Monday, April 19, 2010

Not Just Another Post on Ning Alternatives for Your Small Nonprofit

Ning downtime screenImage by guspim via Flickr

A lot of bloggers and  folks on Twitter are talking about Ning and their decision to go completely to a paid service. As you might expect, a lot of the focus is on the free communities and what alternatives are open to them. And some are concerned that this is the opening move in a "free is dead" movement.

Call me Pollyanna, but I think this is a good opportunity to think about your social media strategy in the long-term.

Long-Term Social Media Strategy - An Oxymoron?

Yeah, social media is pretty mercurial. It's one of the things that make it both so interesting and so frustrating. Just when you think you know what's going on, something happens (Twitter introduces sponsored Tweets, Ning decides to kill its free service), and you're trying to figure it out all over again. And new services and applications keep cropping up. How is a small nonprofit, with no dedicated social media director, supposed to keep up with this stuff?

The short answer is that you don't. You may not be able to keep up with all of the rapid changes, but you can know what tools you are using and once or twice a year, review those tools to see how they're working for you and whether something else out there might be a better fit. Or at least a good substitution.

For instance, let's say your small nonprofit uses community pages to keep in touch with your supporters and volunteers. Maybe you even use Ning. You know that you want to continue using a cloud-based community service because you don't have the bucks or the staff to create and maintain one on your own site. It's a long-term strategy.

Regular Review

As part of your long-term online community strategy, you should be doing a Regular Review (you pick the time frame, but at least a couple of times a year, I should think). You block out some time to spend on looking at the community and evaluating what it's doing for you, pro and con, what else you'd like to get out of it and whether or not the current service is capable of providing that.

Then you look around at what other services are available and compare them. When you're done, you know whether it's time to migrate your community, expand on the community you already have by tweaking it, and what alternatives are available to you if something should happen. Then you can create an Action Plan for dealing with the unexpected.

Doing a Regular Review of the social media tools you use will provide you with:
  • data you can use to further your mission
  • alerts about what's new that you could be taking advantage of
  • information that can be used in e-newsletters and plea letters
  • an updated Action Plan that you can quickly initiate and communicate to reassure your online community, your board and staff
The most important thing you'll derive from a Regular Review will, of course, be peace of mind. Think of how good it will feel the next time someone says, "Did you hear about...?" and you can say, "Yeah - we're already on it."
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