Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 11 seconds

Social networking is a topic of many conversations these days, and for good reason. It’s estimated that 65 percent of teenagers in the United States and 35 percent of adults maintain at least one social networking profile. Popular sites such as Facebook and MySpace connect millions upon millions of people online every day, cultivating social ecosystems that are ideally suited for organizations to recruit participants and build momentum for grassroots events.

With a few simple steps, nonprofits of all sizes can establish a presence in the world of social networking, begin building a network, cultivate new and existing audiences and develop a meaningful community to support events.

Building Event Central
To position your organization for success in the social networking environment, you first need to build a base of operations. On most social networking platforms, this step is relatively simple. In Facebook, for example, it only takes a few minutes to create a fan page for an event. As a result, your organization is able to establish a presence that can convey key event information, drive registration, motivate ongoing involvement and maintain consistent communications.

When planning your social network event hub, keep these easy steps in mind:

  • Provide a high-level event overview. Keep it simple, informative and engaging. Include the dates, locations, promotions. Don’t forget to include your mission.
  • Keep it in the family. Your social network hub is an extension of your organization and event. Make the connections between your social network, website and in-person connections seamless by cross-pollinating messages and links.
  • Keep the buzz alive. Maintain a constant drip of information to your fans through updates (e.g., We just reached 1,000 participants!), RSS feeds from an external site, photos and news stories.
  • Extend the invitations. One of the biggest benefits of social networks is the ability to tap into your constituents’ networks. So, make sure you invite them to join you! Publicize your social network hub in emails, websites and offline promotions.
  • Talk amongst yourselves. Encourage conversations among your fans—the more chatter, the bigger the reach. Consider asking questions, posting polls or soliciting ideas. At a minimum, be prepared to monitor comments, respond to questions and participate.

Working the Crowd

Establishing a presence in a relevant social networking environment is an important first step when it comes to building groundswell and maximizing grassroots involvement in your event. But, a single page won’t keep momentum going on its own. You’ll need to give existing constituents the tools to connect with their networks and attract new participants on your behalf.

Social networking applications that are available on the market today will equip your organization with the tools you need to maximize your social networking presence. By using such online tools, your organization can more effectively empower constituents to spread the word, extend their fundraising activities and even invite new supporters to participate in your event or engage in your mission.

Advanced social networking applications enable participants to:

  • Invite and link their networks to donate or register for your event
  • Show progress on individual and team fundraising goals
  • Share key dates, locations and other event information
  • Drive awareness with up-to-the-minute news feeds.
Increasing Your Visibility

Your organization can further broaden its reach and the scope of conversations by adding additional social network platforms into your event strategy. Specialized social media outlets such as Flickr or Twitter provide niche communications tools within their own networks of users. By connecting your existing strategies and networks into these platforms, you can exponentially increase the draw of your event. Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Create a Flickr page or group. Flickr is a powerful photo sharing and social networking tool with great application for events. Photos loaded by Flickr can be shared with specific communities or with the entire Flickr community. You can create an event-branded Flickr page to house, gather and share event photos.
  • Start a Twitter feed. One of the most popular micro-blogs in existence, Twitter, enables you to communicate with everyone who belongs to its community in short bursts of 140 characters or less. You can use individual posts, or “tweets,” to call attention to critical stages of your event, point to the registration page of your site or simply have ongoing one-on-one conversations with your constituents.
  • Go mobile. Mobile technology is quickly emerging as a new social network tool and gives you an opportunity to incorporate texting into your overall communications plan. Other mobile technology, such as a WAP, lets you develop a single go-to-guide for your event that delivers critical event information directly to participants’ mobile devices.
  • Leverage social bookmarking aggregators. Services like Share This and Add This specialize in creating social bookmarking aggregation buttons that you can add to your site’s pages. These buttons enable people to quickly and easily share your content with their worlds.
  • Assemble a personal media kit. Send emails to your participants reminding them of the tools at their disposal. Encourage them to create and spread buzz around your event by bundling together key links, photos and focused copy that provides clear courses of action.Reaping the Rewards

The process of creating a social networking ecosystem for your event is virtually free in terms of direct costs—and it isn’t nearly as complicated as you might think. However, keeping your presence meaningful and your target audience engaged once you’ve created your social hub is another matter altogether.

The rules of engagement are different on social platforms. People expect to be able to engage in open dialogue with each other, as well as your organization, on a fairly regular basis. Before you go down the road of creating your ecosystem, ask yourself whether you or others within your organization truly are ready to commit to learning about and keeping up with the social networking environment. If the answer is no, consider outsourcing the day-to-day maintenance to professionals. Whatever minimal costs might be associated with this maintenance will be well worth the investment. It’s a different kind of investment, but one that will pay off tremendously when it comes to driving grassroots participation in your next event.

About the Author: Donna Wilkins is the president of Charity Dynamics, a provider of comprehensive online solutions for nonprofit organizations. Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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