There is a great question for the Net2ThinkTank right now: “How can nonprofits and NGOs succeed in the online attention economy?”

First, what IS the attention economy, you may be asking. Well, Britt has a great post describing it, here is an excerpt of the definition:

Wikipedia defines attention economics as, “an approach to the management of information that treats human attention as a scarce commodity, and applies economic theory to solve various information management problems.”

Here is a more clarifying question:

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?

And my answer? Being the best resource for yourself AND your community.

First, you need to gauge what kind of resource you need/want as an organization. Is it staying on top of research or news in you sector? Is it providing a space for question and answer or collaboration? Or is it to create a space for collecting stories, media (photos, videos, etc.), or goals/progress in a public forum?

Whatever resource best fits with the organization’s work, probably also fits with how you want to interact with your community. If you need to be on top of breaking news and the latest research, you probably want your constituents to be up-to-date as well.

Next, now that you know WHAT resource is best, you need to decide HOW to provide it. Does it make the best sense to transform part of your website into an information aggregator? Or instead to provide a wiki for staff, members, visitors to contribute to? Maybe it’s designing parts of your website that can host videos and photos people upload and ways to collect feedback/comments and share stories?

Whichever path best fits your resource needs of the organization and the community, it is best that it is given dedicated staff time and attention for building, nurturing, and monitoring AND you have agreed on avenues for outreach (making sure the community knows the resource is available and that it is the best one for them). You are going to need to prove that, for example, instead of your constituents reading five different newspapers online and subscribing to updates from ten different organizations to stay informed of happenings in your sector, that they can instead just watch your news section to aggregate all the best information they need.

Last, you need to be sure you are constantly gaging the usefulness of your resource to be sure to stay on top (both on top of information competitors and on top of the potential of providing for your community). Are you seeing new blogs or news sites emerging with different and relevant information? – Add them to your aggregator! Are you seeing other communities popping up with discussions on your topic areas? – Invite them to your wiki/forum/community space! Are you finding that groups prefer to post their media on other sites? – Go where they are and create a dedicated community that supports them AND your organization!

Let’s have an example: Let’s say that you work for an environmental organization that works partly on climate change legislation, you are located in Lane county and besides the community of interest you serve you are also partnered with a student-run climate change organization at University of Oregon. In the climate change and environmental defense sector that is a bounty of resources, news outlets and other organizations all vying for your community’s attention. There is a plethora of other places they could be going for information.

You probably want to become a resource of news, information, legislation changes, etc. This would be incredibly beneficial for your organization’s staff, but by becoming the one-stop-shop for all the industry information with the added value of local/specific legislative information added in, you become incredibly beneficial for your community as well.

You could create a news section on your website that is separate from the press section—keep press releases, press packets, team bios/pictures, etc. in a separate place of your website to avoid confusion. Next, create an aggregator of RSS feeds (what are RSS feeds?) of traditional news outlets like the Oregonian, the New York Times, and so on, as well as ‘new media news outlets’ or blogs that have strong, sustained communities and value like It’s Getting Hot in Here and the Huffington Post. Because of your legislative interest, you are going to also want to incorporate press releases and legislative updates into your aggregator. You should include a ‘suggest a resource’ link in the news section so that readers can let you know of other blogs or sites that they think are valuable to be included, keeping you on top of the market for information. Lastly, you will want to be sure that you have an RSS feed for that news page as well so people that want to stay on top of your updates can do so from your website or in their preferred RSS reader.

Now that it is built, you need to advertise it to your community. Include a link and a call to action (like, Check out your new resource for climate change news and legislation!) in the footer of your emails, in the side bar or call-out box of your e-newsletters, and on the home page of your website. It is important that you also notify your community when it is built with a specific email only about the new resource. This message should be tailored differently when sent to the partners at the University so that it stresses the usefulness of the resource to their campus work and to encourage them to spread the news of its availability to students outside the organization as well.

There is so much possibility that it is easy to get lost in the information overload yourself! Remember to:

1. Gauge the best needs for your organization AND your community.
2. Find the best (interactive) way to build and provide that resource.
3. Measure your success and keep improving the resource you are/provide.

Good luck – and keep me posted on how you do!

Nonprofits in the online attention economy
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