Thursday, August 21, 2008

IABC Q&A: Build our own community?

Another question at my talk on social and "new" media for IABC Washington came from someone working on a university magazine. They'd like to create an online community for alumni, but aren't sure how to proceed: Should they use Facebook or some other existing community, or build their own? With that came a concern about opening it up to comments. Here's the question:

My answer: You'll have to try them both, and ask your community what it prefers. Many existing social networking sites offer the chance to create a community for free, which make them ideal options for groups with low budgets or those with only volunteer help who seek an off-the-shelf solution. And Facebook itself was created to be a campus and alumni network, so it's ideally suited to that use. LinkedIn also offers many alumni groups, and my e-handout for the talk includes another site, now in beta, called GottaMentor, which also could lend itself to building your alumni network.

My caution about existing communities--based on my own experience--is that you'll get out of them what you put into them. It's great to have a group on LinkedIn or Facebook, but unless you work at recruiting new members, sending updates to members, and using the group to consistently promote your events, issues and activities, it won't be much better than a directory. You'll need to plan how to take advantage of these groups each week throughout the year if you want to make the most of them, something that's just as true for a customized community you create yourself. I find Facebook more functional for this purpose, as it allows you and group members to post photos and videos, show RSVPs for events, send updates with visuals, and more. And you'll have to educate your alumni or other group members about what they can do with the site.

Regarding the comments issue--"anyone can say anything"--I'll say two things: Comments give you useful feedback, even if it's not the feedback you want. Handled deftly and publicly, even a negative comment can help your image. And most social networking groups allow the administrator of the group to control membership and to remove offensive comments and content. You'll help allay concerns if you have a clear comments policy and post it for all to see.

Finally, encouragement for magazine producers: Your skills in writing, editing and layout make your team ideally suited to converting a print vehicle to social networking online. (I know--I'm a former magazine writer, editor and developer myself.) Among my blogging clients is a newsletter publisher who has converted from all-print to all-electronic newsletters--at a great savings in overhead. (Thanks to Emily Deck for capturing this question on video.)

No comments: