What Do Facebook's New Timeline Apps Mean for Nonprofits? | Beth's Blog

What Do Facebook’s New Timeline Apps Mean for Nonprofits?


Remember last September when Facebook announced all those changes to individual profiles, including the timeline?    One of the changes  was that your friends and fans can do more than “Like” or “Comment”  on Facebook. Three new actions were announced at the time, including:  Read, Watch, Listen to  help people better understand what their friends are doing online.     Facebook called it the “Open Graph” and the pr people called “A revolution to the whole meaning of listening to music together or family T.V.”   You can read more about how it works from the Facebook developer notes.

You can install an app on your Facebook profile that shares an action and it goes out on your newsfeed and is shared with your friends.   In the example above, the cooking app lets a Facebook user share what they “cooked” with their friends.

Recently, some apps have been using the OpenGraph in innovate ways.   The one that caught my eye was the approach used by Ticketmaster.  They are mashing up apps,  figuring out what music you listen to on Spotify and offering up tickets that might be of interest. This is both interesting but a little scary to me.    I asked folks on my Facebook brand page what they thought.  My colleague, Devon Smith, pointed to a cool application called “Art Finder” that helps people discover their friends’ interests in fine arts.

The Open Graph and apps are becoming more and more critical for marketers given the Facebook changes.   Here’s a description from Social Media Examiner:

Last year, Facebook rolled out Open Graph, allowing brands to connect to a user’s Facebook social graph. This year, it rolled out significant changes, allowing app developers to create custom actions using any verb and object related to the activity taking place on the app.

These so-called “lightweight” activities can be defined by the app creator and pushed throughout the Facebook experience.

Here are the highlights, and how the actions affect Timeline:

  • The Open Graph integrates with the News Feed, Ticker and Timeline, making the app a key part of users’ and their friends’ Facebook experiences.
  • As users engage, the custom action appears on Facebook News Feed, and remains on the user’s Timeline; e.g., Jane cooked a recipe from Best Recipes app.

Changes to the structure of permissions allow a user to give permission one timefor an app to post about that user’s activity on the app thereafter.

This is how you’re seeing so many more postings about what your friends are listening to, for example, if they’re using a social sharing music app like Spotify. It even gets its own designated spot in the Timeline and displays a running list of what the user is listening to.

Debra Askanase has a post about Facebook Timeline Apps and profiles three fundraising vendors that have developed timeline apps.   Debra says the benefits to nonprofits are:

Timeline apps afford an opportunity for nonprofits to promote causes, activities and mission. I can envision apps that promote online campaigns, encourage people to interact with the organization in a certain way, encourage specific actions, track activity, and/or to raise brand awareness. A few ideas:

  • Support the nonprofit: “Jerry supports the Canadian Red Cross”
  • Activism: “Debra signed a petition to stop fracking” or “Eliana contacted a brand to ask about its slavery footprint via Slavery Footprint”
  • Play a game: “Adam has donated 2,173 grains of rice to the UN to date via Free Rice”
  • Donate: “Kylie has started a virtual food drive with Feeding America”
  • Support a campaign: “David is growing a mustache for Movember”

In my opinion, I think the greatest Timeline app benefit is in the information the nonprofit will gain about app users, and how committed a supporter is to the cause. Installing an app is a deeper commitment than passively Liking a Page, or joining conversation on a Facebook Page. App users should be the organization’s most committed online supporters.

When an app is installed, the developer knows a supporters’ email address, other Likes, and how the user is engaging with the application. Ultimately, the app both gathers supporter information that isn’t available from people who Like a Page, and spreads awareness about the organization/campaign/cause through the ticker.

I caught up with Matt Mahan from Causes for a quick interview about Causes use of the new timeline apps based on the Facebook Open Graph:

1.     Can you explain “Open Graph” for non-geeks and why it isimportant?  How would someone at a nonprofit explain to their seniormanagement or board?

Open Graph is a way of connecting any website to Facebook so that people using that website can opt-in to automatically share what they are doing in real time—listening to music, reading articles, shopping, supporting nonprofits, etc.—with their Facebook friends. If this tool becomes standard across the Internet, which I think it will, it will dramatically increase peer-to-peer sharing of social information, making it easier for people to discover what their friends are doing. Nonprofits, especially smaller ones, stand to benefit from these changes because they will reap the equivalent of free advertising as people engage with them online. Because most nonprofits cannot afford significant marketing budgets, their online “mindshare” is low relative to the degree to which people care about them (vis-à-vis companies and other organizations with greater marketing heft). All in all, Open Graph should help nonprofits become a larger part of the mass scale conversation taking place on Facebook every day.

