Facebook for non-profits: why there's a lot further to go

The non-profit blogging community has been awash with discussions of how to use facebook, particularly for fundraising. Most of the commentary is sensible, in so far as it goes. Any non-profit looking to engage facebook users would be well advised to create a group and explore the use of the causes application, but a strategy to really propel growth in engagement with a campaign will need to go beyond that.

Soha El-Borno has a piece on techsoup entitled Promote Your Cause on Facebook in Six Easy Steps which covers the basics of getting a cause established on the site fairly well, but it’s striking in two respects:

Firstly, the example of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Inc. who have nearly 50,000 members in their group but have raised less than $1000. Everyone may be quite literally contributing their two cents, but that doesn’t seem like much of a return. Others have done better, but none of the groups mentioned seem to have achieved a particularly significant return.

Secondly, the suggestion that you should use your facebook cause to get media attention is not likely to stand for long. It’s worth doing while you can, but facebook is already flooded with causes and a facebook presence won’t be remarkable for long.

But what is really striking is that there’s very little discussion of taking your cause’s presence beyond, well, a mere presence, and perhaps raising some funds. For fundraising campaigns, that’s probably enough and the challenge will simply be to increase returns, but for campaigns seeking social change a greater degree of engagement is needed. And that’s something there aren’t any real examples of as yet.

Part of the problem is that facebook does very little to help us manage our attention. As a facebook user I regularly check the “news feed” but am well aware that it is far from comprehensive in the information from my friends that it shows me. It worked well when I had a dozen friends listed, but as soon as it grew over a hundred the system wasn’t able to keep up. Groups are very easy to sign up for, but keeping track of activity is not. I can go to the groups’ individual page, but that’s way too time consuming for someone used to getting everything they need in an aggregator. I can go to my ‘groups’ page, but at best that will tell me that a new post has been added to a group. I still have to click through: the information doesn’t come to me. Facebook have a great opportunity to really improve how our attention is managed, but their interface is nowhere close to realising it.

As Allen Benamer notes in Convio Facebook App not recommended for use right now:

The best Facebook Apps increase interactivity between and among users themselves.

The popularity of facebook games such as scrabulous bear that out, but so far those apps have to do most of the work for themselves. Facebook doesn’t make it easy. If campaigning non-profits want to really take advantage of facebook to deepen engagement and grow their active supporter base, they’re going to have to look to those interactive apps’ examples, to step beyond “causes” and work around facebook’s significant limitations.

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