Social networks (or “socnets”), such as Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn or the many social networks developed for specific organizations, are useful tools for associations to connect active individuals with the policy and personal interests that concern them most.
Tips for Social Networks
For organizations unfamiliar with social networks, either in the advocacy environment or in general, following are some ideas for getting started. In addition, note that the considerations outlined above under “Considerations for Effective Pull Communications” are particularly pertinent for the social networking environment.
- Getting started: Advocate leaders can start getting familiar with social networking ideas and approaches by registering on a couple of the most popular sites like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, the latter of which is specifically oriented toward business networking. It is important to gain familiarity with the site’s privacy settings and posting structure in order to understand how these policies might apply to any group or association advocacy-related profile.
- Identify existing groups and related organizations: Take steps to identify related organizations by running a search on the organization’s name and key topic areas. In addition, most elected officials (often the targets of an advocacy campaign) have pages on these networks. Take a moment to review the pages of the champions and detractors of your policy issues. These profiles can offer valuable insights that will enhance the organization’s advocacy efforts.
- Assess potential downsides: For many organizations, there are very few downsides to participating in an online social network. In most cases, the policy issues with which the organization is most concerned are already being discussed by others. In a sense, it may be more disadvantageous for the organization NOT to be involved in social network sites. However, there are a couple of points to keep in mind when using these sites.
- Legal implications: Organizations with a concern about liability for potential libelous or slanderous messages posted by others on a social networking site should check with legal counsel before establishing a page. In many cases, these concerns can be addressed by establishing a strict posting policy.
- Tax implications: Certain communications that can be viewed by the general public will be viewed as “grassroots lobbying” under IRS definitions, and, depending on the amount spent on these communications, may impact an organization’s 501c3 status
- Set up a page and/or group for your association on an existing network: Once the organization is familiar with the sites and comfortable with any potential downsides, it is time to consider establishing an identity on one or all of these sites. Many organizations have groups and profiles on all the major sites. In addition to reaching a wider audience, this approach allows the organization to protect its brand and be part of policy discussions wherever they occur. If that approach is too broad, the advocate leader can prioritize based on a couple criteria, including a) which sites members or like-minded individuals are already patronizing and b) which sites the organization is most comfortable working with.
- Consider starting your own network: Organizations with a large network might want to consider starting a “niche” network not associated with one of the major networking sites. This would serve not just as an individual page on a site, but as a “hub” where everyone associated with the campaign can gather, post comments, photos, information and the like. Larger organizations with IT departments can consider creating their own social networking tools or working with an outside vendor. Free networking tools like Ning.com should also be considered (organizations using the free option will have to accept Google banner ads on your site). Through Ning, an organization can set up its own page that includes a variety of tools (blogs, forums, photo sharing, etc.). Network members can be invited and then, once they join, can participate in forums, post materials and download whatever advocacy resources are made available at the site.
- Explore outreach options: Social network sites offer tremendous opportunities for reaching out to like-minded individuals and organizations. Facebook, for example, has started offering users the ability to create banner ads targeted toward members expressing interest in a specific issue. On LinkedIn, the advocate leader can ask a network- or group-wide question about its issues as a way of introducing the organization.
For more information or to purchase the Advocacy Handbook click here.