IT intelligence: Social networking sites

Sue Fidler explains why charities should not ignore social networking websites.

There is currently a proliferation of social networking websites, and there is little doubt that there will be some consolidation sooner or later.

It seems unlikely that MySpace, Facebook and Bebo won't survive in some format, but they could be bought out. Google's own social networking site will gain market share simply because of the number of Google users. And we need to keep our eye on charity-specific sites such as MyCharityPage to see if they take off and survive against the background of Facebook's Causes, MySpace's Impact, the Community Channel's Your Charity Space and Justgiving. There are definitely shifting loyalties among the users of these websites.

For a while, MySpace was the place to be for younger users, but now the average user age is between 25 and 45, and it is gaining a reputation for being a dating site. Bebo, which is mainly used by younger audiences aged from 14 to 25, gives branding opportunities in a hard-to-reach space. As the UK's fastest-growing networking site, Facebook is the choice for a slightly more professional audience.

Unfortunately for harassed charity staff trying to keep up with the shifting morass of Web 2.0, there isn't an obvious right or wrong option when deciding which site to use.

You should definitely have a presence on all three, even if it is only a simple page with a logo, contact details, a key paragraph about the charity and links to your home and donation pages.

When choosing which to concentrate on, search for your charity and your immediate competitors on each of these sites and see which has the most 'friends'. Then set up an official group on whichever network has the stronger audience and invite the informal groups to link with you and help spread the word.

- Sue Fidler is an independent charity ICT and internet consultant.

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