Nonprofits adopt social media

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AARP is expanding its Web site to include social networking
AARP is expanding its Web site to include social networking

Nonprofits have discovered the appeal of social networking applications, especially their ability to offer constituents better ways to communicate with one another and the organization.

For example, AARP, an advocacy and community group for people age 50 and older, will debut its new Web site to the public this month as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. In a first for the organization, the new site will include social networking capability.

The revamped site is part of an effort to revitalize the AARP brand and make it more encompassing of a wider age set as well as a changing one.

“AARP realized that, as its audience becomes more tech-savvy, its site needs to be more dynamic,” said Ralph Lucci, principal and creative director at Behavior Design, the online marketing agency that developed the new AARP site.

Members of the group can now custom­ize their user profiles by posting photos, video and journals that can be tagged with keywords to promote accessibility within the network. Members can also invite friends to view their profile, send and receive messages and join or create special interest groups.

“You might think that an audience like this might be skeptical of using some of these tools,” Lucci said. However, the social networking aspect helps to validate the process, he explained — a user may feel more comfortable posting photos, for instance, if someone he or she knows is also uploading photos or journaling.

The AARP site's audience has more than doubled since the beta launch, according to an AARP spokesman. The refer-a-friend process and community aspect of the site are credited with help­ing to grow the network to that extent. In addition, users are spending more time on the site, the company said.

In fact, social networking has proven so successful with AARP's members during the beta phase that the organization is looking into offering more tools in the future, Lucci said.

The Arthritis Foundation is also using social media to enhance its online pres­ence. In August, the organization for arthritis sufferers added a social media platform from Web 2.0 services company ThePort Network. Additions include the ability for users to create RSS feeds, pro­file pages and blogs. According to Delia Carter, group VP of strategic communications at the Arthritis Foundation, the non­profit felt that social networking might offer something useful to its members after discovering that discussion boards received the most traffic of any area on the site. In fact, many have adopted the blogs as a way to help them keep track of their progress, meet personal goals and get support from the community.

The social media platform gives the non­profit “direct access to the people whose hands we need to be getting information into,” Carter said.

“It provides a way to develop a relation­ship with people that may not know about us but who come in through a friend's page,” she continued. “That's important, because we need to create awareness and people with arthritis tell our story a lot better than we ever could.”

At the end of this year, the organization plans to conduct focus groups to find out how the new platform is working. Once any necessary tweaking is done, it will spend the first part of next year promoting the new social networking capabilities to bring more people to its community.

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