(Note from Frank Kliewer: The following article summarizes the angst that many nonprofits are going through over the use of social media. Sarah Todd points out that while success is spotty, it is time to get over the waiting game, social networking is here to stay so you might as well jump in and learn the ropes. I do believe that organizations need to develop their own brand of social communication to keep their network engaged with them and not allow their valuable base to waste time on the larger sites seeking a meaningful conversation.)
How well are nonprofits socially networking
Posted: January 7, 2012 – 12:14am
By Sarah Todd
The benefit of using social media to promote your nonprofit is taken as a given today by most of us. Many nonprofits are in their sixth or seventh year of using social media to promote themselves and engage with communities. More than 85 percent of nonprofits are experimenting with social media (Neal Shaffer, WindMill Networking).
Late or non-adopters are still unsure whether social networking is a fad and whether the current tools will change on them, wasting precious time and resources.
In the Nonprofit Quarterly, Christine Durand and Kristen Cici acknowledge that while the tools may and will change, social media is here to stay as an important public relations and engagement tool.
Their advice is that nonprofits should invest in the concept of being social organizations rather than becoming stuck on a single tool.
Some of us are still unclear on exactly why the social network is so important.
Bottom line, it’s the online version of word-of-mouth advertising. And that’s not the same as self-promotion. It’s getting other people talking about and engaged in your organization. Then you can reach out more personally, engaging donors, volunteers and more.
Many nonprofits doing social networking are missing opportunities and making beginners’ mistakes.
A few of the most common, from a useful list provided by Fundraising Success magazine, are failing to post social networking icons on your web site so people can easily get to your social networking links and too much self-promotion instead of real engagement through conversation.
A third major failure is not blogging because this is what brings fresh content to your site on a daily basis, and that fresh content helps in many ways.
Most of us are intimidated by the idea of blogging or put off by the many inane blogs we encounter. We’re fearful it will become a deep sinkhole of time with little to show for it. If not done well, that could be right. But that excuse has lost its potency because there’s so much wisdom available online on how to blog well.
In a fall 2011 Huffington Post article, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark revealed the results of a survey his team undertook to discover the social networking results of the top 50 highest earning nonprofits.
Metrics such as the number of Tweets over the two-month survey period and the number of Facebook fans and posts and comments received during the period were used to define effective. The survey results are available at Huff Post Impact online.
The Craigslist team found top earning nonprofits do not necessarily have either the best visibility or the most meaningful activity in the social media arena. Though 92 percent of the 50 nonprofits on the highest earnings list use social media, some of the most social-media-savvy organizations were the lowest among the top fifty.
In our own community, where the average income for nonprofits is much lower than these top fifty, how can smaller nonprofits — short on time and people — effectively use social networking?
Begin with just one or two social networking sites, like FaceBook and Twitter. There are now a number of highly useful and not overly technical books on how to get set up with each of the major social networking tools.
After reading, create a plan before you jump in. Decide who will work on it and how much daily time they can afford to spend. If you are on more than one site, link them so you can more efficiently get news out.
This technique does not allow you to customize your responses to these two audiences, so just do it while you’re getting settled into a routine with your social networking and analyze how effective it is for you.
Finally, you can do fine as a beginner with one post a day or even a few times a week. What’s important is not to be inconsistent about how often you post and to respond to posts in a timely manner to help retain your followers.
With all the great information resources available on social networking, I think 2012 will be a year when many adopters get much better at it and most of the rest of us finally jump into the pool. If we always keep in mind that our purpose is to create meaningful, engaged conversation, we can’t go too far wrong.
Sarah Todd is director of development for Girls on the Run of Coastal Georgia and the founder of Change Pioneers. Sarah can be reached at 912-224-2120 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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