the proprietary code (API) to make this possible. We'd use it to add a YT link and button to our public-facing site. This code can be applied to authenticated sites as well--allowing us to YT brand our video on the MyBSA site. In this option, we would upload our own videos to our own YT account. Their API also enables commenting and rating, which would add powerfully to the value of both our authenticated and public sites.

2. We may be able to establish a BSA-branded site under YouTube itself. Here, we could build the BSA brand by exploiting the YT brand even more fully. YT has a program for qualifying non-profits that allows them a self-branded spot on the You Tube Channel. The page would offer full YT functionality and content under our own control. There are additional options: taking donations (through am affordance in the Google API). And of course, offering a place to submit registration inquiries. A fine example of a non-profit adoption of this is the World Bank Channel ( This option needs to be applied for, and we have not done that as yet.

Both of these options allow us to leverage YT and our own sites to cross-plug one another. In the first option, we'd make our site somewhat more "mainstream" looking and functional. In the second, we'd use our YT video description field and branded banner URL to drive users to our public website, and link them back from there to our branded YouTube channel, all the while encouraging users to comment on what they see. All of this content would reside on the YT server.

Even though the YT component is "free", adopting either option will call for more intensive management of our online video assets than we currently afford ourselves. Aside from the work required to build the API into our site design, we'd be entering a post-broadcast use of video in which user feedback is encouraged and reported. We'd need to be very selective about what we post on our behalf, and we'd have to keep it fresh. The good news is that there is a lot of perfectly wholesome video out there, already being posted by our members and friends. Establishment of a YT window for video can help us project a positive image, coming not just from our professional ranks but from members. That’s what “movements” look like.

We have a similar opportunity at Flickr, for still images, and at FaceBook, to extend our reach via a popular online brand. In future papers, I’ll look at opportunities these and related social apps can provide.

An underlying assumption here is that our brand will benefit from collaboration with these widely used sites. Not only do YouTube and FaceBook reach a far broader audience than anything official coming out of our HQ, they tap into a very favorable demographic for recruiting among youth and young families. Appearing here can do a lot to shape our image among heavy online users.

But we will have to do more than just publish here. We’ll need to interact. Aside from an occasional press release our organization has little public voice. The CSE's Blog is the closest we’ve come to an ongoing presentation of ideas and interpretation of events. To date, we’ve chosen to limit this content to an internal professional audience. Why not re-tune the idea and enter into the public space with it? Why not add the occasional editorial from the President, or other prominent internal spokespersont? One concern that will be raised of course is the “ lightning rod” effect. Won’t this expose us to more criticism? Sure it will. But occasional criticism is the price of gaining public attention. We can’t run from that and expect to be considered part of “mainstream” American culture.

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