In recent years, sites like Facebook®, MySpace® and Twitter®, better known as social networks, have shown all of us the power and potential of online communities.
However, we can't forget about "house social networks" - those online communities that you as a nonprofit have complete ownership and control of.
Following are four benefits of a house social network:
1. Consistent branding to ensure your nonprofit's image and brand are recognized
You've likely worked very hard at branding your organization in a way that reflects what you're all about (put simply). And, as much as possible, you probably want to ensure that your brand is consistently applied to everything you do online.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like don't allow you to completely own the branding of your page or channel, but a house social network gives you complete control, thus ensuring your online image is sound.
2. Increased website traffic through relevant, timely and engaging content
You can't have a static website anymore. You have to find ways to build a community that keeps people coming back. Compelling content, engaging activities and consistent interaction are the keys to connecting with website visitors.
Once people have come to your website, seen the community and the connection is made, those visitors are bound to come back, increasing your website traffic long term. Here are a few thoughts on how to make this happen:
* Dedicate a community manager whose focus it is to build up, support and encourage the community members.
* Community managers and community members should be encouraged to publish topics to stir debate, initiate conversation and engage the community.
* Encourage the community to nurture lively exchange of opinion, expertise and shared content.
* Community members should be encouraged to support one another through challenging times as well as connect with others who've gone through a similar life experience.
* Encourage members to share life experiences that will resonate with casual observers, persuading them to join the community.
* Make it easy for community members to share content of all types (photos, videos, blog posts, forum comments, etc.).
* Connect with the thought leaders in your community. Inspire them to create conversational threads that will draw in members and occasional browsers.
* Position "comment" buttons boldly in proximity to blogs and other content so that visitors can enter the discussion.
Remember that increasing traffic on your website is only important if you're also getting more people to take the actions you're promoting (i.e. increasing conversions). Make sure you have well placed and visible calls to action blended into your community so that your community members can take action when you need them to.
3. Tighter privacy control so that your supports feel safe
It's no secret that Facebook has faced its fair share of challenges when it comes to protecting the privacy of their users. If you need a refresher, take some time to read the history of the Facebook privacy struggles.
It should be known that, although Facebook has likely been the most publicized, there have been many other social networking sites with security issues. Wikipedia has some great information on social networking "issues".
Why does that matter when we're talking about house social networks you ask?
Simply put, people are concerned with their privacy and that's not something that will change. By creating a house social network, you can build a community where your supporters don't have to worry about their privacy or be concerned that their data will be shared with those they don't want it to be shared with.
4. Greater insight through data capture and analysis
Now comes the fine line you have to balance when it comes to security and privacy. You'll have access to all the data being shared by your supporters on your house social network, but you will also need to be a great steward of that data by keeping it safe and not abusing the privilege you have. With great power comes great responsibility, right (I think I heard that somewhere)?
The data you have access to will allow you to learn incredible things about your supporters, thus allowing you to further support them through tailored content (offers, updates, upcoming events, etc.) and tailored requests for support (donations, volunteering opportunities, raising awareness, etc.).
If you're one who thinks in the world of segmentation, this is the next evolution in that area for nonprofits. Segmenting your supporters using the type of social data you can gather through a house social network allows you to know them, engage with them, encourage them, connect them and support them like never before.
As you continue to think about and evolve in your approach to social networking and social media, don't forget to think about how a house social network could fit in.
The benefits of consistent branding, increased website traffic, tighter privacy and increased insights from data capture make house social networks a very viable option - one that should be considered as part of a multi-channel approach in the online space.