This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Social media for small organizations

This is part 4 in a series, Social media for small organizations.

The rule of 90-9-1 means that small organizations with focused audiences are unlikely to create highly participatory, self-reinforcing online communities. But they can still benefit from using social media tools to engage their audiences in online conversation. And one of the most exciting options is very useful to large organizations and businesses, too.

If you are creating a social media presence that can work without a high volume of member participation, you can take one of two approaches:

  1. aggregate the content from your members (either individuals or organizations, or both), wherever they are currently posting it (blogs, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc.), and leave the door open to additional content contributions from members
  2. create your own content on a regular basis, and leave the door open to additional content contributions from members

This post tackles the first of these two options, the aggregation strategy. An aggregation-based site uses RSS to pull content in from across the net, and then organizes it on your own site, typically by category or tag (keyword). It’s one of my favourite ways for creating a useful, engaging web presence without relying on high levels of participation, which is probably why I’ve written so many blog posts tackling different ways that RSS aggregation can support effective online presences.

This approach requires:

  1. A platform for aggregating existing conversations. I prefer Drupal for anything at all ambitious, since it has great, nuanced aggregation options and gives you plenty of room to grow; lots of major non-profit and corporate sites are built on Drupal, so you can grow very big or manage it quite effectively in a smaller form. The nice thing about Drupal’s inbound aggregation is you can set up rules that automatically categorize the content you’re aggregating based on however it was categorized (tagged) at the original source; this makes it a lot easier to organize content on your own site.You can also use WordPress with an additional plug-in called FeedWordPress; I love FeedWordPress for adding a little aggregated content to a blog (I use it on, but I wouldn’t recommend it for building a site that is primarily aggregation-driven. Another new and interesting option is DEQQ, created by our friends and colleagues at Work at Play, which lets you create threaded conversations from your members’ existing social network activity; it’s not widely used in the not-for-profit sector but it’s being adopted by a number of Canadian teams in the NHL, so it’s definitely ready for prime time.
  2. Set-up time to identify feeds and keywords. You might set up your site to simply aggregate all the blog posts, photos and videos from your members; or you could set up a keyword search (on YouTube, on Flickr, on Twitter, on Google’s blog search) to pull in content related to a specific or set of topics.
  3. Social media profiles for your members. An aggregation strategy is much easier to execute if you get your members to add their add their Twitter handles, blog URLS (ideally, blog RSS feeds) or other social media profiles to their profiles or even a simple form on your site. Then you can just set up your site to aggregate those feeds; you can even be explicit about this constituting permission to aggregate their content, which will make your lawyer happy (see below).
  4. A lawyer. Here’s what your lawyer may say: don’t do this, because you could be infringing on other people’s copyright. It’s true that there are plenty of aggregation sites out there, some of which are very respected (and typically careful about limiting their aggregated content to content that is Creative Commons licensed, or by aggregating only short teasers that link back to the original source site. But there are also creeps. I am not a lawyer, and I’m not going to offer a legal opinion on the nuances of keeping your aggregation within the bounds of fair use.
  5. A moderator. Your aggregation-driven site will be much, much more useful and useable if a human being is regularly reviewing aggregated content to prune what’s irrelevant and promote what’s great. Push the coolest, most relevant stuff to the front of the site, and delete the garbage. It’s great to have someone do this for an hour or two every day, 5 days a week, but if you don’t have the budget and you’re willing to let stuff go live on the site without pre-screening (or conversely, to go a day or two between content updates, which I don’t recommend) then you can get away with someone who moderates 2-3 times per week.

Next week I’ll tackle the second option for smaller organizations: a strategy that focuses on creating content yourself. Then I’ll wrap with some final conclusions about the challenges of developing an online community strategy when facing a finite audience or finite resources.

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