Conference Highlights How to Use New Media Tools

Last week, our Communications Director and New Media Strategist joined over 1,200 people from across the U.S. (and beyond) in New Orleans to talk about using new media to create social change and to share best practices. The occasion was the 2008 Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Exit Disclaimer conference, "Building Community: Connections Around the Globe and Around the Corner."

Although there were not any specific presentations on using new media in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we learned some important lessons about using and assessing new media tools that can help almost any HIV/AIDS program.

The following were some of the major themes of the conference:

Determine your audience’s needs, then pick the appropriate technology. It’s easy to get excited about the newest technology, but John Kenyon Exit Disclaimer, nonprofit technology specialist, warned us, "Never start with the tools. Start with your needs."

"Never start with the tools. Start with your needs."

Katya Andresen Exit Disclaimer from Network for Good Exit Disclaimer and Mark Rovner from Sea Change Strategies Exit Disclaimer talked about the human needs to consider when choosing the most appropriate new media tools for your work. Research shows that, to capture your audience, you must address people’s needs to:

  1. Be seen and heard
  2. Be connected to someone or something
  3. Be part of something greater than themselves
  4. Have hope for the future
  5. Have the security of trust
  6. Be of service
  7. Want happiness for themselves and others

Experimenting is important, but have a plan. Choose your technology wisely! Beth Kanter Exit Disclaimer recommends, "Strategize, then experiment. Learn, then reiterate." Madeline Stanionis from Watershed Exit Disclaimer talked about the importance of "stopping the silos" within an organization and encouraging different groups (Internet folks, marketing people, program folks, grassroots organizers), to plan collaboratively.

There are ways to measure the return on investment (ROI) of new media. Abby Sandlin Exit Disclaimer of Charity Dynamics Exit Disclaimer suggested that organizations start by defining the internal (organization-specific) value of using new media tools, such as blogs and social networks. This gets back to your strategy–and why your organization wants to use new media. Are you trying to raise awareness? Increase transparency? Engage your audiences/clients? Beth presented Forrester Research’s Exit Disclaimer framework that allows companies to track and measure the ROI of blogs Exit Disclaimer. Justin Perkins from Care2 showcased an ROI calculator for social networks Exit Disclaimer.

Social media tools take time. We were impressed by how many organizations have dedicated time and resources to making this happen. Carrie Lewis from the Humane Society of the United States Exit Disclaimer and Danielle Brigida from the National Wildlife Federation Exit Disclaimer both focus their time on implementing and evaluating new media at their organizations. At the American Red Cross Exit Disclaimer, Wendy Harman monitors blogs and other online conversations on a daily basis to see what people are saying about the American Red Cross. She also spends much of her day joining these conversations (when appropriate) to let people know the American Red Cross hears their concerns. Wendy documents these conversations and reports back to her colleagues to help inform their work.

New media is about relationships. Beth Kanter Exit Disclaimer emphasized that new media is about relationships and reciprocity. We’ve experienced this at We’ve reached out to our Facebook Exit Disclaimer and MySpace Exit Disclaimer friends over the last few weeks for this blog. We’ve connected with new collegues who have helped guide the development of our last blog post. They reminded us that new media tools are, "a new way to do old business." When it comes to the epidemic, it’s about reaching people and developing relationships in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

These conference themes were not HIV/AIDS-specific, but they are key factors to think about when assessing if and how your HIV/AIDS program should be using new media tools.

Next week, we will continue to discuss social networks.