Shiny Objects vs. Solid Investments

The following is courtesy of Charity Dynamics in Austin, Texas, and is posted with permission.

Web 2.0 – Building, Growing and Sustaining a Vibrant Online Community: Shiny Objects Vs. Solid Investments

by Abby Sandlin

At this year’s NTEN conference in New Orleans, I spoke to a packed room of a hundred or so nonprofit managers eager to harness the power of Web 2.0 for their organization. Web 2.0 refers to a new generation of web-based communities and hosted services such as social networking sites and blogs that facilitate sharing and collaboration between users.

There’s a lot of buzz about Web 2.0 tools and how they are revolutionizing the nonprofit industry, but are they just the latest shiny objects to have caught our attention? Or are they actually worth investing time and money into? The answer is yes, of course—in both cases. Allow me to explain.

Regarding the first, many organizations are skeptical about Web 2.0, and understandably so. After all:

  • Web-based communities are filled with active participants who are unafraid to speak their minds. Their collective input can significantly influence an initiative’s chances of success.
  • Social networking is about the voice of your constituents, not your organization. It can be challenging to maintain control of your message in such an environment.
  • New channels pop up, catch on like wildfire and build new followings faster than nonprofits can keep up with them. By the time they do, everyone’s ready to move on to the next shiny object.

Which brings us to my second question: Is Web 2.0 even worth the investment for your organization? Absolutely.

Think about it. There’s hardly a faster way to build a groundswell of support out there today. And, if harnessed effectively, each potential drawback listed above could actually be a tremendous boon to your organization’s efforts. With the proper strategy in place, Web 2.0 tools enable you to:

  • Build communities by connecting with new audiences, finding new voices and expanding existing networks with additional touch-points. It’s a great way to invite participation.
  • Get involved in ongoing conversations and spark new ones, encouraging external dialogues so awareness of your organization grows organically. Your constituents will feel empowered.
  • Develop and leverage new channels of exposure. The next generation of messengers and advocates take active interest in forward-thinking organizations.

So, what does Web 2.0 mean for your bottom line? That depends on how you use it. Community-based sites such as MySpace and Facebook are free, and can expand your organization’s reach substantially. Like any social network, however, you have to keep up appearances, which can cost time and money.

Other sites such as Flickr only offer the basics for free, making the full suite of capabilities available for a nominal fee. Often, the cost of these sites is offset by the wealth of services they provide, including analytic and metrics tools that can make it easier to quantify ROI and other results in real time.

Web 2.0 offers your organization tremendous potential, but in order to take full advantage you need to know what to look for. With the right consultants in your corner, you can sidestep the shiny objects and head straight for the solid investments.