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Why curation and social search are important for civil society

Submitted by on March 3, 2011 – 9:17 pmNo Comment

This is the first of a series of posts about how civil society organizations can monitor the impact and progress of their use of social media tools. At the end of the series these posts will be edited and compiled into a brief guide that is directed at donors and NGO’s that seek to better understand the value of investing time and resources in social media, and how to monitor their progress.

To understand the value of social media, donors and civil society organizations need to understand that the way we discover information is increasingly social, and that managing reputation will soon become more important than managing search engine optimization (SEO). In other words, in the future more people will find your content from recommendations by online friends than by searching for it from Google.

For the past ten years Google has ruled the Internet. Not only has it become the most successful online technology company, but it has radically transformed how we interact with the Internet and with information, leading to a whole genre of literature with titles like:

The premise of these books is that Google has radically transformed our society in two ways. First, we no longer categorize and organize information; we simply search for it. Second, we judge the importance of information by the number of times it is cited – mainly through hyperlinks, but increasingly through endorsements on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

These two fundamental characteristics of Google have had a major impact on civil society. First, paradoxically, they diminished the importance of reputation. For example, ten years ago if a journalist was searching for information about the state of human rights in, say, Uruguay, it is most likely that he would have called up the relevant representative at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, two of the world’s most well known human rights organizations. Today, on the other hand, a journalist is much more likely to search for relevant terms. Such a search could lead to a major human rights organization, but depending on the number of people who link to the content, it could also lead to a blog post or a discussion at an online forum.

So many Internet users now depend on Google to find information that it has lead to the birth of an entire industry – known as search engine optimization (SEO) – that is dedicated to helping businesses and NGO’s appear higher in search rankings. (Dennis Yu offers nine great tips for NGOs that want to improve their SEO. Jonathan D. Colman also has a helpful presentation.) While search engine optimization is still an important tactic for NGOs that want to bring more more viewers to their website, increasingly it is their presence on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr that drive more visits to NGOs’ website and help construct a community of individuals who engage more actively in the organizations’ activities.

Whereas many organizations formerly saw about 60% of their traffic come from search results on Google and about 20% come from links on sites like Facebook and Twitter, those numbers are now beginning to inverse. Steven Rosenbaum, the author of Curation Nation, says that this trend is leading to an entire new model of how we discover information online. Tellingly, just last year Facebook surpassed Google to become the most visited website on the Internet. But Google knows that it needs to adjust in order to keep up with the increasingly social dynamic of how we share and discover information. It has launched Google Social Search as a way to show which search results have been cited by our online contacts. For example, if I search for the Mexican transparency organization, Fundar, I see that relevant links have been shared by two Twitter users that I follow – Miguel Pulido, the executive director of Fundar, and Sergio Aguayo, the chairman of the board. I am more likely to click on those results because they have been shared by people I trust.

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To conclude, NGOs need to build relationships of trust on social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook in order to attract more visits to their website, and in order to build a community of supporters that are more likely to donate, participate in advocacy campaigns, and stay actively engaged.

In the next post we’ll look at how to use Google Analytics to measure the influence and reach of an organization’s website. We’ll also examine easy ways to monitor our progress and set goals in order to improve our website’s presence.

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