Exploring Online Social Networking

Andy Fryar December 1, 2008 6
Exploring Online Social Networking

HOT TOPIC – DEC ’08 / JAN ’09

By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar with Jayne Cravens

Special thanks are extended to Jayne Cravens for her assistance in co-writing this month’s hot topic. Her advice and assistance in preparing this article have been invaluable. You can learn more about Jayne and her work at http://www.coyotecommunications.com/

The topic of how volunteer managers can best network with one another is a most interesting topic.

Over recent years, the continued evolution of Online Social Networking (OSN) tools has moved networking opportunities from only being available in the physical world to endless possibilities in the virtual realm.

OSN is nothing new as far as the internet is concerned. At its most basic level, email is an online social networking tool which has been used for years, while groups such as the OzVPM newsgroup, set up on Yahoo! have been the bastion of interaction for a long time now.

However, the term ‘OSN’ has only evolved more recently to describe the plethora of new sites dedicated to this type of communication.

Probably the most popular OSN site at the moment is FaceBook , which in the year to June 2008 boasted 132 million users worldwide and experienced a growth of 458% in the Asia Pacific region alone during the same period. (1)

Like many of these sites, FaceBook allows a user to create a page with some basic profile information and then invite others to join to their site as a ‘friend’ for the purpose of keeping in touch socially, exchanging interests, photos and videos and to meet new people.

Other OSN websites which readers may be familiar with include My Space , Bebo , myYearBook and Tagged , while variations of OSN exist to explore and network on particular themes such as LinkedIn (to develop business contacts) Adult FriendFinder (for singles) or Flickr (to share photos) . The list is truly endless.

As a user of FaceBook, I have noticed over the past six months a move away from pages only being created for/about individuals to an ever growing band of volunteer centres and volunteer related causes creating pages that others can align themselves to. I myself have even created a FaceBook group to promote International Volunteer Managers Day .

It’s been interesting to watch this development, firstly because I see some great potential in what networking may come of it, but also partially because I don’t really understand what that potential might be as yet!

On her website, leading online volunteering commentator Jayne Cravens offers advice on how nonprofit organizations, NGOs, etc. can use online social networking platforms, as well as online professional networking, to increase numbers of volunteers and donors and to improve support of volunteers and clients, among other benefits. But she also offers several cautions regarding OSN, urging organisations to keep their expectations based in reality, to keep in mind that many people want to keep their online social networking “social” rather than “serious”, and to make OSN activities integrated into an organisation’s overall outreach strategy.

Her main point is that large numbers of “friends” on an OSN platform doesn’t necessarily translate into something tangible, just as large numbers of visitors to a web site may not either, and that there are ways to measure OSN success in concrete terms. You can read her complete advice for organizations interested in using OSN here:


I certainly agree with Jayne that it would be wonderful to be able to better measure the direct and tangible benefits which OSN bring to ‘on the ground’ volunteer programs, and perhaps those of you reading this can give some examples we can use to illustrate this.

For me however, the internet (and technology in general for that matter) and all of its nuances is simply a giant social experiment unfolding before our eyes. It’s a journey I love being on and observing.

I remember only a decade ago typing words into the first chat room I ever joined, and being blown away by the thought that someone on the other side of the world was able to answer me in (near) real time. Who would have thought that just a few years later that programs such as Skype would enable us to conference call (with video image) to just about anyone in the world for free?

Who would have imagined that you’d be able to access the internet almost anywhere using the latest Iphone or Blackberry?

What was once science fiction continues to become a reality.

One thing that the internet does do well is respond to the needs of those who are using it, and I can’t but help to think that if we are excited by sites such as FaceBook now, what might the next generation of OSN offer?

So let’s hear your thoughts on this exciting topic:

  • Is your organisation using OSN sites to promote itself? Which ones and how?
  • If you have a profile on an OSN platform like FaceBook, is it your personal profile, or are you speaking as a representative of your organisation?
  • What benefits have you seen from your organisation’s use of OSN, or your use of it as a representative of your organisation? What benefits are you hoping for?
  • Have you seen an increase in volunteers as a result of your activities? in donors? in clients? in event attendees?
  • Have you met with others at your organisation to strategise about your organisation’s OSN activities, so that these activities are a part of regular marketing activities, volunteer recruitment and support, client support and funding drives?
  • Do you look at the OSN profiles of volunteers, clients, donors and others? Do you use OSN for screening purposes of new volunteers? Have you seen anything on a supporter’s profile that’s made you uncomfortable?
  • Does OSN create any problems for you in keeping your personal online activities and your professional activities separate?
  • Any ideas where OSN may head in the future?
  • Any other thoughts you would like to share?

