Why nonprofits should use “tags”

Others have written about this subject compellingly, but I have just recently seen the light on tagging. I even added them to this blog!

Tags are an increasingly popular and increasingly effective way to organize and find information online. Last weekend, Technorati was a crucial part of promoting and documenting the Live 8 concerts. Anyone blogging the concerts (including those with a critical eye) could tag them ‘Live8‘ or ‘Live8 Philly‘ and have their entries located by people around the world.

Technorati is a centralized reference point for tags in blogs. Here’s a recent article about Technorati’s growth in comparison to popular RSS aggregators. Tags are currently used to classify not just blog posts, but also photos (Flickr.com), links (del.icio.us), and other objects. If you are blogging, you may be able to get a plugin that will facilitate tagging your posts.

With the sheer amount of information online growing exponentially, tags are becoming an important tool to find relevant information – especially for bloggers. Bloggers are inclined to use tags for two reasons: 1. Other bloggers do it, and 2. they value the idea of contributing to a collective folksonomy. So tags can be a great way to encourage blogging about your issues.

For example, the ACLU and civil libertarians might want to promote use of the tag ‘safeandfree’ to aggregate posts about reforming the patriot act. Some in the nonprofit sector are currently using the tag ‘nptech‘ to collect technology resources that can be useful to our colleagues. This one tag can be used across platforms to aggregate links, photos, blog posts, etc.

To get started, just pick a tag that can be used by your organization or issue, start using it yourself, and let your supporters know about it. Be sure to use something that will be unique but memorable. For example ‘kids‘ is too vague, but ‘healthykids’ is better – it’s less likely to get used randomly by people who don’t share your goals, and it’s not being used at all yet so you can really ‘own’ it. Once your supporters start using it, you can point people to that collection of things tagged ‘healthykids’ and amplify voices reflecting your whole movement instead of just your single organization.

Ruby Sinreich is a progressive activist, local politico, online organizer, capacity builder, and social networker.

Posted in nptech, rants
6 comments on “Why nonprofits should use “tags”
  1. Beth says:

    Ruby,

    Great post about tagging! I found your article via the nptech community site where nptech tagged content is being aggregated ….

  2. marnie webb says:

    Glad that you’re joining the tagging bandwagon, Ruby. I agree that tagging is a way to bring information together across sites; it’s a part of de-silo-izing the web. I also like the notion of giving nonprofits a concrete way to start tagging and sharing their links.

    One of the things that’s been most interesting to me about the use of the nptech tag is the discovery aspect. At last count, 124 people have tagged at least one item with it in del.icio.us (that doesn’t count folks who use the tag in other social bookmarking systems but not in del.icio.us). A lot of these people simply saw the tag in use and started adopting it as a way to share information.

    I think a critical second step for nonprofits is to use RSS to syndicate the tag stream (for lack of a better phrase) onto their own website.

  3. Ruby says:

    Good idea, Marnie. But I think most organizations will be uncomfortable with publishing entries over which they have no control. I can imagine that an opponent might even hijack the tag by posting information that is counter to the organization’s goals.

    For example, if Republicans discover that the ACLU is using ‘safeandfree’ what’s to stop them from posting pro-Patriot Act stuff with the same tag?

  4. Marshall says:

    I think of the tags at the end of my blog posts as another “see also these related items elsewhere” type of resource. Wether my readers treat them that way or not is another question.

  5. marnie webb says:

    Ruby,

    I agree that the potential for hijacking a tag is there. But, if the tagging has an invested community, they’d probably stop put a stop to it (by pouncing on the folks). Ultimately, that’s not productive of course.

    I listened in on tonight’s Berkman nonprofit blog talk and (I think — the audio wasn’t always clear) that one of the folks talked about how trolls, during the Dean campaign, ended up energizing the community.

  6. Ruby says:

    I love how the Dean bloggers handled trolls, and I often share that example. It’s great that the community can correct itself.

    Where I have personally battled with virulent trolls (on OrangePolitics) I don’t think the supporters are organized enough to carry out this type of response. Most don’t have very well-developed troll radar and/or they are eager to debate, and either way the troll ends up disrupting things and then crying “free speech” when I ultimately cut him off. (Why is it always a him?)

    Anyhoo, we are a little off-track but this brings up the need for clear guidelines both in online communities and in tagging. It would really be great if there was a *simple* aggregator that would allow an org to republish the contents of a tag, but with some ability to moderate unwanted posts.

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