When Did The Web Get Social?


Given all the current talk about “social media,” you might assume that the Web’s core technology recently changed. But really (and of course), the Internet was conceived as a social medium. Email, the origination point for social computing, got started 38 years ago!i Discussion groups and file sharing got started 30 years ago as USENET.

“Talk,” a real-time chat program like Yahoo! Messenger® and AOL Instant Messenger®, arrived on the scene 26 years ago. And the now venerable World Wide Web made its debut a full two decades in the past.

So with these beginnings, why was the first Wikipedia® entry for “social media” not created until 2005? To see why this might be so, consider these two recent developments:

1. The Internet’s ability to move and store large volumes of data has quintupled in the last decade.ii
2. A majority of people in the U.S. now have a high-speed connection to the Internet in their homes.iii

These two trends have created the technical and social environment needed for the original vision of the Internet as social medium to “go mainstream.” And that’s what’s different: The Internet no longer could be social; now it actively is social!

Your supporters and future supporters are out there, sharing photos, making connections, telling stories, giving advice, and watching videos:

  • More than 1.2 billion email users
  • 200 million Facebook® users
  • 13 billion photos on Facebook® & Flickr® alone
  • More than 55 million visits per month on Twitter®
  • 133 million blogs

Go ahead, join them…they’ll be glad to see you!

Pursuing Objectives Using Social Media

Having a social media strategy is not its own objective. Rather, social media strategies can support your existing objectives.
Reflect on your organization’s current objectives: Do you want to build cause awareness, connect with new supporters, cultivate supporter relationships, or build a private space on the web for your community? Those are all goals social media can help support.
Build Cause Awareness: Bookmark Your Content — Socially!
The National Wildlife Foundation was able to convert 243 “digs” into 43,703 page views for a webpage that would have only received 4,834 page views without the social bookmarking “assist.”

Do you have anything on your website that you’d like to “boost”?

Together, the popular social bookmarking sites Digg® and StumbleUpon® serve more than 25 million unique visitors each month. The reason people go to Digg® and StumbleUpon® is that they figure the community is a good judge of web content: If a lot of people have marked a web page as interesting or “digged” it, they might like it too. When a web page starts to gain popularity on a social bookmarking service, it can drive a tremendous amount of traffic back to your site and help spread awareness of your cause to thousands of potential supporters.

What It Takes:
Submitting content is easy; you just need to create an account (i.e., a user profile), after which adding web pages to the site only takes a few seconds. What takes longer is developing the profile itself by spending some time each day participating in the social bookmarking community. You need to submit great quality items, but moreover, you need to rank other submissions, leave comments, and add friends to your network.
The reason for this might not be clear until you notice two things:


      • Social bookmarking sites are “smart”: They suggest content for you based on what people with similar profiles have liked. This matching engine will ultimately help your content reach many new people — but not until your profile has some usage data in it.
      • There is some social reciprocity at work (it is a social bookmarking site after all). Some people will read an article you found interesting simply because you read an article they submitted.

Using social bookmarking, like many social media techniques, is “free” but does require an investment of time.

Measuring Results:

      • Number of Page Views: Compare the amount of time you put into social bookmarking to the amount of money you would pay for an equivalent amount of online advertising.

Risk Management:

      • Social bookmarking is a low-risk activity. Only submit the best content you have (as opposed to submitting everything), submit related high-quality content, and occasionally participate in the community by giving other submissions a “thumbs up.” Following those simple guidelines will keep your profile in good standing.

Connect With New Supporters: Build a Facebook® Fan Page
Lance Armstrong Foundation was able to establish an additional way to communicate with more than 287,000 people by creating an organization page on Facebook®.
A Facebook® page is your organization’s website on Facebook®. Its functionality is more limited, but it is much easier to manage, directly targets 200 million well-connected Internet users, and is structured in a way that directly helps you build your list of supporters. Additionally, your Facebook® page is a form of market research because it can provide you with demographic information about your supporters.
Lance Armstrong Foundation has a successful Facebook® page at www.facebook.com/livestrong that currently engages more than 287,000 fansix. Another good example is www.facebook.com/one, notable for its well-executed tie-in back to ONE’s main website.
What It Takes:
Getting started is easy: You can have a basic Facebook® page in just a few minutes by filling out this web form: www.facebook.com/pages/create.php. Once your page is set up, you can control a whole host of powerful web features, including discussion groups, photo galleries, and event promotions.

      • Choose the setting that allows your fans to post to your fan page wall.
      • Engage your fans by cross-posting blog content, as well as sharing pictures and videos on a regular basis; all of these have the potential to start conversations.
      • Regularly participate in the various conversations happening on your fan page

Measuring Results:

      • Number of New Supporters: Count your fans as members of your house list. You can send these people messages through status updates on your organization page.
      • Engagement of New Supporters: Treat your Facebook® page fans as a separate segment and compare its response rates to the response rates from other supporter groups in your list.Supporter Demographics Report: Use the “Insights” tool to get activity, as well as demographic, data about your fans. You can then take that data and figure out which content is making the greatest impact.

Risk Management:

      • Facebook® fan pages will allow your organization to choose whether or not fans can update your site with comments, links, photos, and videos. With these features off, there is almost no risk, but there is also almost no social or viral element. With these features on, you have approximately the same issue you have with a blog: What if someone makes an objectionable comment that is now appearing on your web property? Facebook® lets page owners delete anything they don’t likeAs with blogs, it’s best to create a short, clear policy and then enforce it consistently. Generally, excluding only hateful and obscene content is preferred; otherwise, you might lose a chance to connect with someone who is starting off with a different point of view.

Cultivate Relationships: Collaborate With Your Supporters

      • In 2008, the Brooklyn Museum ran a program that engaged 3,344 people with their organization in a substantive, creative, and satisfying way.
        The Internet makes collaboration between large groups of widely spread people possible. And collaboration on substantive projects is great for building affinity in both directions — in your organization for its supporters, and in supporters for their organization.
        Is there a way you could use the Internet to build affinity in your community through collaboration?


    • The Brooklyn Museum created an exhibit called Click! where the public got to be both the artist and the jury. Through an online system, members of the Museum’s web community submitted photographs and then selected those that would be included in the show. A total of 3,344 people participated, and the show was a great success.What It Takes:
      In the case described above, the core components were custom-built web forms that allowed for the submission and review of the photographs. Both traditional and social media messaging channels would be a good fit for promotion.Measuring Results:
    • Comparative Engagement Measures: In the short term, you can talk about the success of Click! type initiatives in terms of how many people participated. Of additional interest is carefully comparing subsequent levels of engagement for your “collaborating” supporters to those of your general supporter population. Do they make donations or purchase memberships at the same rate? Do they renew memberships at the same rate? Rate differences could speak to the lasting effects of developing relationships through collaboration.
    • Risk Management:
    • Social media risk usually centers on user-generated content. Blogs, photo galleries, and video libraries that users contribute to are clear examples of where this kind of risk could occur. That said, user generated content is not a critical component of every social media strategy. In cases where it is (Click! for example), vetting before releasing the content for public consumption often eliminates the issue..

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