(1) Adelaide ‘Advertiser’ newspaper

Let’s hear your thoughts!



  1. ozvpm_andy March 20, 2012 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Response posted by Cindy Carmichael (Centre Coordinator and Health Worker), Women’s Health Information Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand

    Hi to all at ozvpm. Here are my responses to the December Hot Topic.

    1. This year we created a facebook page for our organisation. Facebook pages are designed for organisations etc not individuals so our facebook presense is for the organisation.

    2. Benefits so far have mainly been the ability to meet and communicate with other workers in not for profit women’s health organisations. Benefit we were originally looking for was to create a space where Volunteers who did not work in at our centre could keep up with the latest happenings in the centre. However many of our volunteers have limited computer literacy so it hasn’t really worked.

    3. At this stage we have not used our page for the purposes of recruiting volunteers or inviting them to events. We currently have 20 fans of our organisation on our facebook page many of whom would not have accessed or found the service otherwise.

    4. There has been discussion at Committee level about how we might use the page. We are currently trying to use it to garner opinion on various health issues. We are also thinking of using it to recruit committee members.

    5. At this stage we have not been looking at the OSN profiles for clients, volunteers etc. I think it is because most of the women who work here are not digital natives and so we don’t automatically think to use OSN in this way. It will be interesting to see if this changes.

    6. No problems at this stage keeping personal stuff separate. I administer the page and so my profile is available to some people who I say can look at it. I have put minimal information about myself as I am trying to maintain a professional presence for myself and our organisation online.

    7. No ideas really about where OSN may head in the future. At the moment the web feels like a huge online experiment but I think that’s exciting. I feel it is important to try new things as it can be hard to judge the potential of new technologies unless you have a go.

    8. The whole experience of having a facebook page has been fun. So far ours has been up and running 6 months and it is only now that we are starting to see results. I think we will need to do this for a year at least to really get a sense of how worthwhile it could be. Also it currently takes me around half an hour a week to update and check in with the page. If you want to use this technology to its full potential I think you would need to put in at least an hour a week and probably more.

  2. ozvpm_andy March 20, 2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Response posted by Judith Taylor, Head of Members’ Groups, British Computer Society, UK

    The British Computer Society (BCS) which has over 100 branches throughout the world set up and coordinated by volunteers, we encourage collaboration by our volunteers through some social networking sites, in particular Linked in, (where we have our own BCS group)

    I do have an entry on Facebook, but see this far more informal network, as opposed to Linkedin, which I feel is my professional network, and which I am far more protective of.

    At least one of our branches uses Second Life to hold their committee meetings in, which has resulted in greater attendance and early indication is that greater engagement of its members too.

    No, I haven’t seen a direct impact on the recruitment of volunteers through my presence on Linked in; however, I do feel that it is good for maintaining the contacts I make through my work, which certainly has a very positive effect on my work.

    Yes, BCS is continuing to expand throughout the world and are keen to continue to develop the number of groups it supports. A major element of this will be to develop methods by which members can meet and participate remotely through on line social networks, this will still rely on BCS volunteers playing a major part in their set up and continued development.

    No, I tend not to immediately look volunteers up on either network, as we have a very comprehensive database of our members, however I may do subsequently to gain a greater knowledge of them.

    Does OSN create any problems for you in keeping your personal online activities and your professional activities separate? Personally, no I don’t think it does, as different sites provide great opportunity for individuals to separate the two, if they wish to.

    As for ideas where OSN may head in the future?

    I think they will continue to be developed and used by volunteer involving organisations to improve cost effective and timely communications from the volunteer to the organisation as well as to the volunteer, but most importantly between the volunteers themselves to increase their feeling of comradeship and loyalty .

  3. ozvpm_andy March 20, 2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Response posted by Jayne Cravens, Coyote Communications, Bonn, Germany

    Thanks, Hillary, for a very honest response. I hope we can get more direct responses to our questions!