2.    How has Causes integrated the Open Graph on Facebook?

Causes.com has hooked into Facebook’s Open Graph with a number of action types that will allow people to publish their social good accomplishments to Timeline and their friends’ news feed. These action types include: join, pledge, answer, sign, give and a range of other actions people can take to help their favorite nonprofits. As people take these actions they will be translated into Timeline stories that expose their friends to great organizations and timely action campaigns.

3.    What is the value or benefit to nonprofit users of Causes?

Open Graph is particularly exciting for those of us in the social good space because awareness-raising and advocacy are often core to the work we do. You can listen to a song and enjoy it all by yourself, but social change always requires collective action. Nonprofits and their supporters now have a much more powerful tool for spreading a message, via what is essentially digital-word-of-mouth, quickly and cheaply.

4.    What does this look like to potential users?

For potential users the change is minimal. We’ll ask our users to opt in to share the action they are taking on Causes.com with their Facebook friends. We believe that altruism is social and social change requires collective action, but we also respect that not everyone wants to share their cause with others.

5.    What do nonprofits need to do in terms of strategy and tactics to make it work for them?

The short answer is, invest in your grassroots organizing capacity. Over the next couple of weeks Causes.com is releasing a number of new “action campaigns”, including pledges, polls, quizzes, petitions and so forth, that will make it easy and free for even the smallest nonprofits and independent activists to publish great action campaigns, track action-taking, and translate loose online support into coordinated action. I think this is a particularly exciting opportunity for organizations that see awareness-raising and advocacy as core objectives in the coming year. We’re one of the only websites in the world to have fully integrated with Open Graph, so we recommend using Causes.com as a campaign hub for engaging various online audiences (Facebook, Twitter, website, email list, Causes) in deeper action-taking.

6.    How should they think about measurement of successful strategy?

Overall, the measure of success is how many people you can move to take action and how valuable that action ultimately ends up being for your organization or the population you serve. On Causes.com, our top-level metric of success is the amount of action we help our nonprofit partners generate from their supporters. We trust that those nonprofits are in the best position to determine how to best direct action-taking for real-world impact, whether it’s fundraising, awareness-raising, or advocacy action they are generating. Our goal is to build the world’s best platform for collection action-taking, so we measure (and will soon be able to share with our partners right on their causes) conversion rates from top-down promotion of campaigns via email and Facebook, on-site action-taking, and post-action peer-to-peer sharing, or what is often called “virality”. In a few months, nonprofits will be able to do this kind of measurement right on Causes.com at no cost, and those with larger tech teams will be able to do similar tracking on their own websites. Eventually we plan to power this kind of measurement and data analysis no matter where you run your campaigns.

7.    What are the best how-tos, resources for nonprofits to get started on this?

Definitive best practices are still emerging. We put together a quick overview on the Causes blog for our users, focused on what Open Graph means for their Facebook experience: . Our support team here at Causes is happy to answer questions related to our integration with Open Graph

Is your nonprofit or have you seen a nonprofit using the Facebook’s Open Graph in a creative and effective way?     What are your questions about leveraging Facebook’s Open Graph?

29 Responses

  1. John Haydon says:

    Beth – great post here! I had coffee with Debra this morning and I asked her if I should create a video tutorial on creating a Facebook timeline app. What do you think? Or do you think something else might be useful?

  2. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 10:24 […]

  3. How can nonoprofits address privacy concerns aroused by FB and by open graph?

  4. Shaun Dakin says:


    Very useful, as always.

    One thing to be aware of is that while users do “opt in” to this frictionless sharing, some people will not.

    For example, I personally subscribe to the Washington Post (paper copy!) and I read it online, on my Android, etc…

    I can’t stand the WaPo Facebook page that shares every single story that I read with my friends, whether I wanted to share or not.

    So while there has been huge growth of these apps, I personally have shut most of them down.

    I don’t use the WaPo Facebook app to read.

    I shut off Spotify and use the “private listening” feature.

    I want to be able to share what I want, when I want, with who I want.

    These facebook apps don’t let me do that.


    Shaun Dakin

  5. Hi Beth,
    As somewhat of a novice in the world of the Internet I appreciate your posts on new ideas like Open Graph (probably not new but is to me since your blog is the first place I saw it) and Causes.com. I’m the Founder of The Lamplighter Movement (which currently has 83 chapters in 13 countries)a movement for recovery from incest & childhood sexual abuse. While I’m not a non profit (my husband and I pay all expenses out of our own pocket)I am always looking for ways to reach a wider audience so I can find people interested in starting a Lamplighter chapter. Your blog postings is a good place to start. Thank you and I’ll keep checking back.

  6. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 11:03 […]

  7. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 11:40 […]

  8. Beth says:


    Sorry to be late to responding — been busy with prep work.

