social media

What’s the 411 on Building Online Communities?

by Sean Arayasirikul, Guest Blogger for the Network for LGBT Health Equity at Netroots Nation 2011

Online communities have revolutionized the ability for individuals to engage in community-making over the Internet. From Friendster to Myspace to Facebook and LinkedIn, successful online communities have a distinct identity and fulfill a particular niche and purpose. Especially significant in the LGBT community, online communities have been at the heart of socialization and community-making (consider, for example, and Organizations can now easily create online communities with out of the box templates like Ning ( However, all types of social media can host an online community, including most notably Twitter and Facebook. If your organization is thinking about launching a campaign or initiative that leverages creating an online community, below are some helpful things to consider.

Solve a Real Problem. What keeps people coming back to your online community is the sense of purpose that it represents. Ask yourself what problem your online community is solving? Be specific and ask around. Is there buy-in? Remember, many already fully participate in online communities on Facebook and Twitter for example. A challenge that many online communities face is the competition for user time with these big name, well-established communities. Consider whether your community members will go to a separate site or is a Facebook group or a Twitter hashtag more advantageous for your efforts? The bottom line: know your audience and pick a social media home for your online community accordingly.

If You Build It They Will Come – Not Quite. One common misconception about the management of online communities is that once it is built, people will gravitate towards it. This is not true. Online communities are fragile and need tender loving care. They need to be promoted, marketed and fed. Once people join your online community, community managers play a central role in keeping activity and content live and current. They listen, respond, energize and advocate for the users of your community.

How Do I Know If My Online Community is Working? In choosing your metrics for success, be creative. Below is a list of some of the usual suspects, but also some qualitative means of assessing the success of your online community.

  • Web traffic (with Google Analytics)
  • Membership numbers
  • Mentions (via Twitter)
  • Feedback (positive and negative)
  • Revenue (via FB causes, for example)
  • Referrals
  • Growth OVER time
  • Comments left on blog
  • User conversations with other users
  • Time between responses (less time as an indicator to high community responsiveness and cohesion)
  • VIP retweets, guest authors, and interviews (if you have high profile followers or other community members, consider the reach of your online community as a success!)

Reward Your Users. Identify your super users and incentivize them! Implement an ambassador program or institute a leader board for your users who are active. Highlight their involvement with increased responsibility like guest writing a monthly blog.

The Content Push – Focus on Integration. Static content can be the Achilles’ heel for any online community. Leverage your social network tools to cross-publish content. Make it once, use it twice (or three times)! If your have an event that’s coming up, highlight it on your online community’s calendar, RSS feed, Facebook, and Twitter. Cover the event with a live blog, tweetchat and live streaming. Archive video on Youtube and link it to your online community. Run a content series that occurs on a weekly basis. For example, you could profile a member every Mondays for “Member Mondays”.

 What’s the Bottom Line? Any form of community building – online or offline – takes work, passion, heart and drive!

Netroots Nation · social media

Social Media for the Social Good

by Sean Arayasirikul, Guest Blogger for the Network for LGBT Health Equity at Netroots Nation 2011

The opportunity for your organization to bring about meaningful impact and positive change in your communities is real – and social media can help get you there. I attended a session entitled, “FTW (For The Win): Social Networks, Down and Dirty for Change”, where four speakers shared some of the social media strategies that they have applied in their own work. This blog post recaps some of the messages these women had to share. I invite you to learn from their success stories.

Anita Jackson – (

The mission of is to push modern citizen engagement to the limit, supporting family economic security and ending discrimination against moms and women. Did you know that 99% of American moms will be online by the middle of the decade? Moms are not only a population that is integral to society; this projection explains why social media is a logical and ideal means of reaching out to these moms.

Four main principles drive the work at

  • Be nimble and responsive
  • Constantly test and measure
  • Dialogue – do not just broadcast
  • Layer cake mobilizing– engagement at ALL layers

Social media allows for the amplification of grassroots engagement through:

  • Synergistic collaborative work
  • One-click member advocacy
  • Wrap-around mobilization on-the-ground with online back up

Some unique ways produces content for its users are through tweetchats, real-time conversations on Twitter, and blog carnivals, curated blog posts brought together around a central theme.

Aspen Baker – Exhale ( and “16 & Loved” (

Exhale is dedicated to changing the social climate to accept and embrace women who have had abortions. A pro-voice organization, Exhale runs a multi-lingual talk line, a social network and online community with ONLY 3 full-time staff, 40 volunteers, and a 285K budget (in 2010). Although fiscally and organizationally modest, its impact is incredibly wide-spread. Armed with a message, MTV partnered with Exhale to produce a special called, “16 & Loved”, to balance the discussion generated in pop culture discourse around MTV’s popular show “16 & Pregnant”.

“16 & Loved” not only included the MTV special, but also moderated website that served as online oasis of love and tons of social media promotion. They convened a blogger conference call to organize around the special, launched a live blog during the special and trained spokespersons to endorse the special. A wonderful case study was written, documenting the road to developing this successful campaign (

The prevailing take home message was the power of social media to authenticate the human experience by allowing for individual (and collective) voices to be heard. When issues like abortion are humanized, the stigma and moral conflict falls away.

Rachel LaBruyere – Mobile Evangelist

Rachel LaBruyere is a mobile evangelist who helps initiatives strategize when, how and why to use mobile technologies in their progressive campaigns. Below are some of her talking points:

Why Mobile?

