Thursday, April 10, 2008

How can nonprofits succeed in the online attention economy?

I like the approach of Netsquared to ask a group of bloggers to write about the same question. Though I struggle with some of the topics because I don't feel I have enough expertise, I want to try to participate this month with the question: How can nonprofits succeed in the online attention economy?

Britt Bravo explains what is meant by Online Attention Economy in this blogpost. As more nonprofits, businesses and individuals create blogs, podcasts, rss news feeds, wikis, social networks, YouTube accounts, Twitter feeds, fundraising widgets, mashups, etc. what do you think nonprofits need to do to attract and maintain people's attention online?

Richard MacManus writes:
"A key point is that The Attention Economy is about the consumer having choice - they get to choose where their attention is 'spent'. Another key ingredient in the attention game is relevancy. As long as the consumer sees relevant content, he/she is going to stick around - and that creates more opportunities to sell."

One impression I have is that currently nonprofits can reap the benefits from 'being the first' and can currently have a comparative advantage in attracting online attention by virtue of using the 'cool' new media like videos, weblogs, podcasts, etc. Once the 'hype' around these tools is over and everyone is using these tools, you don't have people read your blog because it's one of the few blogs on international development for instance. (by the way, I'm looking forward to this!). I think we'll an interesting situation at that point because then quality of the nonprofit's work and engagement with constituency (is this a good word?) will matter more.

At that point we'll be back to having nonprofits be assessed for their merits and quality. What will be different from the situation before social media were used is that organizations will have a double strategy to connect with their constituency: online and offline will be seamlessly blended. For constituents the work done by the nonprofit will be more transparent and they can make more informed choices. They will not just connect with nonprofits rather because a marketeer in the Kalverstraat in Amsterdam convinced you to become a donor or a large advertising campaign. This will make nonprofits more accountable to their constituents. And last but not least there are more ways for small initiatives to connect, using network sites like helpalot or

So my answer to the question: how can nonprofits succeed in the online attention economy? is: by being very transparent and accountable about your actions, and by becoming good in blending on- and offline strategies to engage people for your course. (so the next round of netsquared questions is likely to become: how does a well blended on- and offline engagement strategy look like? :)

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