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Social Networking Sites

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Brief Description:


(from Social Media Training):
Social networks focus on online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are primarily web based and provide a collection of various ways for users to interact, such as chat, messaging, email, video, voice chat, file sharing, blogging, discussion groups, and so on. (from Wikipedia, edited)

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.

Facebook, probably the world's largest social network, boasts 800 million active users worldwide (data Dec. 2011). LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals, hosts more than 120 million members (22 March 2011). 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.

Here is a brief video explaining Social Networking.

Social Networking in plain English: http://www.commoncraft.com/video-social-networking

When to use:


  • 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, Director of Communications at the of the WorldAgroforestry Center stated during an online Social Media workshop in 2009, “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.
  • Viral 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.

How to use:

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.
  • Use the social networks that are relevant to your work and your part of the world. (See this site for visualizations about what social networks are popular in different regions. As well as this site... comscore data)

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Tips and Lessons Learnt

(add yours)

Examples & Stories

(add yours)
  • Save the Children opened up a "Yak Shack" in Second Life, an online world populated by users' digital alter egos. The site's users design all of the virtual world's buildings and objects, and have their own currency called linden dollars. At the Yak Shack, users had the opportunity to buy their own virtual Tibetan ox which they could milk, ride and even knit a woolly jumper for. Yaks cost 1,000 lindens, which the charity exchanged for $3.50 in the real word. The user who customised their yak most uniquely won the opportunity to feature in the Second Life magazine.The charity came up with the idea of taking their fundraising online when Christmas shoppers bought so many yaks for Tibetan families in Save the Children's (real world) wish list scheme that they sold out. Joe Barrell, head of communications at Save the Children, said the web campaign was a great success."It didn't generate a huge amount of money but it was more about awareness-raising," he says. "We were the first UK charity to use Second Life and featured in national print and broadcast media, and our website got lots more hits." He added: "New media is a very high-reach, low-cost medium driven by content. The great advantage for charities is that they have a great story to tell."People are exposed to so many more messages these days that if you want to cut through that, you have to come at them from more angles. New media allows people to participate, so they're not passive recipients of advertising": http://www.secondlifeinsider.com/2006/12/10/save-the-children-sells-virtual-yaks/
  • The Control Arms campaign has a number of YouTube videos showing how weapons are ending up on the streets. Raising awareness in this way helped put pressure on 153 governments who voted at the United Nations in October 2006 to start work on developing an arms trade treaty: http://www.youtube.com/user/controlarms
  • Oxfam GB has a video channel on MySpace: http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.Channel&ChannelID=147744407
  • The World Bank has a channel on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/worldbank
  • FAO's YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/FAOoftheUN
  • Some theory and example stories in this article http://www.web2fordev.net/component/content/article/1-latest-news/73-from-local-to-global-social-networks-address-world-challenges

Who can tell me more?

(add your name/contact email)
Michael Riggs (michael.riggs[at]fao.org)

Related Methods / Tools / Practices


Resources

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Tags


Author(s)

Meena Arivananthan (m.arivananthan[at]cgiar.org)
Nancy White










Image credits: http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~ncrochet/social_networking_sites.jpg