On the Pubtalkblog.org reading list, I recently linked to an article series title Climbing the Pyramid of Nonprofit Technology Needs. The author suggests the social media tools (e.g. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, et al.) are being oversold to nonprofits that have neither the internal infrastructure nor the tech-savvy people to make effective use of them. He says this is particularly true for small nonprofits operating without a dedicated IT staffer or department.
Think of this as a hierarchy of things your nonprofit should probably have in place before you can get to doing social media. There’s no doubt that each level represents a moving part that may require a nonprofit’s focus from time to time. That’s the nature of how nonprofits work. However, for the small nonprofit still spinning up their operations, it’s best to approach this pyramid from the bottom up as you really cannot move towards social media without everything else working.
My schoolmate Peter Fleck and I both made presentations to the New Times - New Tech conference last Friday. Peter's deck of slides included a quote from Marshall Ganz: "Tools don't build houses. Carpenters build houses." For me, this summarizes the misplaced priorities that trap some organizations in a seemingly endless cycle of "tech mediocrity."
The temptation to reach out to a new audience using the latest social networking tool is great. After all, signing up for an account on Facebook, for example, is free. Using Facebook effectively, however, is not free. Effective use of any tool (hammer, scalpel, computer, etc.) requires a not-insignificant investment of time and energy. Further, measuring the results that accrue from use of the tool may not be a trivial task.
Building technology infrastructure is cheaper than ever. "Cloud computing," commodity tech components, and advances in networking technology have greatly reduced the marginal cost of meeting a growing organization's technology needs.
Given the low cost of technology relative to human resources or training, throwing the kitchen sink at an ill-defined technology "problem" seems to be too easy--an irresistible temptation. Does this "hierarchy of tech needs" seem to make sense for today's small nonprofits? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments!
UPDATE: I just read this article at Minnpost.com:
Photos, video, maps, restaurant reviews and more have become "socially connected," enabling people who are connected to share information, aggregate this data, move it and participate in its creation with digital devices and Internet connections instantly. The expectation of these "always-on, always-connected" people is this: You, your business or organization are right there alongside them engaged and participating online.
You're not? Then, increasingly this group will perceive you as not terribly savvy, perhaps arrogant, disinterested or disconnected and, therefore, less than worthy of doing business or connecting with going forward.
I counter that being perceived to be "un-savvy" or "arrogant" is not necessarily more damaging than mediocre effectiveness. Given limited staff time and resources, is it better to be spread thin across many social networks or invest deeply in a free-standing website. I think it's an open question--what do you think?