Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Party Rules Apply To Social Networks

A social network study released in April by NTEN, Common Knowledge, and The Port Network, Inc., reports that nonprofits are making increasing use of “commercial social networks” [defined as "online communities owned and operated by a corporation"] and “house social networks” [networking communities built on a nonprofit’s own website]. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace are cited as examples of “commercial social networks.” Presumably, house social networks” would include more traditional discussion groups where folks chitty chat.

The study shows that 80% of nonprofits who engage in commercial social networks use them primarily for “marketing.” No wonder few participants join or stay around. Marketing is a big no-no, if you talk to social media experts like Jason Baer, who keep trying tell us that the purpose of social networks is to be human and build a community. Let us not forget that a lot of the older “house social networks” [list serves and similar discussion groups] have done that brilliantly. Most of these older networks were never intended to market anything -- and, apparently, the participants like it the way. Here's a case in point.

An organization I know well launched a “bells and whistles” website not long ago – a new password-protected information center through which all industry knowledge would henceforth flow. The organization hyped the new website’s value on its 8-year-old [and beloved] list serve. A relatively ho-hum reaction ensued, except for one thing: Numerous queries poured into the list serve, each saying, “Well, how nice.. but that doesn’t mean we have to go to the new information center to access the list serve, does it?" ?

Wisely, the organization decided not to mess with the list serve (for now) -- which demonstrates, that, even with new media, the old virtues remain in place: Plan a party; invite compatible guests; keep the nourishment flowing; add some entertainment to move things along; leave the guests to themselves; and make mental notes on what worked and what didn't. But don't try to sell anything. That's a different kind of party [Tupperware, anyone?] and one to which a lot of people say, "Oh no.. I got an invitation!"

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