Get to Know your Free Agents

The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, by Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine. Good book!

In the first part of the book (pgs 15-20 or so) they talk about the rise of “free agents.” In the nonprofit world, free agents “are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents” (pg 15).

As I read that, I thought “you know, with a little tweaking of that definition, it works pretty well as a definition of some of our “super patrons.” You know who they are, right? For libraries, this is the group that “likes” your Facebook status updates, or comments. A lot. They RT you in Twitter. They are the Mayor of you library in Foursquare. And they tend to show up to your on-site events, too.

Beth and Allison suggest a few “rules of engagement” for their free agents – let’s see if these rules work for library “super patrons” too:

Get to know the free agents. the authors suggest really getting to know the free agents – read their blogs, subscribe to their Twitter feeds, friend them on Facebook. Email them, call them, take them to lunch. Find out why they do what they do.

Does this work for our super patrons? I think so. Why? You need to find out why they like your organization so much, and how you can help them like it more – because if they like it, others probably will, too. Plus, it’s a way for you to interact with a very pro-active library user. Think focus groups on steroids.

Break out of silos. The authors’ goal here is to help non profits break out of their usual cliques and interact with people of similar interests who embrace the same cause, but not necessarily your specific formal organization.

Work for libraries? I think so. Think of a fairly normal public library… most of the public services staff will know Joe, who physically visits the library every Tuesday and Thursday and asks questions at the reference desk. But how about Emily, who frequents their Facebook Page? Very possibly not – or at least, fewer staff will know about her. Sounds like a silo that needs breaking out of.

Young people and free agents need to explore and learn about issues and sort out their feelings about them.
The goal here is to get organizations and free agents together, so the formal organizations can be challenged by a new way of thinking.

Work for libraries? It’s certainly worked for my library. We met with approximately 70  community leaders, who helped us create our current strategic plan.

Don’t ignore the newcomer. In the non-profit world, sometimes unknowns do amazing things.

How about in libraries? In Topeka, we have a group of younger professionals who are doing some cool things in Topeka, including doing enough online marketing about Google’s Fiber Internet project that on April Fool’s Day, Google jokingly renamed themselves Topeka. Should the library be networking with that loose-knit group? You betcha.

Keep the welcome sign lit. Free agents don’t always stick around … and that’s ok. We need to stay available and ready to work with them when they come back around, get interested in us again. Definitely works for libraries.

Let them go. OK – this was a lame one – basically another way to say Keep the welcome sign lit…

Don’t be afraid to follow. It doesn’t matter who came up with the idea if it’s a good one. Definitely works for libraries, too!

If I come across some other juicy tidbits from this book, I’ll share it. But go ahead and read it for yourselves, then tell ME what you liked about it!

bookjacket pic by cambodia4kidsorg