by Yoni Sarason
Yoni is the founder of Next Dor St. Louis and now Regional Director, Midwest for NEXT: A Division of the Birthright Israel Foundation
Freshman year at Washington University, we had a service called Faces, which let us look up the student ID pictures of our classmates by name. It was used almost exclusively to scout members of the opposite sex, or remind friends of what an acquaintance looked like. The end of that year, Facebook debuted at Wash U. With the ability to share pictures and messages with friends, reconnect with youth group or camp friends, Facebook was Jewish Geography on steroids. Faces was dead.Now, 8 years later, Facebook is the largest social networking site in the world, and along with Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and a host of other services, these social media have changed the way we communicate and share information.These tools are incredibly helpful for staying in touch with friends, or finding out information at the speed of life, but how can an organization, particularly a Next Dor site, utilize these media channels to better connect with, and relate to, Jewish young adults?First, it is helpful to know what these media are and what they aren’t. These media are not silver bullets. Merely being ‘on facebook’ doesn’t guarantee success. More and more, these technologies are necessary, but not sufficient for effective communication and interaction. Social networking tools are at their essence publishing platforms. That is to say that each of these media channels has a type of audience, and these audiences interact in different ways. It is important to know not only what to say in each channel, but also how to say it.Think about your brand. What do you want to communicate. Are you serious or fun? Information heavy, or brief? Try to be consistent in your wording and content.Facebook is by far the most widely adopted social network. It is also the most congested. Users find out about your information through updates to their news feeds, which they will only see if they log in, and only if your item isn’t suppressed by all of the other things happening. Alternatively, if you’ve sent people a message, it is persistent in their inbox until they check it. The best way to make sure someone sees your information is for several of their friends to interact with it. That means, that the more people you can get to reshare, comment, or ‘like’ your item, the more chance that others will see it.Twitter is all about speed and brevity, with replying and ‘retweeting’ happening extremely quickly. Generally, a good twitter post will follow this format, “something really interesting on X subject urlthatsbeenshortened.cc”. On twitter, getting people to retweet your content helps to ensure that others see it. Alternatively, you can address it to individual users, which is more likely to notify them of the content.Because there are so many tools out there, and so many people giving advice, I’m instead going to walk you through what we did in St. Louis to create our digital presence.When we founded Next Dor STL, we did the following things:
- Purchased a domain name. We used GoDaddy, but it was important for us to have the .com and .org domains. We used the .com as our primary, assuming that google tends to index .coms the higher, meaning that our site would have a higher ranking in google search results. We set up the .org to forward to the .com with masking, so that no one using the .org would know they had been shifted to the .com. This may not be ideal in all circumstances, but worked for us. More recently, we have looked to migrating content exclusively to the .org, as the indexing seems to have caught up.
- Opened a Google Apps account, which enabled us to use our email based on our domain name. This also gave us the ability to run a virtual office, tying in calendar, contacts, and Google Voice, a virtual number which could forward to our cell phones and transcribe messages.
- We built our website on Weebly, a free website designer, which gave us the ability to drag-and-drop, instead of coding. We then took advantage of the plethora of widgets, which are embeddable gadgets, like a Facebook and Twitter stream, and a Google Calendar, in order to put dynamic content directly onto our sites. By using a Google Form, we could easily collect feedback, and contacts through our website.
- We opened a Facebook and Twitter account, keeping the usernames consistent. We then linked our Facebook to publish stories to Twitter automatically.
- In a few short steps, we had a website that would automatically display any events we posted on our calendar, any updates we posted on Facebook or Twitter, and started amassing followers, all for about $10.
- We used Facebook to post events, pictures from past events, shout outs to volunteers and participants, and participant needs and requests. These updates were tied to automatically go out on twitter.
- We started by following a lot of the Jewish professional groups on Twitter to establish ourselves, and each member of Next Dor’s board and staff invited all of our friends to the Next Dor page. As more and more people came to the house, or were connected in some way to our community, the digital presence grew as well.