Join any online communities your fans have started. National Public Radio host Ira Flatow learned that a college student had started a Facebook group called "Science Friday--the best day of the week." So he joined it himself, posting questions to the more than 800 group members, asking them to post videos on the Science Friday website, polling them for questions they want to ask the scientists featured on the show, and more. Participants have posted a video of Ira's first program on virtual worlds like Second Life--another new media community in which Science Friday participates--including footage of Ira meeting his avatar, Ira Flatly. And they post questions, discussion items and reactions to the show. It's a combination fan club and test market for new ideas, and an extra way to connect with listeners, Flatow tells us. (If you're in Second Life, your avatar can go to the SciFri simulcast and ask Ira Flatly a question that gets relayed via email to Ira while he's on the air--listen and you'll hear him pose Second Lifers' questions during the show.) Use new-media privacy options for select support communities. Most blog platforms (like Blogger) now offer options for subscription-only blogs. Your selected group gets an invitation, registers with Blogger, and uses that login to access the blog; you decide whether they can add postings or just comment on your posts. You can set up such a blog for a member committee, contest judges or advisory boards to deliberate privately. And one smart private foundation executive we know is thinking of using a private blog so donors can share ideas with one another for results of their donations or for directing future gifts. Use easy-to-publish video and photos to engage supporters in your events. Don't just blog about your executive director's speech -- be sure she takes a photo of the full audience and posts it with information about the questions that were asked. Take a video camera to your next alley cleanup, cancer fundraising walk, or gala fundraiser and post clips to YouTube; better yet, turn the camera on your legislative testimony on a key issue or interview your volunteers about a story that got them involved on your issue. Let them explain why they're passionate about your cause and give the bug to others. (Look here for more on how the Skoll Foundation's video posts helped a social entrepreneur connect with a donor.) Get your current community to join an online group together--then add new members from that online site's other like-minded users. LinkedIn -- a professional networking site -- as well as Facebook and social activism sites like ThinkMTV offer you the ability to email your entire group, share photos or videos, or send out a call for information, changes of schedule or notices of new events. Most of the services are free, so why build your own system? In many cases, these messages go right to users' primary email box -- but because they know it's from a select community and not spam, your message may get more attention. And because you're not just using a private email system, others can learn about your group and cause, and join you.
A good first step: Survey your community and ask which online communities they belong to and why. You may find volunteers willing to help you set up a presence with one of these new-media options, or get insight into which option would yield the most benefit to your organization.