Using Facebook in Your Nonprofit
I spent yesterday with my college freshman daughter who revealed to me the extent to
which FaceBook has taken over the social lives of teens and twenty-somethings (with the
quot;older folkquot; coming on fast). Let's just say that if it's not happening through FaceBook,
then it's not happening. By sheer coincidence, I'd used the train ride into NYC to read
(among other things) Fast Company's profile of 22-year old (!) founder, Marc
Zuckerberg.Then this morning this post by Rob Cottingham on the Turn It Off! British
Columbia campaign he launched on the site slid into my inbox. Clearly I'm being told by
the universe to blog a little about FaceBook. So a few resources . . .
What is Facebook?
FaceBook is a social networking site, an Internet site that allows users to post online
profiles (including photos, information about themselves, etc.) and then connect to other
users who share the same interests, experiences, etc. Zuckerberg threw up FaceBook while
he was a student at Harvard to provide an online avenue for students to find one another. It
has since morphed into a social network for everyone.
Why Facebook (or any social network, for that matter)?
The first question to ask yourself is why use social networking at all? What can a nonprofit
get from the experience? According to this TechSoup article, quot;What Can Social
Networking Do For Your Organization?quot; the answer is that you can get quite a bit:
quot;Social networking platforms give nonprofits a forum for meeting like-minded
organizations and potential supporters, and provide a medium for spreading their
messages beyond the immediate community,quot; says Alan Rosenblatt, Executive Director of
the Internet Advocacy Center.
In other words, social networking can expand your reach and help you find volunteers,
donors and supporters for your cause inexpensively and relatively easily.
So you've decided to consider social networking. Why Facebook? There are tons of other
social networking sites on the Net, including MySpace, Ning, Idealist and Change.org. But
as Katrin Verclas of NTEN noted in a March post, Facebook is where it's at right now. It
has the most traffic and the biggest reach, and, as she points out, quot;it's infinitely less
annoying than MySpace.quot; (Agreed!) It's your best bet for finding people where they're
already congregating online, especially if you're trying to reach the 18-24 year-old set.
(Although as this article indicates, the 35-54 year-olds are coming on strong, with about
33% of Facebook users in this age group.) It's much easier than trying to create your own
social network (ala Ning), where it can be difficult to attract and maintain users. It also
makes sense to go where people are already engaging socially. It's the difference between
going to the party and talking to people about what interests you or trying to throw a party
that people might not even want to attend.
How Can I Use Facebook?
Besides the TechSoup article above, here are some good resources to check out:
Start with Fast Company's slideshow, quot;Eight Things You Can Do With Facebookquot;.
You'll see that you can connect with like-minded users, promote events, start your
own groups, etc. You might also want to take a look at this profile of Facebook
(scroll down to the features section), which gives a decent overview of the different
Read through Rob's article on how he started his campaign and how he went from 8
supporters to 60 in a few days.
Try Emily Weinberg's quot;How Nonprofits Can Use Facebookquot;, which offers some
ideas and a few mini case studies.
This article on how educators can use Facebook also has some helpful tips.
Also read The Chronicle of Philanthropy Special Report, quot;Face Timequot;, which looks
at how nonprofits are using social networking sites in general.
Check out Diosa Communications' Tips for Nonprofits using MySpace. Many (if
not most) of these can be adapted to Facebook.
Read here about how Facebook might be used as a learning portal and as a tool for
And if you want to get fancy about it and have access to some programmer types,
then you might want to check out these 29 essential developer applications.
Whatever You Do, Avoid Looking Clueless
The one thing you CAN'T afford on a site like Facebook is looking clueless. No one sniffs
out inauthenticity faster than a social network native. As the Chronicle's article reports:
quot;Any organization interested in leveraging communities on MySpace and Facebook must
learn about them firsthand,quot; Mr. Gammel says. quot;You will come across as clueless and
wooden if you try to make a big splash in either place before you really understand their
culture of interaction.quot;
He recommends looking at social-networking profiles of other nonprofit organizations,
examining how they interact with people online, and reading their blogs to get a sense of
the tone and content online.
So your first task if you want to explore using Facebook is to join and observe the
culture.Check out Martin Lemeiux's article on getting started with a Facebook profile. I'd
suggest having a staff person join on their own and then do some research for you. You
might also consider talking to young people and asking them how they use the site and how
they react to various nonprofit messages.
In addition to seeing how other nonprofits are operating, I'd also suggest looking into how
your quot;target populationquot; interacts online. I noticed, for example, that my daughter and her
friends (the 18-24 year old set) are drawn into groups that use humor and off-beat group
names. One of her favorite Facebook groups is quot;You Know You Grew up in the 1890's
When . . . quot; Yes, I typed that correctly--the 1890's. This group puts up hilarious quot;fakequot;
posts about quot;Where Were You When McKinley was Shot?quot; and quot;What Should We Do
With Kaiser Wilhelm?quot; This isn't the quot;normalquot; way that nonprofits would position
themselves, but for a culture that really thrives on smart humor, you may need to think
differently about how you market your groups and ideas in a setting like Facebook.
Finally, you may want to jump in cautiously at first, rather than going quot;whole hog.quot; Set up
a basic profile for your nonprofit, but then try using it at first to promote a specific event or
online activity (signing an online petition, for example). This article on running ads on
Facebook has some helpful ideas. Also see the Lemeiux article I mentioned above for some
OK, so there you have my basic primer for using Facebook in nonprofits. If you're going to
go the social networking route, this may be your best bet. It will take you less time and is
easier than starting your own. It gives you another way to engage your volunteers,
supporters and donors. And it's probably where you'll eventually need to be anyway.
Online networks are a fact of life now and even if a lot of our constituents aren't using them
yet, I think it's only a matter of time. Do you want to be ahead of the curve or behind the 8-