  • Mobile allows for information to be captured on the spot. For example, to build your mobile phone list supporters at an event can text a keyword to a number (e.g. – text MOM to RISING)
  • Mobile enables rapid response capabilities – a simple text message call to action can be sent to all your supporters
  • Access to communities who are not online, but have a cell phone with SMS capability
  • 6.1 trillion text messages were sent last year – a large part of communication is via text messages

Mobile can trigger REAL ACTION using REAL STORIES

  • Rachel shared a success story where an SMS text message was sent out to an organization’s mobile list asking individuals to tell their story to their local Congressmen by calling the initiative’s voicemail box. The organization took these voicemail messages and forwarded them to each individual’s elected representative.
Data · Netroots Nation · social media

No Such Thing as a Stupid Question: Making the Case for Analytics and Optimization

by Sean Arayasirikul, Guest Blogger for the Network for LGBT Health Equity at Netroots Nation 2011

E-mail and websites are powerful tools to organizing action online. They make information available quickly and massively to an endless universe of users. But, what does it take to make your e-mails more effective? Does layout matter? Do pictures matter? Do specific words and phrases matter? Is the registration process on your organization’s website streamlined to keep the momentum going? Or does the registration process ask for too much information, dampening the fervor? How can you nudge more of your stakeholders into taking action? What are the best practices in communicating online?

Many sessions at Netroots Nation 2011 seek to not only provide perspectives on answering some of these technical questions, but also connect you to resources. This post will help make the case – and hopefully, begin a series of discussions at your organization – for integrating analytics and optimization as a part of your organizational culture; hopefully, it will help you create YOUR OWN best practices.

What does analytics and optimization mean?

Analytics and optimization are types of formative research, conducted like experiments and tests. It uses your stakeholders – the people who are on your e-mail lists, those who visit your websites, your supporters – as a living, social laboratory to ask questions about the inner workings of your communication and online strategies.

How can it help you?

By designing experiments and tests to answer pointed questions, data is collected to help inform specific tactics and strategies. For example, you may want to know which of two subject lines in your next email blast is more effective in getting people to sign on to an online petition. You might design a test that sends these two emails with different subject lines to randomly selected users in your e-mail list and see which subject line leads to signing the petition. If you find that one subject line is associated with a 50% gain in petition signatures, using that subject line with your entire e-mail list will yield your desired outcome – CHANGE AND ACTION!

I want to do this! Where can I get more information?

Check out these organizations that provide training and technical assistance on these topics and can help you analyze and optimize your online tactics and strategies:

Peruse this white paper by the New Organizing Institute on experiments in online advocacy research (

Explore and get started with Optimizely ( on conducting experiments with your websites.

What’s the bottom line?

  • Testing is a culture, not a bunch of arbitrary rules.  You will need to foster a cultural belief in the benefits of formative research, valuing curiosity and experimentation.
  • The online environment is BUILT for testing. Because this type of data collection is cheap, plentiful, and easy to act on – make use of your social laboratory!


Netroots Nation

Online Organizing: Small investments, BIG Gains and Quick Tips

by Sean Arayasirikul, Guest Blogger for the Network for LGBT Health Equity at Netroots Nation 2011

Social media has revolutionized how community based organizations (CBOs) do work in the public sphere, including how we organize a support base and raise awareness around issues. Social media tools can quickly inform, mobilize and organize stakeholders to bring about positive change in your communities. You may already be familiar with social media’s usual suspects like Facebook and Twitter, but there is an entire universe of social media tools out there that may help you enhance your social media presence with little monetary investment and infinite gains. Here are some general tips and exciting social media tools to explore:

  1. FREE-MIUM social media tools rock! The market for social media services is growing as fast as we can imagine them. With a little bit of research, you may be able to find free premium (or “free-mium”) services at no cost. For example, instead of costing out a $10K website redesign, maybe a facelift is in order. A WordPress blog ( – complete with schnazzy templates and customizable features – might just fit your needs.
  2. Know your non-profit tax status. If you are a 501(c)(3) you’re in luck! Many social media products have discounted rates for the organizing work that you are doing
  3. Want to start a petition? Check out ( from your friends that brought you (
  4. Accepting Donations? YES, please! Network for Good ( offers an affordable and user-friendly interface to fundraise online.
  5. Let your constituents and supporters SEE it for themselves! Within a couple of seconds, stream live video from UStream’s mobile app ( and syndicate live events as they happen (for FREE)!
  6. Produce content on YOUR OWN TIME! Managing multiple social network accounts can lead you to question your sanity – don’t let it! Synchronize the syndication of your content (Facebook status updates/messages and Tweets) and schedule them ahead of time with Hootsuite (
  7. To each his own – Everyone accesses social media at different times. Make sure you reach everyone in your audience. Stagger the times when your content goes live to accommodate different patterns of social media use. Reach college students taking late night breaks between papers and the 9-to-5 early risers!
  8. Knowledge is POWER (yes, you too!) – Take time to evaluate and monitor the activity on your websites and social media outlets. If you have ever asked yourself: How are people getting to my website? What pages do they visit most? Look into Google Analytics (
  9. Looking for reciprocity on Twitter? If you want to know who you’re following on Twitter that isn’t following you back, check out FriendOrFollow (

Try one of these ideas – BROADEN and DEEPEN your social media presence!