The rise of online social networks has offered traditional organizations a new way to reach out to members. These organizations are already familiar to members, and by offering an online network these groups provide members with a great way to learn and become familiar with social media. We'll look at one well-known organization in public works and see how they are using a social network to engage members.
We Are Public Works is an online network set up a few years ago by the American Public Works Association (APWA). What, you’re not a member? Doesn’t matter — you don’t have to be a member to join APWA’s online network.
By joining the site, you can take advantage of meeting other people in public works and sharing stories and ideas. So let’s get started by creating an account. Go to We Are Public Works and look for the “Sign up” link. This link can be found in a couple of places: one is at the top of the page, and the other is in a box on the right side just a little below the header of the site. Click one of these links and you should find yourself at a sign-up screen.
Type in your email, choose a password, put that same password in again, then share your birthday so the computer knows you are not some under-age kid trying to create accounts on public works sites without your parent’s permission. Then type in the two words you see in the RECAPTCHA box — this not only proves you are a human, but also helps to transcribe old documents (you can read the story about RECAPTCHA here). Finally, click the “Sign Up” button.
Now you have an official account on the We Are Public Works network and can start interacting with all the rest of the public works crowd. So let’s get to it! Again, go to the We Are Public Works site and, this time, click the “Sign In” link, then put in the email and password you used to create your account. Click the big “Sign In” button, and you’re in! One of the first items of business should be to fill out your profile.
The way to get to your profile is to click the “Settings” link. You can find this under your name in the right sidebar — this is the same location where the sign-up and sign-in box was before you logged in. Clicking the settings link will take you to your settings page. Here you can upload a photo and fill out your location and the profile questions about your work and educational background. Next you can set your privacy settings by clicking the “Privacy” link on the left side of this page. The privacy settings will determine who sees your activity on the site and will give you control over any interactions by others with the content you post.
Next, go back to your settings page where you filled out your profile information and click the email link on the left side. This is important because here you can set how many notifications you receive. If you really don’t need to know when things are happening over on the We Are Public Works site, then you can uncheck all of the notifications. If you only want to be notified when there is new activity on items you add, you’ll just check that box. The amount of notifications you receive is all up to you.
While there are other changes you can make on the settings page, those are probably the most important ones to make upfront.
Let’s check out the rest of the site. Travel back to the main page by clicking the “Main” link in the menu under the header at the top of the page. APWA has chosen to highlight the following areas of their site: blog posts, photos, forums, groups, videos, top stories, events, and members. You can visit these areas any time you want by either clicking on the content featured on this page or by clicking the word in the menu bar at the bottom of the header. Since the site went live a few years ago, many people have posted some interesting information and media so there’s a lot to look through.
The last area I’ll visit with you is the member page. Click the “Members” link in the menu bar. This should take you to a page showing photos of all the members. There’s also a search window here that allows you to look for members who might be located in your area or who you might already know. This is a great feature for building your professional network. Once you find someone with whom you want to connect, just click their name. This will take you to their profile page. To add them, look for the words “Add as Friend” under their photo on the left side of the page. A small window will pop up to confirm you want to add them as a friend. This window also gives you the opportunity to add a personal message. When you are ready to send your request, just click the “Send” button. Once the person receives and approves your request, you will be connected.
Now that you’re a pro at joining online networks, you can join the other sites set up by traditional and well-known public works-related associations and organizations. The Illinois Section of AWWA (American Water Works Association) offers a comprehensive online network featuring events, jobs, news, groups, member directories, training information, and many other helpful resources. American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) also has an online network for members at myASCE.