The Intimacy Of Social Networks
Today I’m forwarding two quite different articles about online social networks — both have relevance to online fundraising.
The first, from Center for Research, is your typical report on social network usage — who does it, what they do, etc. It’s actually a compilation of two other reports from Netpop Research and Insight Express.
When I examine stats like these from a strictly fundraising standpoint, I usually look first at adoption/usage by age … and if available, by education. From a fundraising perspective, my interest in a channel or medium is directly proportional to presence of older, well-educated users. That’s a bias that comes from my background in cause fundraising, where older, better educated donors historically predominate. What the data seem to show consistently these days is that usage of social nets is indeed increasing amongst older cohorts, making it more and more important for cause groups to experiment in the medium.
I concede that other kinds of charities might have a broader base of support demographically, and so marketing channels that skew younger — like most social nets — might be more useful in those cases.
But the more intriguing article today is by Kevin Mannion of Sky Road Consulting, a firm that advises online publishers.
Kevin talks about his own personal use of Facebook. And what jumps out to me is the intimacy of his experience. Not in the sense of deep dark secrets being revealed … but rather in the way personal connections are being re-discovered, established and affirmed. Sure, there are plenty of folks on Facebook (and MySpace, Bebo and the other "non-professional" social nets) who collect hundreds of — at best, very loosely affiliated — "friends". But at the core of these sites are millions of users who in fact find them a powerful way to keep in touch with a group of people they really care about.
If you don’t appreciate that reality, then you’re not going to succeed as a marketer in trying to use the medium to communicate … to say nothing of doing anything more "crass" like raising money. And indeed, the trade press is littered with stories of failed or disappointing attempts to "market" on social net sites.
The reality is that the most effective fundraising — by any means — occurs when a "personal" connection is established. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a face-to-face pitch to a major donor, or sending a direct mail letter (hence all the advice to write as if you were speaking directly to one person).
What we are seeing is that the online social nets put a special premium on this personal connection, which I’m calling intimacy. Very few Facebook or MySpace users are going to casually pass along your "super urgent" message without considering its personal relevance to, first, themselves, and next, to their close network, whose most fundamental unstated "rule" is … keep the conversation within the bounds of what we as friends really talk about, both in content and style.
If you want your supporters to use their social nets to pass along your message, then your message had better pass the test of fitting within those bounds.