It would be hard to use the Internet and not come across a slew of social networking sites. Facebook, MySpace…these are just two of the popular sites that regular Internet aficionados use to keep in touch with family and friends and/or meet new people.
Social networking sites allow users to create their own personal virtual space that includes applications like photo-sharing, instant messaging, Twitter and blogs. Users can connect to friends and family, but more importantly, their friends and family are connected to others, resulting in potential new networks. And therein lies the argument in favor of using these sites to promote our work in the CGIAR.
Of course, there has been extensive critique of social networking sites, with people calling them ‘useless time wasters that drag users in’, ‘ isolating rather than connecting’, ‘something for the kids’… Add to that the stigma that comes with social networking sites, thanks to cyber stalkers and identity theft. Whatever the reason for getting onto these sites or getting off them completely, there will always be people who either love or hate them. For those sitting on the fence – why not give them a try before you dismiss them? You just might be pleasantly surprised.
Why you should consider social networking sites for your work
Well, how does having access to a huge online audience sound to you?
Facebook alone boasts 175 million active users worldwide. LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals, hosts more than 39 million members. This no-nonsense site lets you form links for career growth, and creates a unique environment where talent and expertise can be sourced by people you trust in your network.
Five years since the introduction of Facebook in colleges, with many Facebook users jealously guarding their Facebook accounts as private social networks, keeping out colleagues and acquaintances, there has been an interesting development. Even in their private virtual spaces, some people are now looking for ways to engage and make a difference.
How you can use social networking sites to your advantage
- Create awareness. Raise visibility and build a presence for your Center. There are already more than 100,000 non-profits, universities and other organizations using Facebook to connect with people. Recognizing the need, Facebook revamped its “Facebook Pages”, now known as “Public Profiles”, in March 2009. Check out the step-by-step guide to Public Profiles.
- Engage people. Promote issues that resonate with people, such as food security, climate change, potable water for all, etc. A recent example of the strategic use of Facebook was the promotion of Earth Hour 2009, which saw almost one million people signing up on the Earth Hour site via Facebook. People were requested to switch off their lights for one hour on March 28 to promote an awareness of climate change and send a strong message to world leaders ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009. The result: millions of people voted “Earth” by posting photos, videos, blogs and using Twitter.
- Form alliances. As Michael Hailu of ICRAF stated during the online Social Media workshop last March, “use these tools to link up with influential people and institutions”. He cited a blog post by the UK Minister of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hillary Benn, who posted an entry about his visit to ICRAF.
- Find expertise or talent. Sites like LinkedIn , which contain a network of trusted, professional contacts, may lead to potential partners, service providers and other experts.
- Virtual Marketing. Use the extended networks in Facebook or your Facebook Page to publicize and promote specific activities such as blog posts, video clips or any new content. As noted online communications expert Nancy White states “we pay attention to things that are recommended to us by people in our network”.
- Spread the word about your work, publications, website. Post short comments and links to news, updates and new content you release to let interested people pick them up and, if they are interested, redistribute them.
Tips for getting the best out of social networking sites
- While there are quite a few sites that can be used to promote or publicize your activity, event or Center, it is wise to exercise restraint. How much time do you really have to dedicate towards updating and maintaining your Facebook page? You would ideally need to update it regularly (at least weekly). Do you have the resources to work on several social networking sites? These are things to consider before jumping in.
- Make sure your profile page is complete before you present it to the online world. Incomplete information does not encourage return visits, mainly when it is about your face and credibility.
- Content needs to be interesting, fresh, enticing … use your imagination. Remember, you’re going to be competing with singing dogs and flying babies! But seriously, there are many people online who crave knowledge and learning. Enlighten them! ICARDA’s Moyomola Bolarin had a great suggestion for YouTube videos being posted on social networking sites. It involved “combining a delicious chickpea recipe with information on how ICARDA work on its (chickpea) improvement”.
- Keep track of whom you invite to your page; start with influential contacts who already have established networks. It is better to have a meaningful network of people who genuinely support and will likely promote your cause.
Still unsure? Well, why not start with a small event that may be happening at your Center – promote it on Facebook or any other social networking site, and monitor the impact.
As for me, once this blog post is published, I’m going to include the link in my email list, Yammer and Facebook!
Till next week…
Pssst! BTW if you’d like to explore the area of social media more extensively, check out ICT-KM’s social media workshop starting May 25th.