Thursday, January 15, 2009

Using FaceBook

How can our non-profit leverage the action in online social media?
As a part of our ongoing effort to keep up with the rapid developments in the digital world, our Management proposes a non-profit site at Facebook. This is just one of a series of ventures that can help build our brand and facilitate member activity at the local level. When added to our web publications and our recently introduced private Social Networking application, we think engagement with a number of publicly accessible social computing applications can advance the Scouting movement.

What is Facebook?
Facebook is a popular, free-access social networking website. It is privately owned and supported by advertising. Users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school, or any other affinity grouping to connect and interact with other people. Here, they introduce themselves: name, interests, activities, and biographical information. Users can identify others as “friends”, send them messages, and update a personal profile page. The site also allows posting of photos and video and has extensive (if not perfect) privacy features built in.

Why is Facebook important to us?
In a word, it’s huge. It currently boasts 36 million users in the US and a world user base of 136 million, and is rapidly growing. Web page ranking expert Alexia now rates Facebook as the 5th most popular web site in the world. Though the U.S. base is smaller than that of competitor MySpace, Facebook does not permit anonymous postings—one’s corporate or personal identity is central to one’s site. Users can let their profiles be fully public, or they can restrict viewing of their profile data and content to “friends” or users from the same affinity group.

Although usage is spreading into other demographics, Facebook has been most popular among younger adults and teens (the minimum age is 13). Although it can be used in a variety of ways, Facebook typically allows families and friends to maintain awareness and connection with one another when beyond reach physically or by telephone. The potential for use byour adult members and those over 13 could be substantial.

The fact is, we are already there. Our recent search of the site found 482 self-proclaimed members and several groups.

What will our presence on Facebook look like and what can it do?
Facebook has a free program that permits non-profit organizations to present themselves on self-branded sites to proclaim their mission, carry on discussions, and link back to their home websites, just as individual users can. This option has already been adopted by a wide range of organizations to build awareness and engagement with audiences that might not otherwise have located them on the web. Livestrong (cancer survivors) and National Public Radio are just two prominent users. Each tout their mission, invite interested Facebook users to become “friends” and link them over to their respective home sites. We’ve put together an initial presence of our own under the same program. While we won’t be opening the site to discussion, we can offer story content and links over to our public website, but perhaps most importantly, help visitors find others of our membership within the Facebook universe.

How can this help build the brand?
Clearly, a tie into Facebook is a tie into a new universe of users in what is for us a key demographic of youth and young parents, and the “network effect” is increased when we cross connect Facebook users with You Tube, and Twitter, increasing potential referrals to our recruiting sites and This more than just tweaking our “image”. Facebook pages allow users to "become a fan" of the individual, product, service, or concept presented. Pages are integrated with Facebook's advertising system, allowing page owners to easily advertise to Facebook's users. Owners can send updates to their fans, which shows up on their news feeds. They also have access to insights and analytics of their fan base. Virtual world activity can result in real-world socializing and results. Witness how the field of political organizing and fund-raising have be revolutionized by online media. Our members can experience the same effect.

Don’t we already have a social networking application?
Our own Social Networking, based on our Community Server license, is very flexible and offers a high level of security for communications among existing members. A Facebook presence does not compete, but complements it. Our own Facebook presence could very well lead members and organization employees to use this service if they wish. We assume however, that for most people, ours is just one of many dimensions of a full life. Most active members have non-member friends, family, and church and school affiliations. They support political parties, join sports teams, give to charities and play many other roles, all of which combine to create a complete social identity. A tool that includes us , but does not exclude these other realms allows them to communicate through a much richer interface. No man is an island, and none of our members can exhaust all of his or her social needs through our program alone.

How can this help our members?
Anything that lets members connect in the virtual world can help them coordinate their actual association activities. Facebook, along with these other burgeoning social applications can help our people connect this experience with the rest of their lives. It can help users share their experiences to others, supporting peer recruiting and peer-based (viral) public relations messaging. It could play a messaging role in local council campaigns, like popcorn sales or capital development, where non-members are involved, and could coordinate district and unit activities.

What’s Next?
We’ve decided to initiate the Facebook presence discreetly at first. Later, a higher-profile blast may be in order. We’ll monitor activity and learn from it. We’ve been studying a number of the more popular social applications to extend the network effect event further. We’ve identified two that we would like to establish presences as we move forward: You Tube (video sharing) and Twitter (micro-blogging and messaging). The web is a dynamic place these days. We’ll do our best to stay on top of it, confident that more opportunities will present themselves over time.

No comments: