Now that user-generated content—blogs, video, discussion groups, chats, and so forth—is the norm and users expect their Web experience to provide interactivity in addition to information, many nonprofits are faced with deciding when and how to use on-line social networking as part of their Web presence.
The simple brochureware site (one that just contains information about the organization) and direct donation site of the past are no longer enough. Fortunately, it is not necessary to build your own on-line social networking site. But you do need to know how to become part of an existing community, and tie it to your existing Web presence, to use social networking effectively.
The great promise of on-line social networking is in being able to have a two-way dialogue with an engaged population in a way that is not possible using only traditional media outlets. As every nonprofit knows, it is hard to get press in traditional outlets—a great deal of time and money is spent in an often fruitless attempt to get coverage.
The greater burden, however, is trying to be heard in a cluttered and chaotic Web. Although the ease of access to social networking tools does a great job of leveling the playing field, it makes that field very cluttered.
As a result, before you decide to enter the world of social networking, it is essential to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, how to find the audience you are trying to reach, and then to invest the time and money necessary to do so effectively.