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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Facebook for grown-ups: a first look

It's a wonder I have any time left to blog at all now that I've signed up for Facebook. But I felt I really ought to give it a test-drive, now that I see so many people urging non-profits to look into it. This post is for those of you who have not even peeked into it yet.

I'll tell you my conclusion up front: For non-profits looking for ways to get their message in front of new audiences, especially a younger tech-friendly community, maintaining a Facebook presence is definitely worth exploring. With 30 million members and growing rapidly, it's going to get you in front of a lot of people.

If you have used any of the business networking sites that have appeared over the years - Ecademy, Xing (formerly OpenBC) or SoFlow (slated to close its doors in just a few days) you'll be familiar with the basic model. It's one that is quite different from the LinkedIn approach - allthough LinkedIn has been making incremental moves in this direction. Compared to these other sites, LinkedIn is just an online Rolodex, while Facebook and sites like it make it easy for you and your contacts to stay in touch.

How does it work? Users create a profile page describing themselves. This is your "home page", as it were. Facebook provides tools for messaging other users, and allows any user to create groups with discussion forums. In addition, you can post links, photos, and notes that can be shared with your Facebook network. When someone in your network posts something or messages you, the system wil also send you an email, so users do not need to check Facebook constantly to see what's new.

But the real promise of Facebook comes from its "application" model. Facebook allows developers to create third party applications -- widgets -- that can be attached to member's profiles - tools for calendaring, say, or advanced messaging. So the capabilities of the system just keep growing. Many of these to date have been "just for fun" - there are at least a dozen tools for listing and rating books and movies for example. But then there are tools that allow a user to make a donation to a cause, or spread the word about an issue. And these tools are viral - if you click on one you find on a friend's profile, it will offer to install itself on yours.

Facebook is free, of course - supported by advertising, including classifieds members can place in the Facebook Marketplace. So there is really no reason not to at least take a look at it. You can find me there by clicking the Facebook link I've added to the left-hand sidebar of this blog.

How does a non-profit organization use Facebook? Some create a personal profile under the organization name. Others have members participate as individual's, and create a group page to represent the organization. I think this latter is more in keeping with the medium - it's far more personal.

You will want to assign the task keeping up your Facebook presence to a specific staff member. If you create your account and leave it there untended, like your old static webpage, it will do you no good at all. Someone needs to participate in discussions, answer messages, update the profile regularly, and make decisions about fundraising tools and so on.

But does anything ever come of it? Well, in the two weeks since I established my account, I've volunteered to help one organization with their website, been asked to bid on a project, donated to a friend's personal fundraising effort, arranged to have lunch with a high-school friend I haven't seen in years, and exchanged emails and notes with at least fifty local non-profit folks I'd never met before.

What I haven't done is find time to blog.

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Comments on "Facebook for grown-ups: a first look"


Blogger ShawnaT said ... (July 27, 2007 at 7:18 AM) : 

Facebook first started as a networking site for colleges. As a student I've had one for a few years and it's great to see it evolve. However, when I added a 'badge' to my blog(still in testing phase) to display facebook one of my bosses said "Isn't that a dating service?"

I appreciate you blogging about it to help others understand what it is and how it can be used for non-profits.


Blogger Peter Gulka said ... (August 4, 2007 at 9:43 AM) : 

Assigning someone to maintain the Facebook page would be a first step towards taking on a fully-fledged community initiative.

If a non-profit is serious about leveraging the power of community, there are an increasing number of resources here: Check out the forums


Blogger Michael Stein said ... (August 4, 2007 at 10:44 AM) : 

Where Peter meant to point you was to peopleWeavers, but tells me feeding children impairs his typing ability.


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