Okay! I’m finally sitting down to write some thoughts and reflections on The Networked Nonproft.
Chapter 3: Understanding Social Networks
The big idea here is the emphasis on networks; organizations should not fall into thinking of themselves as central to everything—the reality is that people have lives that do not revolve around the organization. Even if an organization has a well established network, they cannot reasonably expect everyone connected to put their cause at the top of the list every time—or for their cause to be the only one that network members support. Instead, an organization will be much more effective if they can begin to tap into the many already existing networks and encourage these networks to not only join their cause, but also to share it with their other networks—such as their friends, family, co-workers, or online connections. This is the beauty of social media—these connections expand an organization’s network and capitalize on the human tendency to respond more readily when a personal connection is reaching out to them.
This is a quick summary of terms relating to social networks:
- Node=person or organization
- Combination of strong and weak ties
- Weak ties are important; in fact, networks of only strong ties don’t expand—but only weak ties wouldn’t get anything done
- Hubs=people or organizations with a lot of connections
- These are the people organizations especially want to reach
- These are the people who help make things go viral
- Anyone—regardless of official position in the world—can become a hub
- Core=people who do most of the work in a network
- Small number—example: one person writes blogs, but lots of people read them
- “important because they are likely to be participants, perhaps even the core or hubs, in other networks”
- “Can help the network grow by connecting it to other networks”
A few key pieces here are simply the realization that every single members is important—and that supporting and nurturing hubs and core people will help expand networks even more effectively. It could be helpful for an organization to physically map out where the different members of a network are coming from and depicting the strong and weak ties between them. But even doing this mentally, or writing a list, could be helpful in identifying strong and weak points in a network—giving indication of areas to focus on.
I thought the discussion on social capital was interesting. It is defined in the book as “the stuff that makes relationships meaningful and resilient.” Increasing social capital is extremely important in order for weak ties to become more connected, and social media offers great ways to facilitate this connection. As the book points out, people are easy to find online and on many channels, talk is cheap, serendipity is enhanced online, and reciprocity is incredibly easy.
Network weavers must also be remembered—these are the people who are really engaged and who really get things started—they provide hub people with information, make connections, comment, and proactively befriend people online. Organization need to recognize what these people do and encourage it!
Chapter 4: Creating a Social Culture
I think that the strategy to start with simply “listening” to social media and what people are saying before sending messages is a really interesting and really important point. Before someone can respond, or “join the conversation” as we often say in literary discussions, they must first listen to what is already being said. They can then enter the conversation by first responding to current conversation (either replying to what is being said in general or correcting misinformation). Only after this is done can an organization move forward in sharing their own unique message—because without listening, they will not know what matters to people or the manner in which things are being discussed.
The rest of the chapter discussed ways that organizations can and should work to create a social culture in their organizations. It talked about how social media is outside the bounds of organizational bureaucracy and trying to control every word that leaves the organization is impossible—and ultimately very detrimental to the effectiveness of social media. This can be difficult for many communication and marketing professionals who have been trained to carefully monitor the image of the organization that is given to the public. Organizations must also overcome their fear of negative comments that others can post about them online and the overall fear of “things going wrong” with social media; instead, they must embrace the fact that social media requires a fundamentally different way of looking at things than traditional communications and that silence is far worse than potential negative comments.
I liked the term “working wikily” that the book used. Essentially, it is a way to describe an organization that has a strong social culture. These organizations are engaging in conversation, being active, taking risks, trying new things, valuing individuals, overcoming the “we’ve always done it like this” attitude, realizing that informal does not mean unprofessional or poor quality, and trusting staff to be able to send these messages and respond quickly—rather than wading through organizational bureaucracy. The authors argue that everyone in an organization should be using social media—and that it should be clear who is actually saying things because pseudonyms or misrepresenting where messages are coming from hurts the credibility of an organization. It is also important to realize that there is no clear cut line between personal and private interactions online—all conversations on social media are public (and many more people read posts than those who actually comment.
Now, with all of this talk about being free and open online, this does not mean there cannot be guidelines for social media use. The book encourages giving some guidance on social media use to members of an organization, like the example of the Red Cross policy handbook and the advice on pages 55-56. What guidelines really do is give more power to staff members and volunteers—and really demonstrates that an organization trusts them to send messages for them and to be ambassadors of the cause.
I thought it was really interesting that the Red Cross was used as an example on this topic, because just the other day my non-profit management class had NaDean Schroeder, the marketing and communications person for the region’s Red Cross chapter, as guest speaker. She talked about this exact concept of letting volunteers speak on behalf of the organization—though she was specifically talking about how they give volunteers tips and guidance for responding in traditional media interviews. The Red Cross really supports and encourages volunteers to speak on their behalf and NaDean said that she considered it to be a really great thing for the organization in that it shows that they value and trust their volunteers enough to let them speak for the organization.
I plan to talk more about the Red Cross and some other things that NaDean shared about social media and marketing in another blog entry soon. I will also include an analysis of the Red Cross’ web presence, so it will hopefully be an interesting post!
You can look forward to that sometime in the near future, and until then, I hope this post wasn’t too incredibly long for you to read (I had originally planned to do one more chapter, but I think you’ve probably had quite enough for awhile!).