Braving the Fast Lane on the Social Networking Infobahn

by Buzz Harris, Executive Director, Development Resource Center

It’s Wednesday in the digital workplace. You’re a Luddite. An anxious Luddite. One of the office twentysomethings is in urgent monologue with you about “Web Two-Point-Oh.” Your digital footprint is “so 1995” and you need a “MyFace” account immediately! You’ve heard this before. You’ve read about it. And the kid is smart.

What’s a manager a shade greyer than the cybergeneration to do? First, don’t panic. Yes there is a new generation of marketing and communications tools out there: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, RSS feeds, and the fast-evolving Blog, among others. Your anxiety is natural. Society has hit one of those moments of rapid technological change when what was true for generations suddenly isn’t.

Nothing New Under the Sun

It’s 1439 all over again, and Johan Gutenberg’s printing press has all the scriveners in a tizzy! They’d just adjusted to pamphleteers flooding the streets with thousands of handbills (the blogs of their day) when Moveable Type 2.0 brought out newspapers. The post-medieval younger set was all over them.

So you’re driving an old Citroën 2C “Double Horse” down the Infobahn; how do you merge left? First decide why you want to. Are you looking to raise your organization’s profile?, attract donors?, recruit volunteers? We stress to our students that they shouldn’t jump in without knowing their goal(s).

Getting Started

Start with a blog (short for “Web Log”). It’s a place for posting documents, news analysis, activist alerts, newsletter articles, imbedded videos, and anything else you like. We call it “content,” and it’s key to your success. Your content should be useful, interesting, and updated at least two to three times a week. New blog material will keep your constituents interested and make them visit often. It should also be framed to move them toward your goal. Provide links in the text for people to volunteer or donate. Offer them the chance to register for an event or receive your e-newsletter. Draw them in. Choose a blog site with high traffic and high visibility and link to it directly from your home page. We recommend WordPress to our students.

Directing Traffic

Use other social networking tools to steer people to your blog. Set up a “cause” page for your group on Facebook and update it regularly with snippets of your blog content. Use links to bring them to the blog for the full text. The search function on Facebook lets you find people that your staff and board members already know and invite them to become “friends.” Your cause page can (and should) be set up to allow donations directly from Facebook users. If your organization is focused on music and the arts do the same thing on MySpace. If you have many business and professional contacts then create a group profile on LinkedIn.

Twitter is a communications system that allows users to send short messages that are accessible to its million-plus subscribers. You can post questions for feedback, put out news of new blog content, and report what your group is up to. People express their interest in your Twitter entries by becoming “followers” on your Twitter profile. RSS feeds (“Real Simple Syndication”) allow those who click on an icon to be notified via email or text message of new content on your site. Remember, these digital outposts and communications tools are there to steer people to your blog. This is quite similar to good old-fashioned donor acquisition. Throw a net out into the digital sea and draw in those who are interested. Engage with them via your blog, email, invitations to events, etc. to bring them closer and create a relationship between them and your group. Get them invested. Figure out your goal(s) for these tools, research existing content in each of them that relates to your group’s work, and jump in! To learn more see Beth Kanter’s informative blog.

Buzz Harris is the Executive Director of the Development Resource Center, whose mission is to teach the fundamentals of successful fundraising and governance to nonprofits and NGO’s. The DRC offers inexpensive, web-based distance-learning and in-person courses on fundraising and board service. This spring the DRC will begin offering a new class on social networking media for nonprofits.  Buzz can be reached at

NOTE: This article was originally published on the Nonprofit Conversation blog.


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