Part 4: Choose the right tools

This stage is about looking at the social media tools available and working out which would be the most suitable for your organisation. It is the logical step after Parts 1, 2 and 3, which gave guidance on research, strategy and preparation. The social media tool(s) the organisation chooses will influence the type of activities it adopts to engage with young people.

There is a huge array of tools and technologies out there and the choice can be bewildering. If you surf the internet you will find various sites which attempt to slim down this huge list into a manageable number of categories, in which tools mostly share the same functions. Wikipedia is one example. Its short list includes tools which enable the following:

  • Communication (eg. blogs and microblogs such as Blogger and Twitter; social networks such as Facebook and Netlog)
  • Collaboration  (eg. wkis such as Wikimedia; social bookmarking such as Delicious)
  • Multimedia (eg. video and photo sharing sites such as You Tube and Flickr) 
  • The Wikipedia article includes another three categories (eg. Reviews and Opinions,  Entertainment and Brand monitoring), but the first three are the main ones

This kind of categorisation can assist in simplifying the process of selection. Narrow down the kinds of functionality you think would suit your objectives. It's recommended you look for free tools, to keep costs down and encourage sustainability. And avoid developing your own platform or application - that will be far too expensive, it overlooks the priority to 'keep it simple', and ignores the likelihood that someone else has already created just what you're looking for.

Look at what other organisations are using to do similar things. Draw upon the experience of pilot partners in the INCLUSO project. And remember there's as much to learn from what didn’t work and why as from what did work. Hook up with similarly-minded people on dedicated social networks such as the UK-based Youth Work Online. Here members share experiences and ask advice from more expereinced people.

Draw on the knowledge and experience of the individual who conducted original research for the organisation (see Part 1: Is it right for you?). The audit of staff skills and activities conducted in Part 1 & Part 3 should have revealed if someone has already set up an informal site for your organisation. Maybe this can be used for your social media purposes, instead. But don't overlook what the organisation already uses when looking for a tool. It may already be using the tool it requires, like email for collaboration, for example.

The aim should be to select a small number of tools which can become the focus of more research to find which is the most suitable. Bear in mind that many free tools make money by carrying advertising. This is the case with most social networks. Some INCLUSO pilots used a social networking application called Ning (free of cost at the time) which carried adverts for singles chat, Viagra and car insurance. This factor was always highlighted when considering using Ning, and it was always felt that the risks were insignificant compared to the benefits from the site itself.   

Other issues to be aware of are the ownership of member data, the threat to your site/community when a free tool goes private and adopts a 'paid for' model. Look at Chapter 7: Be aware, for more information about threats, safety, privacy and ethics. These are all topics to consider when selecting a social media tool.

Of course, keep coming back to the client group – the young people. Ask how the young people in the organisation will access and use the site. Feed this information back into the decision-making process. Discuss it with them, compare it to what they already use. Find out the functionality they use most. Is this something that can be tapped into for the aims and outcomes of the organisation?

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Don't start from scratch
    • Get a sense of what other organisations have tried with regard to your outcomes
    • Having tools custom made for you is very expensive.
    • Use tools already used by young people. (eg. if they use a social network then create an account, or group, or consider trying to join them)
    • Read the INCLUSO quick start guide (and then the INCLUSO manual for more detail) or the Social by Social guide
    • Check if you can do it using software you already have
    • Look for existing online services that your team is already able to use
    • Look for people that are already using your tools and get them involved
    • Employ user-centred design to set-up your project
  • Match your tools and project outcomes
    • Evaluate which tools are most likely to support your project outcomes
  • Evaluate whether the tools you want to use fit your target group
    • Audit the internet ability and use of your target group
    • Determine whether your target group is skilled enough to use the tool you propose
    • Does the use of the tool answer the young people’s question of "What’s in it for me?”
    • Determine whether they will need internet access in order to use the tool
    • Don't expect to get a stable group of young people to stay involved over a long time
  • Evaluate the tools you would like to use
    • Pick a package that sounds promising, run it through some scenarios and then evaluate it in order to decide if the package fits your requirements
    • Rapid configuring of an existing tool is probably an effective strategy
    • Try to get initial feedback as soon as possible
    • Consider using a social network site as your chosen application because it can contain a range of useful applications in one solution (photo and video sharing, discussion, etc)
    • Plan ahead - tools should be ready for tomorrow’s activities as well