    Would you be writing for developers or for nonprofits? I wonder how many nonprofits would invest in the technical chops to develop apps? Or are you thinking of writing something to help app makers create better apps for nonprofits?

    Is that clear as mud?

  9. John Haydon says:

    Beth – you’re right, it’s a bit technical. Plus, I think given that most timeline apps have a mobile component, this also opens the can of worms labeled “Why should my org have a mobile strategy?”

  10. Robin Mohr says:

    I have two immediate questions: how many non-profits really have the time and energy to make use of all this new data they could collect about potential supporters? Maybe the very largest or the very media-savvy, but most aren’t doing all they could with the data they already have. This

    On the other hand, I am wondering about how religious groups could use this to identify people who care about similar issues? Would it be different than targeting animal lovers about vegetarianism?

  11. John Haydon says:

    Robin – my two cents (on sale for one): Yes, collecting data is a benefit for orgs, but I think the bigger implication is the increased potential for sharing a campaign. “John *gave* to the National Wildlife Foundation” would be seen by my friends. In terms of identifying who is using the app, that data will be available to app admins. “John *prayed* for his brother’s quick recovery”.

  12. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 8:21 […]

  13. Beth says:

    Now,that’s an idea – a prayer app

  14. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 7:26 […]

  15. DonationTo says:

    Facebook open graph data can seem to be intimidating but once reviewed its not. Open graph simply means that Facebook allows user profile information to be available to those who use facebook or create Facebook apps.

    Robin had a question about how are non-profits going to use all of this data? Most of the data will be useless, unless their are large amounts of it.

    For most fundraisers I would still suggest to keep it simple, don’t get overwhelmed with the technology use Facebook to the best of your knowledge. Emails are still a great way to reach out to donors.

    Hope all is well
    The DonationTo.com team

  16. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 9:32 […]

  17. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 1:18 […]

  18. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org – Today, 7:06 […]

  19. mike says:

    Thanks for the tips for non-profits. The squeeze that has been put on non-profits do to the economy has made it all hands on deck, and exploring any and all possibilities of the boards we sit on.

  20. DonationTo says:

    Hey Mike, although the economy is in a flux fundraising is at a turning point for the better. Technology has made it easy to get exposure. Technology has also made it faster to accept donations. In a recent example, on Reddit, (sorry I couldn’t find the actual link, but a gentleman was able to bring a great deal of awareness to raise 2k. In a very well explained and effective display of his cause he ended up raising 65k.

    Hope all is well
    The DonationTo.com team

  21. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#153d26; background-repeat : no-repeat; } http://www.bethkanter.org (via @techsoupcanada) – Today, 8:12 […]

  22. Chas Lauller says:

    Great post. About 1/3 of all we do is nonprofit related and their budget constraints (by definition) tend to be greater than their for profit counterparts. Your take helps distill all that’s available down to helpful tidbits. Thanks again.


  23. I am a person who is private, I write and I am a handicapped person who sits in a wheelchair all of my life, I love to talk to my friends, my family and to become a part of others lives, as I cannot go out here in a world of my own. I love and enjoy Country classic Music from the 70’s and the 80’s and I love doing things at home such as working on my computer. I enjoy having conversations about many things and am an advocate about the constitutional ways of life I believe that every person should have the right to bear arms and to be able to protect themselves no matter what. I do not believe in O’bama at all! I feel that he should be dismissed as president and be made to step down and to place someone with some serioous sense in that office and not Joe Biden either. I feel that he is a kook and this Nancy Pelosi oh my Lord! Don’t even get me started about her! These people get away with murder, and I think they should all be disbarred completely. Took out of the White House and just railroaded out of town! I feel like we need a Goverment that does not run this country! They should by all means remember that the United States belongs to the people and not to the Government.

  24. murad says:

    ohh its really cool

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  26. […] of Timeline apps? Read Facebook Timeline Apps: A New Way To Engage? by Debra Askanase and What Do Facebook’s New Timeline Apps Mean for Nonprofits? by Beth […]

  27. […] Once again, Beth Kanter sums up some of these new opportunities and developments in What Do Facebook’s New Timeline Apps Mean for Nonprofits?. […]

  28. […] wird, lässt sich diese auch auf Facebook abbilden, wenn der Benutzer dem vorher zugestimmt hat. Begonnen hat damit schon einmal Causes, die größte externe Anwendung für Nonprofits auf Facebook. Hier kann man nicht mehr nur […]

  29. […] What Do Facebook’s New Timeline Apps Mean for Nonprofits? Beth’s Blog (Beth Kanter) “…I think the greatest Timeline app benefit is in the information the nonprofit will gain about app users, and how committed a supporter is to the cause… Open Graph is particularly exciting for those of us in the social good space because awareness-raising and advocacy are often core to the work we do…” […]