With all the talk about Facebook, Twitter and online social networks lately, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact of social media on neighborhoods and nonprofit community development efforts. Here are seven trends worth noting:
1. Websites That Connect Neighbors to Neighbors Check out Neighbors for Neighbors, a Boston nonprofit that has created an online social network for every neighborhood in the city, using Ning. Neighbors discover common interests by sharing information via blogs and discussions. Popular topics include social activities, service and volunteer projects, and crime, civic, social justice, and green/environmental programs.
Joseph Porcelli, the brainchild behind the sites, says, “There’s all this intelligence and ability that lies out there in our communities. One of our core values is that we believe that the solutions to problems, the innovative things people can do with and for each other, lay in our communities themselves, where we live.”
Similar social networks are popping up in neighborhoods around the country. Another example, the Neighbors Campaign, in Montgomery County, Maryland, revolves around the theme of
building neighbors' capacity to help one another in tough times, combining door-knocking, community meetups, and a robust outreach to immigrant families.
2. Websites That Connect Volunteers with Opportunities
Serve.gov, managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service, has become
a matchmaker between nonprofits and volunteers ready to pitch in on neighborhood volunteer projects — from cleaning up a park to fixing a front porch to tutoring a student. Meetup.com can be used for folks to connect with others nearby around recreational and hobby interests, as well as volunteer work. These and similar sites not only connect local people with common interests, but also benefit neighborhoods by making it easier for nonprofits to connect with volunteers.
3. Websites, Like Facebook, That Connect Nonprofits With 'Fans'
Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland and Kentucky's Frontier Housing are examples of how local housing nonprofits are putting Facebook to good use. They are using their pages to garner "fans" educate the public about their mission, post videos, job openings, and promote their fund raising events. The Facebook pages also provide an opportunity for fans to comment on the organizations' activities and postings.
4. Websites That Connect Neighbors With Data About Their Neighborhoods
How safe is a particular neighborhood? A site called CrimeReports.com indicates crime in specific locations by icons representing the type of crime. More than 500 law enforcement agencies have chosen to publish their data to the site, the largest database of its kind.
What are the local environmental and disease hazards that might concern local nonprofits and residents? A zip code search on EPA’s My Environment site can yield a lot of useful information. A new site, www.thisweknow.org has local data organized in lists which make comparisons between cities. SeeClickFix encourages residents to participate in, take care of, and improve their neighborhoods. Residents can create a public record of something that is wrong and can be fixed (like potholes and graffiti). Local nonprofits might leverage this site with their existing organizing efforts.
5. Websites That Connect Nonprofit Leaders Working in Local Communities
NeighborWorks America’s Leaders for Communities now has more than 650 members, mainly who work for nonprofits, discussing a wide range of topics relevant to strengthening communities. CommunityCollab, sponsored by LISC and MacArthur Foundation with more than 600 members, is a platform for community development professionals to post work updates and discuss relevant topics. Nonprofits are also connecting on LinkedIn, Google Groups, and other sites around affinity interests. Communities are surely the beneficiaries of this community-to-community knowledge sharing, and what better way for newcomers to break into the field of community development by participating in the conversations. Stable Communities is a NeighborWorks website to connect professionals working on turning around neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosures.
6. Websites for Blogging and Micro-Blogging (Twitter)
Locally as well as nationally people are blogging about issues that are important to them. At the same time people are responding to newspaper articles about local issues by posting their comments on newspaper websites. Nonprofits can listen to what people are saying about their organization and community by setting up a simple Google Alert. It’s a positive sign to see more nonprofits using blogs, and Twitter with its spare 140 character count, to weigh into these kinds of issues. Take a look at this resource from a recent NeighborWorks symposium Blogging for Nonprofits Workshop.
7. Websites for Video Viewing (YouTube) and Photo Exchange (Flickr)
No list would be complete without mentioning YouTube's impact on community development. There are a zillion examples out there of local nonprofits uploading uplifting videos to YouTube and embedding them in their websites. Here's one fun example from New Haven, Connecticut, Chatham Square Neighborhood Association: Art in the Park 2009. Last, but not least, see the NeighborWorks Flickr channel to see how local organizations can gain greater visibility for their volunteer events by uploading photos to this popular platform. This set shows efforts by NeighborWorks organizations to engage their communities in green living.