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Allyson Kapin 7 min read

Is your Nonprofit too Social Media Dependent?

What would happen to your nonprofit’s outreach work if Facebook or Twitter shut down? Since you don’t own the data, you wouldn’t be able to salvage it.  With all the buzz of the Web 2.0 world and nonprofit’s wanting to carve out their space in it, it’s important that we:

1)    Spend some time (not all of it) capturing people’s basic contact information (name, state, and email address at the very least) as part of your social networking strategy. You can do this via petitions, fundraising appeals, polls, etc. Currently I don’t know of any append companies that provide this service. If you do, please let me know in the comments section.

2)    Not place all of our eggs in one basket or in this case one popular social network.

I often tell clients and readers on Frogloop, that it’s important to be where your audiences are which includes social networks like Facebook and Twitter. While I still stand behind this statement, it’s just as important to recognize that businesses (no matter how cool and popular) come and go and we must be prepared for those “what if” moments.  

Just last week, MySpace eliminated Causes, the peer-to-peer fundraising service that started on Facebook.  An estimated 184,000 people used Causes on MySpace and now it’s gone. Of course, compared to the 35 million users on Facebook, this does not seem significant on the face of it, but it is. Here’s why. Right now, the largest social networks are built on proprietary platforms VS open source platforms.

“It's frankly terrifying that we're handing over almost all of our microblogging content and networking interactions to a single company (Twitter), said Sean Larkin of ThinkShout.com. There is an open standard for microblogging. There are many distributed, open-source microblogging services (like identi.ca) through which we could be routing our "tweets" - while still leveraging all of Twitter's goodness. The difference would be that we'd still own our own microblogging data. As with email, we could still talk to each other via tweets - but we'd have more choices in terms of vendors, dedicated hosting options, etc.”

Beth Kanter, social media trainer and blogger, has been focusing on capturing her users’ data in the event Twitter or Facebook suddenly disappeared.

“One thing I was initially doing was grabbing names into spreadsheets. For Facebook I would input the data in manually, but I could do it automatically with other apps w/Twitter. Then I would dump the data into a Social CRM (contact info w/Twitter handles and updates). But when my followers ballooned, it got impossible,” said Kanter.  “Then I realized, I don't need to capture all of them - just the influencers across different communities.  So, now I've been focusing on keeping a spreadsheet of these influencers across different communities - and using social network analysis to analyze that. With that said, it takes time to do this - but it is an important part of the documentation process -- as well as documenting lessons learned.”

Is the Portable Social Graph One Solution?

Besides building your own social network where you would own your own data, the Portable Social Graph could be another solution. Michelle Murrain and Kanter wrote about this several months ago. “The "social graph" is, basically, your data about who you are, and who is connected to you - who your friends are. A portable social graph would be one that you can take with you, wherever you are - so the friends that are connected with you on one network are also connected with you on another. It's the holy grail of social network connectivity - you are connected to who you are connected to, no matter what site you are on”, said Murrain.

While popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter are not currently in danger of going out of business, the importance of collecting basic user data (aka list building) is still something to consider when planning your social media outreach strategy.

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Allyson Kapin

Allyson has been named one of "Top Tech Titans" by the Washingtonian, one of the Most Influential Women In Tech by Fast Company, and one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes for her leadership role in technology and social media. As Founding Partner of Rad Campaign, she leads the firm's client and online strategic services. For over a decade Allyson has helped non-profit organizations and political campaigns create dynamic and award-winning websites and online marketing and recruitment campaigns. She works side-by-side with her clients to meet their web needs and maximize their online effectiveness to create real world impact.