Hey you, get out of your social media comfort zone...yes you!

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With holiday campaigns wrapping up, and spring events still in the planning stages, many nonprofit professionals find that January offers more breathing room than other, busier months.

A downtime period at work is a great time to try a personal experiment...or two, or three!

Most of us have dabbled in one of the "big three" social networks currently reigning as most popular in Canada: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. (Often if only to follow our own causes and events, or share our organization's messages!)

According to Ipsos Reid, 60% of online Canadians maintain at least one social networking profile, with half of us visiting a social networking site at least once a week. If you're like most people, your favourite network is Facebook! It's the number one network of choice for Canadians. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that Twitter and LinkedIn are gaining momentum as well.

You've probably spent a good chunk of 2011 investigating how to leverage these new channels for your organization's gain. Why not push your boundaries and try something new in 2012?

Becoming comfortable with a social network yourself is the best way to understand how your supporters and donors might interact with your organization in social spaces.

Here are three less popular (but no less addictive!) networks that are worthy of a little personal investigation. Give a new network a try yourself before instructing your communications team to paste a new icon in the upper right corner of your organization's website!

Quora

This month, President Obama agreed to answer State of the Union address questions that were submitted through Quora, "an intelligent discussion" site. Intrigued? You're not alone. Quora has become the network for informed opinions on a variety of topics of interest to professionals.

Essentially a question-and-answer site, Quora allows you to post queries, write and review responses, and follow people or topics. Your favourite bloggers, authors, personalities, politicians and journalists may be represented on Quora, all answering questions in their areas of expertise.

Quora users can create a board to collect links, discussions or collaborate with other users. Individuals can vote "up" the most useful or insightful answers. The high quality of responses to questions on Quora has built this network’s good reputation.

Why it’s worth a try:

Want to know if you should try for an MBA in nonprofit management? Quora is a great place for professional advice from your peers. Posting answers through a Quora profile can also build credibility for yourself and other thought-leaders in your organization. You’ll be able to share your knowledge on everything from environmental policy to taxation law with the wider community. What's your unique sector niche?

Maybe you might want to ask a physics professor "Is there a Sackur-Tetrode equation for non-monatomic gases?" Or, maybe you'd rather post an answer to: "What are good charities for a 5 year old to participate in?"

Pinterest

Pinterest is a site that allows you to "pin" images from the websites you browse to your own online bulletin board. Many users have installed the "pin it" bookmarklet on their web browsers, making it ridiculously easy to click on an image on the web to "pin it" to your board.

You can re-pin images shared by your network, upload your own pins, "like" pins, or comment on other people's pins. It's also easy to snag the embed code for a pin and add it to your content pages on another site or blog. A complimentary Facebook Open Graph application shares Pinterest activity with your friends and family inside Facebook.

The recent explosion of activity on Pinterest has certainly caught the attention of trend spotters. If we're being honest, it can seem as though Pinterest's primary purpose is to give people a place to share cupcake photos! Is there really an opportunity for nonprofit professionals to benefit from this addictive new network?

Why it’s worth a try:

You don't need to be planning to use Pinterest as a revenue-generating channel to find some value in trying it out. Pinterest’s method of organizing pins allows you to create boards on specific topics in a matter of seconds.

Arts and culture organizations can share and promote their own digital media assets, easily showcasing exhibits, artists and upcoming campaigns. Work for an animal adoption agency? Use Pinterest to share pictures of your fuzzy friends who are looking for a forever home. Take a look at how you share your cause’s visual elements on Facebook or Flickr and see if there’s an opportunity do the same on Pinterest.

And, while we're waiting for the blogosphere to produce a "Pinterest for Nonprofits" webinar, go ahead and test your organization's web pages or blog entries — how "pinnable" are they?

Google+

You probably heard a lot about Google+ when it first launched last year, but did you give it a try yourself? For some people, the appeal of Google+ was famously summed-up in this online comic: It's like Facebook, but not Facebook.

Unlike other social networks' sometimes confusing permissions systems, Google+ makes it simple to determine who can see photos, videos and links on your news stream. You might also find Google+'s "circles" to be a simpler way of managing how you share content and follow other users.

Many nonprofit organizations have already claimed "pages" on Google+. Before you decide if you want to commit to administrating a new channel on behalf of your charity, give Google+ a go personally. You’ll be creating a GoogleID that works across Google’s many free products.

Why it’s worth a try:

If like many Canadians, if you’ve become comfortable posting, commenting, and tagging on Facebook, you'll probably find Google+ features easy to learn.

Google+ gives you access to tools that are useful in the workplace. The free and simple "Hangout" option gives your coworkers in other locations a handy alternative to web meeting software, allowing you to video-chat, share notes and sketchpads, collaborate in Google Docs and even share screens.

Google is also ranking Google+ Pages in their search results, meaning, after creating and completing your account, you can improve your visibility to visitors searching for you or your organization.

Find the right network for you

Last month we asked you if your charity or nonprofit was feeling inspired by examples of fantastic online campaigns involving social media. It's one thing to imagine how your charity will leverage social media in new ways this year, but have you taken the time to think about you'll participate yourself?

You don't have to be represented on every single network out there. Think about what activities in social media appeal the most to you. Like Goldilocks and her porridge, there's a social community out there that's "just right" for you.

The rise of social login

Have you noticed the number of websites now offering you the ability to create an account using your existing Facebook or Twitter credentials? Quora and Pinterest are two networks you can associate to your Facebook or Twitter accounts. Social login (or "social sign in") is a trend that's increasing in popularity.

In October 2011, a consumer research study found that 77% of customers actually prefer social logins to “traditional registration”.

Social login decreases the amount of time new users take to register for a website, and eliminates the need for yet another set of usernames and passwords. When visitors come back to the site at a later date, they can also use their social credentials to log in again quickly. In effect, creating one personal ID that can be used across multiple websites.

Some Canadian nonprofit organizations already allowing their supporters to sign in with social sites include Movember, TakingITGlobal and GetInvolved.ca.

Claire Kerr is the director of digital philanthropy at Artez Interactive. A nonprofit veteran, Claire has worked for charitable organizations in the economic development, education, and fundraising sectors. Connect with her on Twitter or on LinkedIn, or in person over a double-double at Tim Hortons.

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