Think your friends spend too much time on Facebook? They're not alone. According to comScore, 5.5% of all time spent online in the US during the month of November was on Facebook. That's a lot of time. As Facebook expands past 300 global million users, the online giant is also adding new services to keep people on its site. Facebook's Gift Shop has recently been expanded to offer music, e-cards, real gifts, as well as a charity gift section. What does this new marketplace mean for nonprofits? Are there any lessons to be drawn from the way Facebook is changing the online marketplace landscape?
Facebook's Gift Shop Expansion
Remember those small digital gifts people send you on Facebook? Maybe you got a cake icon on your birthday or a heart icon on Valentines Day. The tiny icons are actually worth millions of dollars to Facebook. According to the Silicon Alley Insider blog, Facebook nets upwards of $75 million each year selling the $1 pictures.
The nonprofit section of the gift shop is currently in a test phase with a few select partners, but according to marketing and outreach director Randi Zuckerberg (yes it's his sister), "we may open to everyone really soon after that." So what does this mean to your organization? It wouldn't hurt to think about what virtual gifts your nonprofit could offer as another fundraising tool. Consider the following::
Icons - You'll need an image that is distinctive, matches the work you're doing at your nonprofit, and is something people would want to show up on their Facebook feed.
Tagline - A clear and compelling sentence stating exactly how the money will be used. The most successful nonprofits have linked the donation to specific items a donation is worth (e.g. one bed net or two blankets).
But charity virtual gifts are just a first step. Let's take a look at the new Facebook marketplace and see how everything is working together to get a better picture.
The Facebook Marketplace
With as many global users as the populace of the United States, Facebook is a powerful potential market for both businesses and nonprofits. In April, the company introduced Facebook Credits as a simple way of paying for items in the virtual store. Facebook credits ($1=10 Facebook Credits) are now part of the gift marketplace where you are able to purchase real gifts with your credit. This might seem inconsequential but the move paves the way for a true Facebook currency to be used online.
The real shake-up of the payments market, though, is if and when Facebook decides to integrate Credits into Facebook Connect and offers it as a way for payment on e-commerce websites. Imagine logging into Amazon.com or Walmart.com with Facebook Connect and buying your Christmas presents with Credits. -Mashable
This isn't all smoke and mirrors either. The real impact of expanding online marketplaces is the commoditization of the Internet, and not necessarily in a bad way either.
The Nonprofit Marketplace?
If we accept the premise that online payments will become a greater part of our lives and the digital marketplace will be just as influential as the offline marketplace, does it help to think strategically of nonprofits as part of this landscape? Before you get your red pen out to label me a traitor, hear me out.
With Corporate Social Responsibility and Cause Marketing Campaigns emerging every day, the line between nonprofit and for profits is constantly blurring. While your non profit brand name might get you in the door with many people, it won't necessarily give you automatic engagement with your community. True engagement happens when you can provide a positive experience for your community, which goes beyond just your brand name and what good work you are doing.
Nonprofits are certainly not part of the same landscape that sells toilet paper or laptops, but we are to some degree "selling" (for lack of a better word) the experience of engagement with our organizations. User experience can be everything from simply donating to a nonprofit and receiving a follow-up email to attending a rally. It's the entire experience a person has with your organization from start to finish. We need more people to enjoy this experience with our organizations in order to change policy, raise awareness or raise more funds.
Creating Added Value
I think products in some cases can add value to the experience. Millions of people around the world wearing a White Band (international symbol for the eradication of global poverty) on the same day became a powerful unification tool. AIDS ribbons on the back of cars are a constant reminder of the continuing struggle that affects millions year year.
But I would argue that we should be looking at the total value experience we are giving our community rather than one off products. With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, developing a unique user experience is extremely important to stand out. If we are honest with ourselves, we could recognize that most nonprofits perform very similar services. To people within the industry there are large differences between Oxfam and Save the Children, but to Joe Donor, they are both organizations that help the needy in the developing world. Beyond the brand, what is left to differentiate is actually the user experience we can provide to our members.
Ok "user experience" and "added value" sound like buzz words for 2010 but behind all of it is a different way of thinking about how to interact with your community. We all know that current donors are more valuable than new donors but when is the last time you thought about motivating your donors to do something more than just, well, donate? Increasing the user experience has to be more than just giving money. In an article I wrote for FutureMediaChange, I outline several methods of user engagement that go beyond fund raising. I would love to hear your thoughts, am I off base?
*Amil Husain is a online strategy consultant for non profits living in Washington DC. You can read his blog at www.futuremediachange.com