In this article, we lay out three scenarios for how your social change initiative can combine the critical mass of Facebook with the community-building tools of Ning.
For anyone following the evolution of social media for social change, the emergence of Facebook and Ning as complementary tools for engaging people in making a difference is quite exciting.
Facebook has the lure of a big city. It's packed with people and things to do. On Facebook, it never hurts to try new things. Ning, on the other hand, offers all of the benefits of a private getaway with your closest friends. On Ning, a self-selecting group of your supporters can find the space to focus on the specific opportunities you're creating for them to get involved in your cause.
When it comes to leveraging Facebook and Ning, the trick is to align the best elements of both without overwhelming your supporters with extra usernames and passwords, not to mention redundant services.
Below are a few scenarios on how to leverage both Facebook and Ning.
Scenario 1: Heavy on Facebook, Light on Ning
In this case, you stake out a strong presence for your cause on Facebook. You encourage as many of your supporters to become your fans or join a Facebook group. You communicate with your supporters by inviting them to events, sharing pictures, asking for advice, and posting links back to your website. Your use of Ning can be reserved for the super-supporters who want to dive deeper into your cause. For the super-supporters, you can set up a branded social network that allows them to keep track of their involvement.
Scenario 2: Heavy on Ning, Light on Facebook
Ning offers your social initiative a compelling tool on which to build an online community. The features on Ning allow for heavy customization and the creation of a focused environment. If you want to create a branded social network at a low cost, then Ning offers a very powerful toolset for you to leverage. Invariably, many of your supporters will have accounts on Facebook. It's nice to offer these supporters the ability to show their affinity with your cause. To serve their needs, you can create a 'fan' page or Facebook group and occasionally broadcast messages to the people who have signed-up. You can also add RSS feeds with content from your branded social network so that users on Facebook are up-to-date with what's happening on your social network.
Scenario 3: Light on Facebook, Light on Ning
In all likelihood, your supporters will let you know where they want to interact with your cause the most. For this reason, you may want to embrace Facebook and Ning, without making a final decision on which platform to spend your limited time and money. Depending on the response from your supporters, you can enhance your initial presence on one or both platforms. The agile approach to community building is probably your safest bet.
Note: This blog entry originally appeared in Social Actions' e-newsletter for February 5, 2009. In each issue, we feature a different social media tool and explain how it can be leveraged for social change.