I Am United


United Way’s new online initiative.

By Andre Natta

While some folks don’t want to admit it, everybody likes to be recognized.

We live in a society that loves to pile praise on to everyone and find as many ways as possible to highlight the individual. The online world gives organizations a tool to help announce those achievements, but many are still trying to figure out how to amplify that message.

The United Way of Central Alabama decided to tap into this world of instant recognition and provide a solution for the issue of “getting the word out” when it unveiled its online initiative, including a new website – iamunited.org – last December.

The website was developed for the organization by blr|further and is a taste of what the future of shared community service experiences can look like.

It was inspired by the national organization’s long-running “Live United” campaign and presents a new way for the UWCA to “promote opportunity and engagement among those who want to help” while leveraging the large number people currently using Facebook as part of their daily conversations in metro Birmingham.

There are many beginning to think of Facebook as a necessity, in the same way that most of us once viewed a telephone. Even as people fear using third-party applications in Facebook because of privacy concerns, they are beginning to see that not every add-on to the networking service isn’t a game (though some still find it fun to play Farmville).

Visitors must log in using their Facebook account to fully engage with the site, allowing them to potentially cross-post ways they’re engaging in the community, earn badges to let others know about their level of participation and learn about volunteer opportunities via an events calendar. You’ll also be able to nominate “champions” via the site, allowing the organization to become its own producer of content. They don’t necessarily have to wait for a local news outlet to write about a project or individual – they simply give their community a chance to figure out what rises to the level of being important.

One thing to point out is the fact that the new website does not replace the UWCA’s official website. The websites serve two different purposes.

While the “official” website provides information about the organization, its mission, objectives and partners, iamunited.org provides a way for people to know exactly how that work is being accomplished. It’s also a way for those active with the United Way to talk back to the organization. The conversation can then be used to help determine the direction that the United Way needs to go while not initially taking away from its primary message.

It’s also important to point out that using Facebook as a login tool allows website operators a chance to know who’s engaging. It helps in terms of demographics; it also helps keep the conversation focused and allows the community to hold each other truly accountable. There are no usernames to hide behind.

They’ve also re-branded their YouTube and Twitter profile accordingly.

One of the things that should be fun to watch is how the site helps people become more aware of opportunities to serve. It will also be interesting to see just how engaged members of the site’s intended audience will be with one another.

The quiet launch of the site is something that will probably help it in the long run. The idea of pushing a new online project out with great fanfare doesn’t necessarily allow people to discover it on their own or even figure out how it can be useful in their everyday lives.

The members who adopt the site as their own early will be the ones who help make it a necessity. It’ll be fun to watch it evolve.

Andre Natta is the creator of an exciting weekday web publication The Terminal that acts as a hub of information about all things Birmingham.

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