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!