image“Let your users do the heavy lifting,” and “It’ll go viral,” are often used to encourage nonprofits to use the “social web” (i.e. blogs, podcasts, online video, social networking, etc.) to get the word out about their cause.

Thing is, the competition for space in the cause-related “viral” pipeline is filling up fast with the growth of social networking, online campaigns, and interactive media in the nonprofit, and private sector. We’re already experiencing information overload, online activism fatigue can’t be far behind.

All of the ways a concerned individual can get involved online are bright and shiny right now: you can meet like-minded people in your nonprofits’ Facebook group, share a YouTube video about an issue you care about with friends, and raise money with fundraising widgets posted on your blog, web site or email. But like toys on Christmas morning, eventually, some of the tools will be abandoned after the initial excitement.

If your nonprofit is thinking about integrating the social web into its communication, advocacy or fundraising plan, keep a few things in mind to encourage sustained online engagement using these new tools.

Make it Easy: We’ve become as obsessed with registering users as we are with collecting emails. If they don’t need to register on your site to use a tool, don’t make them just because you want their information.

Offer a variety of ways to engage users, but don’t overwhelm them. You don’t have to be the Costco of online opportunities.

Make it Accessible: Don’t assume that all of your supporters are comfortable on the Web. Provide links to definitions of online tools and explanations for how to use them. You could even provide contact information for a real person who can assist them.

Make sure your tools are accessible for disabled users as well. The nonprofit, Knowbility, is a great resource for information about technological accessibility.

Make it Meaningful: Please, no more urgent messages full of explanation points yelling at supporters to join, spread the word or create web-based content ASAP. Remember what happened to the boy who cried wolf?

Explain how users’ online engagement will make a difference. As former President Clinton wrote in Giving, “When people don’t give. . . . They don’t believe what they could do would make a difference. . . .” Every time you ask someone to engage using the social web to support your cause, you are asking them to give of their time, sometimes of their money, and oftentimes of their personal connections. Make sure their investment is worth it.

Make it Human: Many nonprofits, and corporations, are using the social web to build community.  Be sure to create ways for your web-based community to connect in person too.  As Samantha Ford writes in Activism 2.0: myBLOCRocks!, “[T]echnology intended to connect young activists needs to be culturally relevant and user- and value-centric, and support face-to-face organizing.”

By connecting people through their common interests, the social web has the potential to mobilize concerned citizens to create substantial change when it is used in a simple, accessible, meaningful and human way.

imageBritt Bravo specializes in writing stories about individuals and organizations that are creating social change. She writes for Have Fun * Do Good, BlogHer and NetSquared and produces the Big Vision Podcast, the Arts and Healing Podcast and the NetSquared Podcast.