RE: Over-Hyped Subject (Or, “How My Association Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Networks”) //

With this particular post, I aim to accomplish two personal goals of mine. First: to have the longest blog post title ever. Check. Second: to lay out (simply and relatively quickly) my own, personal argument that, despite how large your association/company is, it should have a presence on social networks like Twitter and, yes, Facebook… among others.

When I say “my argument,” I very much mean that. These aren’t necessarily re-hashed thoughts from the pages of Wired on why social networking is the greatest thing since sliced bread. That said, I’m 100% certain that the following material isn’t even remotely original. Instead, they’re opinions I personally have developed after spending the last 3 to 4 years on social networks that have both prospered (Facebook) and failed (Google Lively, Pownce).

I want to begin by laying out the basics. For example, why social networks even exist. (This is for those of you who who have finally been brought to your breaking point and are forcing yourself to learn about them.) Then, I want to highlight a few random associations that are using these networks and how they’re doing so… just so that, perhaps, you might be able to take some of the examples here and be able to apply them to your own business.

Facebook’s a pretty good example of the average social network so I’ll start there.

So, what is the deal with Facebook? Well, you can “poke” people and send virtual gifts of stuffed animals. I mean, if that doesn’t just scream “profit margins” and “member/customer retention” then, honestly, I don’t even know how to talk to you.

I jest, I jest. Facebook can be an amazingly wonderous way to waste hours-on-end… there’s no doubt about that. It was originally designed for students of universities to not only keep tabs on each other while not in class but to help organize campus meetings and events. While FB was originally designed to be used on one campus (Harvard), it eventually expanded to colleges and universities nationwide (at which point I discovered it) and then, in 2006, it opened itself up to anybody and everybody. To this day, it remains a well-designed tool for keeping up with friends, colleagues, etc. as well as to keep them apprised as to what exactly is happening in your own life.

That concept, if you think about it, can easily be applied to your association. Many of your members, readers, customers and clients are actually pretty interested in what your association is up to. For some of you non-profit associations out there, many of these individuals are so dedicated to your cause, they actually dedicate time out of their ridiculously busy lives to volunteering for you. These people want to hear from you. However, you may not have every one of these individuals’ email addresses and, more importantly, not everything needs to be communicated by email. So, use a tool like Facebook or Twitter (or both, it’s not that difficult) to keep these people up to speed as to what’s going on in your association.

Keep in mind, this information isn’t just going to benefit your current followers. Every bit of public information you invest (that’s today’s magic word… and an important way of looking at this process) into your online profile is going to be accessible to *potential* followers as well. Potential devotees out there currently in search of information you have to offer will increasingly be led, via referring blogs and search engines, to social networks. That means you need to get some relevant information on those networks now, not later.

Either right now or in the past, you might have thought to yourself: “Keeping up with all of this seems like it’s going to require lots of my time or lots of my employees’ time… and we’re fresh out, friend.”

One of the great things about companies like Facebook and Twitter is that they see the benefit to opening up their platform. This basically means that they’re taking the technology required to run their network and they open up access to it so that 3rd-party software developers can develop entire software applications based on interacting with that network in a user’s favored virtual environment… be it on the PC/Mac desktop, on a mobile device… whatever they prefer. It’s these tools to which I’m referring that enable you to manage your presence on social networks with absolute ease.

Digsby is my personal favorite desktop utility right now. Digsby allows you to both monitor and update the following types of information: IM (Google, AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.), email (POP3 & IMAP via Gmail, Hotmail, etc.) and social networks (Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and that other one… MySpace). So, one tool to not only rule them all but to save yourself a lot of effort. (As an aside, if you decide to give Digsby a try, just be mindful of the installer. It’s a freeware application so they stay in business by tossing up “offers” to you during the install. If you’re not careful, you can wind up with some useless crap – that’s a technical term – installed on your system. Some of it, however, you might find useful. Just pay attention.)

There are an abundance of other Heydasch-recommended (that’s a technical term) tools that also enable you to manage your presence on a variety of different social networks:

– AlertThingy: can be used with quite a few different networks like Basecamp, Digg, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer (Yammer is, essentially, Twitter for the enterprise – I highly recommend it) and others.

– Posty: specializes in micro-blogging networks including Twitter, Google’s Jaiku, Tumblr and

– Feedalizr: a lot like AlertThingy (and also runs on Adobe AIR – meaning it can run on Windows, Linux and Mac), but has a slightly better interface… in my opinion.

– FBLook and OutTwit: these two apps allow you to manage both Facebook and Twitter accounts, respectively, right within Microsoft Outlook. (The maker of both of these applications, TechHit, will soon be launching OpenLook which will allow you to update your presence on many of the major social networks out there. Useful for those enterprise folk currently using Microsoft’s enterprise email client on a daily basis.)

There are options for you mobile users, as well. iPhone owners need go no further than the App store to find dozens of useful applications with which you can manage your presence on a number of different social networks. For those of you currently using Windows Mobile-based phones, I take pity on you I recommend FriendMobilizer to manage your Facebook account(s) as well as Tiny Twitter.

Now, I’ve detailed why it’s beneficial to participate in social networking while providing examples of different tools you can use to make the process a bit easier. What might be helpful for you now is to examine certain associations that are already doing so. For instance, the Salvation Army uses Twitter to spread the word about new events and fundraisers while using Facebook technology to both gather donations and enable FB users to share information about the movement.

In addition, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) uses Twitter to gather feedback while the Women’s Museum uses both Twitter and Facebook to share information/receive feedback and Flickr to offer up virtual tours of the museum as well as share photos from various events. To examine how other companies might be using social networking, look for their profile on Twitter and then study the kind of messages they’re sending and receiving. I heartily-recommend to find examples of businesses currently using Twitter. (There are plenty of other companies, associations, non-profits that have used social networking tools with great success and I may try and update this article as I think of them.)

So, I’ve gone ahead and covered the basics for you. Some of you might find yourself gaining some useful knowledge from this article. Others, however, now wish that you never would have stumbled upon my site.

For those of you whose time I’ve wasted with a relatively-elementary article on social networking, just keep in mind that I live in Knoxville, TN. We’re not exactly trend-setters by any means. Adoption of new technology, the InterWebs in regards to business purposes being a prime example, comes very slowly here. So, I wanted to give local association executives/employees a little bit of potentially useful information amidst all of this talk of social networking on the Intertubes.


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