February 15, 2010

8 tips for effective online networking

Tips, tricks, and tools for using and managing your social networks wisely

Beth KanterIs your organization considering setting up a profile on a social networking site? Are you wondering what tasks are involved, how much time it will take, and how you might streamline your efforts? Maybe your organization has established a presence on MySpace and is now contemplating adding one to Facebook. Perhaps you are wondering how you can juggle multiple profiles and still have time left to do other work.

As more and more organizations jump on the social networking bandwagon, people are seeking ways to make the time spent on these tools as efficient and fruitful as possible. I had the chance to survey several nonprofit professionals and social networking mavens about their social networking habits. The tips below, taken from their responses, offer suggestions for effectively managing your profiles and contacts on social networking sites, finding people with relevant interests to your nonprofit or professional goals, working between multiple social networking sites, and getting the most out of social networking tools even if you’re not a Web designer or techie.

1. Invest time in your network

While most online social networks cost nothing for your organization to join, keep in mind that creating a strong online presence on one can require an investment of up to two hours a day, especially in the beginning when you are learning how to use the site, setting up your profile, and making friends. If you’re unprepared to make this commitment, you may want to reconsider using these tools at your organization.

If you don’t have someone on-staff who can help manage your social networks, you may want to seek outside help. Heather Mansfield, community manager at Change.org, suggests finding a social networking intern or an assistant who can spend a minimum of 10 hours per week managing your site or sites, noting that many organizations are seeking full-time staffers to do the job. “I am starting to see larger nonprofits creating full-time social networking positions for 40 hours a week,” she said.

Keep in mind that there is a fair amount of trial and error with using social networking sites, and your organization may not see results right away. “There is a learning curve; don’t expect immediate results for at least three months, whatever your objectives may be,” advised Alex De Carvalho, community manager of multimedia social networking site Scrapblog. “Take the time to build your profile correctly and learn the ropes of what works and what doesn’t.”

Nick Noakes, a director at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, stresses the value of this “no-guilt” exploration time. “It has brought me knowledge and contacts more than a lot of planned things I do,” he said.

Some nonprofit professionals, like Beth Dunn of the Cape Cod Arts Foundation, use their after-work hours and their individual (rather than organizational) profiles as a low-risk way to try out new tools. “Keep following what others are doing, and test,” said social media expert Chris Brogan. “If you want, use a dummy user account to make sure your experimenting doesn’t leave breadcrumbs that go nowhere for folks who legitimately want to engage with your organization.” He also suggests keeping track of your progress. “Don’t do random trial and error, which isn’t as effective as creating learning experiments that give you some information about how to improve your strategy.” Continue reading

February 9, 2010

The best-designed social networks on Ning


Guest post by Suzanne Reinfranck

We’ve long been fans of Ning, an innovative social platform that brings millions of people together every day to explore and express their interests, discover new passions and meet people around shared pursuits. With more than 1.9 million Ning networks created and 40 million registered users, this social space continues to grow at an explosive rate.

Laura Oppenheimer, Ning marketing manager

Laura Oppenheimer, Ning marketing manager

A few things differentiate Ning from most other social platforms:

• It has pioneered the market for people to self-organize around the “what” rather than the “who” in social networking

• It enables communities to organize around interests and passions and fully express what makes them unique.

• Ning offers a fairly wide degree of flexibility in customizing the look and feel of your site.

We asked Laura Oppenheimer, Ning’s marketing manager, for some of her favorite nonprofit and social change sites. Here are Laura’s picks of “beautifully designed/professional Ning Networks both generally, and specific to nonprofit organizations,” along with our capsule descriptions:

7 well-designed Ning networks


1. The Expedition Republic

Mountain Hardwear’s The Expedition Republic is an online social network where climbers, explorers and other nomadic souls can merge, mingle and discuss their thrill-seeking passions. The site is highly interactive and provides lively forums and exciting video clips, as well as member profiles, blog posts, photos and relevant links. This online community is engaging and also provides an excellent venue to get sound advice on high-quality gear and products needed for expeditions.

2. Zabitatz.com

Zabitatz (pictured at top) is a fun and welcoming online forum that encourages passionate members to meet and share advice, insight and inspiration about everything home-related. It is a one-stop site that fosters participation between experts and novices to share ideas such as home decorating, gardening, household finances and more. The site describes itself the ultimate “collaborative” community where members enthusiastically help each other gain valuable insight into anything regarding the home environment. It’s an online version of leaning over the backyard fence to get neighborly advice. Members are encouraged to ask questions, post a replies and provide relevant links.

3. My Photo Finish Records

4. Design Democracy (this site recently moved elsewhere)

5. Wired’s Haiti Rewired

6. PublicVoice.tv

7. Brooklyn Art Project (pictured below)


You’ll notice that only one of these contains “ning” in the url.

6 well-designed nonprofit Ning networks



freeDIMENSIONAL (fD) is a nonprofit that advances social justice by hosting activists in art spaces and using cultural resources to strengthen their work. The organization provides services and safe havens for oppressed activists and culture workers, fosters knowledge-sharing among art spaces who actively participate in local community organizing, engages the art world and mainstream media to heighten public awareness and influences policy change on critical issues. fD works with the global arts community to identify and redistribute resources and support meaningful relationships between art spaces and activists. Taking a decentralized approach, fD recognizes the power of strategic partnerships and believes that creative expression fuels social justice movements. As such, fD works with the global arts community to identify and redistribute resources and supports meaningful relationships between art spaces and activists. The group works with local civil society groups, social movements of all scales, arts organizations, schools and independent media outlets to build meaningful grassroots programs. Continue reading