When Should You Be Social?

I want to share something that happened at a recent board meeting for an organization I have participated in for years. We’re a “working board” meaning the organization doesn’t have much dough to pay a huge staff. The two we do pay are exceptional but we still need to put on a conference every year and there is a lot to be done.

During the course of our rather long meeting we started talking about our plans for a new website. One of our members suggested we start a social network in conjunction with our new site roll out. Well, the little voice inside my head started screaming…I hate when that happens. You know I’m a big fan of everything online and Web 2.0 but we were getting close to jumping into something for the sake of it doing the “cool thing”.

There are many social network resources out there from Ning to Onesite. You could also set up a profile on Facebook or Myspace for your group or organization. Needless to say it’s fairly easy to set up, the question is; will it work and will it be worth your time? Will it be social or will it be just one more thing someone might sign up for…a glorified database?

With some help from Brett Bonfield at Idealware and this post at Techsoup along with some common sense here are some signs that social networks aren’t for you.

  1. You’re still trying to get a handle on your basic software infrastructure. There are plenty of “new media” tools to use to make your organization better and your communication with your audience easier. Social networking should not be the first to use.
  2. Your target audiences aren’t using social networking tools. This relates to knowing your audience. Social networks tend to work best for younger users. There is a new definition of what privacy is among the younger demographic and they are more prone to actually use these tools. So to simplify…hunt where the ducks are.
  3. You don’t have time to experiment with something that might not work. No matter what you think or have heard, social networks don’t run themselves. You’ll need someone to oversee and maintain the site.
  4. You’re not ready to invest in gaining a real understanding of the medium. Making social networks effective means you need to understand the culture and communities you’re joining or serving.
  5. You want clear editorial control over your brand and message. Social networks are not all about your message. You may find yourself trying to understand why the users don’t look at your brand the way you want it to be looked at. You can’t set up rules regarding that message and expect users to follow them. You’ll need to be able to let the users have their own voice…positive or negative.
  6. Mission and Purpose. Whether it’s organizational or personal, does using a social network further your mission?

In our case, we decided to put the idea on hold until we overcome some other technical and organizational items. I’m confident that when we do enter into the world of social networking we’ll do it right and take advantage of the opportunities it offers.

More on those opportunities next week.