Nonprofits and the Big Scary Spectre of Social Media

By March 13, 2010Social Media

Months ago, I attended a great workshop hosted by a social-networking support group. The event was an overview on how and why to dive in head-first to social networking. We looked at tools and content – how best to introduce yourself and your business to your virtual audience, and why it is necessary in this increasingly digital world to do so.

I have since thought a great deal about that workshop. The most disquieting about it wasn’t the long list of on-line tools with which I’d yet to become familiar. It was the fact that, other than the person who’d alerted me to the workshop, I was the only person in the room with any relation to the nonprofit industry.

I am a professional fundraiser. Others in this profession (or those who have talked to me for any length of time) know that the very best way to build a robust professional and social network is to be a fundraiser. Any fundraiser, volunteer or professional, will tell you that what they do is all about the connections they make to others, after all, people give money to people, not to organizations.

Whether I am working on behalf of a client, volunteering, or enjoying a night out, if I am anywhere in the city limits, in any public place, I am likely to come into contact with someone I know from some other context. I LOVE this about my job. There are days when I’m downtown, waving at someone across the street, chatting with an acquaintance in line for coffee, or sharing a hug with a dear old friend with a promise to schedule time for a lengthy chat, and I feel like our world is incredibly small. It is a comforting thought. The day I attended the social media workshop was not one of those days. I knew almost no one in that room.

Why is it that the people who are so important to the nonprofit industry in Boise have virtually ignored social media? There was a little buzz during and immediately after the Obama campaign, when people thought an organization might be able to fundraise on Facebook. When it turned out you need a pool of about 300 million people or more nationwide to make any significant amount of money, that flame fizzled out. No, studies are beginning to roll in that show that social media isn’t on its own an effective fundraising tool. What it is, however, is central to the process of effective fundraising. Social media is a great connecting tool.

How many times has your organization lamented that you can’t get any air time on television, or that no one at the newspaper ever prints your media releases? The fact of the matter is, our traditional media is shrinking – both in size as well as in audience. 24 of the 25 largest print newspapers reported shrinking circulation last year. Smaller newspapers are cutting staff and turning to syndication services for news.

Sure there is the news that will still be of interest to your local media, and a diverse communication plan still incorporates broadcast and print media. Not everything you do, however, is going win out for shrinking print or broadcast time. There are people, however, who may be so interested in your organization or its projects that they take the time to sign up for an email list, or friend us on Facebook. These are people who are telling us they want to connect. They’re tuning in when we talk. If we don’t abuse their attention, they might invite others to share in the news. They’re like your table captains for your gala event – they’re doing your marketing on your behalf.

So what do these self-assigned evangelists expect from you? Are they looking for you to populate your Facebook page with lists of needs and wants? How about links to long articles with statistics and case studies? Probably not. For the most part, those who use social media effectively check in with their primary accounts several times per day. There are tools available (check out Tweetdeck) that allow for them to check in with applications at once. What they want is consistency and brevity. Like the people we friend on Facebook, we mostly just want to know the groups we’ve friended or become fans of are doing alright.

Moreover, we want to know that the organizations we’ve friended are RELEVANT, that they MATTER. Radio silence doesn’t tell us this (whether that silence is self imposed or caused by an inability to demonstrate news worthiness to the traditional media), nor does endless amounts of boring content. I just came across this great blog, sensitively titled “What the Hell are you Waiting For?” Really, what are we all waiting for?

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Hi Beth!

    I’m really enjoying your blog and the insightful wisdom you’re sharing!

    It’s shocking to me that this article is nearly 2 years old, and still businesses, non-profit organizations (NPO’s), and individuals have yet to embrace social media as a priority in their marketing plans.

    “How many times has your organization lamented that you can’t get any air time on television, or that no one at the newspaper ever prints your media releases?”

    Nowadays, nearly everyone is on social media. 70+% of the US population is on Facebook, and 18% are on Twitter. And every day, more and more people, all over the world are joining social media platforms. The potential for outreach and connection is huge!

    The problem is, most businesses, NPO’s, and individuals haven’t been using social media effectively and unfortunately don’t see its relevance.

    I just moved to Portland and I’m working for a social media agency. We see this negative attitude towards social media all the time from those who aren’t using it effectively. They see social media like TV, Radio, or print advertising. They post maybe once or twice a week, and it’s only about them and what they’re doing. Like you said, “Moreover, we want to know that the organizations we’ve friended are RELEVANT, that they MATTER.” Social media is the complete opposite to traditional methods of advertising, it’s about building relationships and having a conversation.

    Those that are succeeding with social media are engaging their audiences with interesting, relevant, and valuable content. They’re building relationships; sharing content from friends and partner organizations; and they’re having conversations with their audience. Look at organizations like charity:water or a company like Zappos. They’ve built a community of people using social media that love them!

    2014 will be a pivotal year for NPO’s and businesses using social media. It’s no longer enough to just be on social media. If NPO’s and businesses are to survive and thrive in this new world social media, they’re going to have to be proactive about it.

    This article may be of interest to you. The author explains how four different NPO’s used social media campaigns effectively last year:

    Thanks again for the insightful articles here! I look forward to reading more this year 🙂

    – Michael Sieler (Jr.)

  • […] post is from my friend Michael Seiler, who commented recently on a post I shared about nonprofits and social media nearly four years ago. In the post, I noted that […]

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