  4. ozvpm_andy March 20, 2012 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Response posted by Hillary Roberts, President, Project Linus NJ, Inc. USA

    We often discuss OSN at meetings. 100% volunteer non profits rely heavily on OSN and other virtual/online tools to recruit and expand their mission.

    Hesitation in OSN has several hindrances at its core:

    * You can set up an agency forum and wind up spending hours keeping it free of hackers and spammers.
    * A group forum can be well moderated or poorly run and members often don’t know who to bring concerns to. Moderators should be apparent to members.
    * Group Moderators, while asking for participation from members, should do a better job themselves of adding to the discussion and bringing topics to the forum.
    * You don’t know who will come into the online discussion and if your professional comfort level will be compromised.
    * Some employers forbid OSN participation from their employees; including external email.
    * Some professions avoid establishing an online history associated with their name/personal life.
    * Some individuals job hunting don’t want OSN to be viewed by potential employers.
    * Some individuals do not trust chat and discussion forums.
    * Some agencies prefer a website over other OSN tools.
    * Some agencies do not have the hardware/software budget or manpower to support OSN.
    * Some OSN’s are poorly publicized.
    * Some agencies are unwilling to participate in sites that publicize ALL charities.
    * Some individuals do not have a comfort level for “faceless” discourse.
    * Some national and international conferences don’t take the time to explain what OSN is in planning their workshop lineups & conference discussions.
    * Is anyone approaching this topic at a DOVIA, AVRM or ALIVE meeting?
    * Is POL/Hands On Network explaining what OSN is? Do Volunteer Centers? United Ways?
    * OSN and OSN tools are not widely understood and more could be done at the leadership and professional continuing education level in order to best support the use of OSN in npo/ngo environs.

    Also, I have had the pleasure of knowing dozens of people who volunteer for non profits at the leadership/managerial level while holding a full time job. One consistent “concern” among this group revolves around keeping volunteering and work separate and in the online community cross referencing an individual by name or other search “tags” is quite simple. Sometimes that issue alone keeps pros off OSN sites.

    I hope you and other pros I greatly admire will expand the discussion and encourage/engage volunteer resource managers in less hesitation and more solidarity regarding OSN.

  5. ozvpm_andy March 20, 2012 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Response posted by Susan J Ellis, President, Energize Inc, Philadelphia, USA

    Excellent thought provoker, Andy and Jayne! In recent workshops I’ve done in the US on this very topic, I heard of two real-life uses by volunteer programs of FaceBook and MySpace that are worth sharing. They illustrate the potential of the medium for the right situations. First, there’s an animal shelter in Oregon that is posting pages for dogs and cats that need adoption! They open an account in each animal’s name, with a photo, and volunteers “speak” for the potential pet online. Apparently, it’s been successful in generating rescues. The second is an organ donor program in Pennsylvania. They created a sort of mascot, “Heartman,” who speaks for them in the social network places. It’s also gotten a lot of attention and new leads.

    While this may be special cases, I think they demonstrate that creative ideas will find a home online.

  6. ozvpm_andy March 20, 2012 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Response posted by Liz Scarfe, Villa Maria, Kew, Victoria, Australia

    Great topic as usual. I was a long time cynic of OSN but recently signed onto facebook so I could keep up with a friend’s house-building progress as he is putting lots of effort into uploading pictures and commentary and that is how he has chosen to keep his friends updated. Now that I’m signed up though (as an individual member), I love it. In terms of its application for volunteering, those lucky enough to attend the recent National Volunteering Conference would have heard all about V2V.

    For those who didn’t, it is an OSN using a similar platform to facebook that enables employees in an organization to start their own volunteering projects and recruit others in their organization to be part of it. It started in Brazil, in for-profits, where there were hundreds of thousands of people wanting to volunteer but no infrastructure to enable that (no VRCs or peak bodies). Starbucks in the US now have one which is also open to customers. I won’t go into all the detail, people can check it out at http://www.v2v.net/ and http://www.v2v.net/starbucks . I am going to be campaigning in my own organization to establish something similar that will include all our staff and volunteers, aiming to enable a more organic emergence of volunteering effort and will also attract younger people to our organization. Now that I’ve shared that wonderful idea though, the race will be on for who sets up the first Aus V2V

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