Nonprofit social networks: Is quantity trumping quality?

July 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm Leave a comment

I recently completed an exhaustive clearing out of Facebook “friends,” and I have to admit, it was pretty refreshing. Refreshing like cleaning out an old pile of mail that includes expired coupons, already-paid bills and never-to-be-opened direct mail letters (don’t mention that to the rest of the development department at my non-profit). Refreshing like getting rid of piles of never-to-be-worn clothes. Refreshing like … getting rid of old clutter.

I have nothing against many of the people I defriended. Many were pretty nice individuals when they became my Facebook friends, and likely still are. But I realized over the past week that even though my friend total was pretty healthy, the value of my network wasn’t that great. As fun as it is to peek in on old dorm acquaintances and random classmates from high school, I realized I didn’t really want them in my network. I wanted my network to include people I actually corresponded with, people I wanted to follow because I was truly interested in their updates, people who added value to my network.

I’ve done the same thing with Twitter, blocking spammers and advertisers when they attempt to follow me.

This overhaul of my personal networks triggered some thoughts on nonprofit networks. Lately, my organization has felt the pressure to grow our network and specifically focus on that big, looming number of followers. Goals have been framed in the context of “we have XX number of followers on Twitter, let’s get more,” or, “we need more fans on Facebook.”

In my opinion, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong about having this type of goal. After all, the more followers your social network has, the more visibility you get and the more opportunities you have to reach out to more audiences.

And, in the case of my organization, we don’t have one social media guru. We’re all busy with our main projects and responsibilities, so our social media “strategy” is partly comprised of a milieu of many strategies from people who happen to have the time to dive into our social networks and post something.

However, what if, in the case of my personal social networks, the quality of the network remains stagnant? What if, in the flurry of gathering fans, followers and friends, a nonprofit’s network gets filled with a bunch of spam bots and non-active members? This type of network won’t end up helping a nonprofit much, because it won’t respond to action requests and its members won’t help get the word out to others.

In short, counting ROI by simply counting the number of followers will only work up to a certain point.

Craig Stoltz blogged about a similar and amusing situation in his blog “Web2.Oh…really?” that occurred when he Tweeted about SEO and subsequently acquired a number of automatic follows. Clearly, these SEO bots aren’t going to help the quality of an organization’s network.

I’m not suggesting nonprofits do what I recently did to my Facebook profile – that is, start deleting members. But I do think network quality something nonprofits have to start considering now that so many different players have entered the social media arena. Sure, your organization may have a million Twitter followers. But are you seeing any ROI from those followers? Or are they simply spam bots that responded to certain words you Tweeted previously?

Some bloggers in the nonprofit tech community have done a great job summarizing strategies to calculate social network ROI – something that’s very different from calculating the ROI of an email address or a direct mail address, simply because the data is less concrete and not necessarily easy to find. A few good places to start are:

And to any of you who were Facebook friends with me and have suddenly found yourselves booted off, don’t be offended. Just blame it on ROI.

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Entry filed under: Non-profit technology. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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