Recently, New York State announced a mind-boggling move to close a number of state parks and historic sites, including Oswego’s Fort Ontario. Fort Ontario played a role in the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War and War of 1812; housed nearly 1,000 refugees, mostly Jewish, from World War II Europe (the only haven of its kind); and serves as a key community resource for folks of all ages and interests. That activists would want to use every tool available — including Facebook — to try to save the fort came as no surprise.
The first to jump was a high school student, who created a group that is a truly grassroots campaign. A local official contacted the person saying she also was working on something but was waiting for approval. The student accepted her request to become an administrator, and she later contacted everyone when she had the more official page set up. Where, to her credit, she did plug the other effort.
My reaction, however, was: Waiting for approval? To set up a Facebook page? I understand wanting to gather official partners and settle other organizational details, but with a cause where people are ready to act, [s]he who hesitates is lost. If there’s a hot topic and a ready audience, they aren’t going to wait for committee meetings, mission statements and the trappings of how we used to do business.
The results? As of early Tuesday, the student-created group is community-driven, with a wide variety of people constantly posting emotional comments, links and photos. Number of members? 4,314. The organization-created page is almost completely administrator-driven. Community comments and interaction are less frequent. Number of fans? 2,050. A journalist friend of mine astutely observed that, in the Web 2.0 world, an unofficial presence, for whatever reason, sometimes has the opportunity to become more trusted and engaging than an official effort.
It sets up a fascinating study in communication dynamics, but I also wonder if it will dilute efforts, no matter how friendly the two are. There’s a reason, after all, why you don’t see two chess clubs, two weekly student newspapers, two Jewish Student Associations on most campuses. While one would hope the efforts complement each other, in the go-go 21st century, busy people may prefer one place to visit, one entity through which to focus efforts.
Don’t get me wrong: If you’re a college, company or other permanent presence, you should indeed take the lead of online branding. You have every right to make sure you know what you’re doing before you go all-out on a social-media campaign. But if a cause comes up and you sit on the sidelines while someone else sounds the horn, you’ll see that social media is not a waiting game.