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Social Media & Nonprofits: How Social Media Can Help

This is a guest post by Megan Knight, intern at Dawn Westerberg Consulting LLC

If you work for a nonprofit organization you know how tough it can be to get your organization’s mission across to the thousands of people that need to hear it.  Most nonprofits struggle with tons of limitations ranging from financial constraints to a lack of resources.  With such a tight budget, one thing that is commonly overlooked or trimmed down is an organization’s marketing efforts.  This being said, I have seen numerous companies (both profits and nonprofits) take advantage of social media and leverage it to maximize the firm’s marketing strategy.
Social Media.  These days, you hear the term everywhere, but what is it? In his book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR, David Meerman Scott defines social media as: “…the way people share ideas, content, thoughts, and relationships online.  Social media differ from so-called ‘mainstream media’ in that anyone can create, comment on, and add to social media content.  Social media can take the form of text, audio, video, images, and communities”.   So what does this translate into?  Well these days, social media usually refers to a myriad of websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
It’s important to note that social media does not only imply social networking websites, i.e. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn-but that these types of social networking mediums are a form of social media.
So why do nonprofits need to use social media?  Let me spell out 4 great reasons:
  1. Cost-effective: Implementing social media for your organization is free. Yes, you read that right-free.    As mentioned above, most nonprofits do not have the financial freedom to throw at marketing efforts.  Each endeavor needs to be carefully thought out, especially if it’s costing organizational dollars.  True, some sites have premium memberships that may require a fee, but the basic membership is most likely free of charge.  You can promote your organization in a number of ways at little or no cost with social media.  It’s certainly effective, why not go for it?
  2. Connect with the right audience: Social media allows an organization to connect with the right individuals who need their services or are passionate about the cause.  It offers a direct line of communication- to share stories, to offer advice, anything that your audience needs- you can be aware of it and can find a way to fill the void.
  3. Collaboration: With so many forms of social media and social networking the ability to collaborate is substantial.  Someone can reply to a tweet, a wall post, a video and that can spark ideas and partnerships to benefit business.  Share ideas. Start a wiki about a topic and watch the amount of information explode.  Be creative, you can find some pretty incredible opportunities.
  4. Accessibility: Social media can make an organization so much more accessible. Patrons can donate online, share links, videos, tweet about you, and even contact you directly (and almost instantly).  On an SEO side, social media gives Google (and other search engines) more content to use to increase your rankings and visibility.

So, hopefully I have convinced you to consider (or reconsider) social media.  Next, I am going to cover 5 social media vehicles and how nonprofits can use them to their advantage. Then, offer up some advice on how to utilize social media to get the most out of it.

Facebook, the phenomenon that has changed a generation, created a new verb, and even inspired a movie.  It’s probably safe to say that you know what Facebook is, you probably even have a profile, if you don’t you certainly know someone who does.  It is certainly a powerful tool that connects people, definitely capitalizing on the social aspect of social media.
So how can you use it? How do you get moving? Well for starters, create a business page for your organization.  Upload some pictures and make sure you try and connect with as many people as possible.
Be unique, post about not just your business, but about things your audience will find interesting.  Set-up causes if relevant, if you fight something make it known.
I’ll be honest; I was quite resistant to Twitter when it first came out.  I thought, “What’s the point?  I tell people what I do via Facebook”.  So when I signed up for Twitter, mostly due to the software on my Android device, I was skeptical.  However, I am here to say that Twitter, which may have been developed due to Facebook, is one powerful tool.  I use it primarily to stay informed, connect with some favorite bands, and converse with friends.  However, what can Twitter do for a nonprofit?
Twitter is a two-way conversation.  It connects you to users everywhere, not just “friends” or “fans”.
In case you weren’t aware of it, Twitter has a 140 character limit.  Sound lame?  Not necessarily.  Use this to your advantage.  Post a compelling status, and link back to your website, blog, etc.
Twitter updates also show up in Google search results; make sure your organization name and username is as close as possible.
Twitter allows you to establish and maintain a conversation, amidst everyday routine.  Existing supporters may be on Twitter; search using email addresses (if you’ve got them) and engage them.
Another suggestion is to search tweets and offer advice to other organizations or individuals in your field or even in your area.  Be creative!
YouTube is a fascinating site.  Anyone can be famous and find their fifteen minutes of fame.  True, it may be a hub for aspiring singers or directors, but a nonprofit can definitely use YouTube to it’s advantage.
Videos are another form of media; it can be something entirely new for your group and can break up some of the chatter that comes with social media.   It also offers a way to different so be imaginative!
Nonprofits can sign up for the YouTube Nonprofit Program.  I recommend doing this because it helps accurately direct people to your page.  If you type “global warming”, you can get a myriad of parodies on the subject, rather than a list of nonprofits who work for the cause, thus it’s in your best interest to get a nonprofit account.
Make videos interactive.  Ask questions-wait for the response.  With the video response feature on the site, you can create interactive campaigns to engage users to promote awareness.
LinkedIn is a growing website that connects over 75 million professionals all over the world.  So how can nonprofits use it to their advantage?  Well, for starters a company profile would be a great step.  Individuals can follow the company’s activity and stay informed.
Just like in Facebook, you can create a group.  Think of creating a group for a cause or topic relevant to your organization.  Then, you can be linked with professionals who are interested in your foundation.
Finally, use employee’s personal profiles to help benefit the organization.  When people are searching local professionals or looking for more connections, your personal profile can be huge resource.  An old colleague may find you and see that you work for organization X, they may know someone who needs your service and can reach out to you.  You never know when a connection may be made.  If your company is doing good things or if you’re working on something exciting, let people know.
Foursquare is a relatively new social networking site that allows users to share with others where they are.  Users can also gain points by checking in, and organizations are starting to use this to connect with users everywhere.
Nonprofits can use Foursquare as a unique way to tell others about what their organization is doing.  I recommend creating a nonprofit venue for your organization.  Also, since Foursquare is built around tips, and link back to the website.
Next, you can add to-do lists to your profile.  This is a way to build points, but it also gives you a way to promote your cause or other local causes that are important.
Lastly, check-in at foundation events.  Let others know where you are and what you’re doing.  If it’s interesting, the location is there, so potential supporters could show up if possible.  It’s also another way to show that you’re organization is active, which is always a good thing.
Five Social Media Tips:
  1. Be active:  Social media is not for the faint of heart.  If you plan on implementing social media, the best way to see results is to be active.  Post consistently and update each site accordingly.  Ensure that all contact information is correct as well as the organizational mission and links.
  2. Don’t be afraid to collaborate: Not just with other organizations but with of your sites.  Link your tweets and wall posts back to your website.  If you post a video, make sure you tell people about it.  Embed it on your website, or share it on your tweets.  If you’re at an organization event, check-in- let others know.
  3. Be prepared for the naysayers: Keep in mind that with social media, anyone can voice their opinion.    If you have some negative feedback, address it.  If the possibility concerns you, set-up some comment moderation method.  If that’s not possible, that form of social media may not be for you.
  4. Talk back: If people ask you questions or respond! You don’t have to answer every single post, but a few here and there shows your followers that you’re engaged.  Retweet good words, like wall posts, respond to video comments- show others you listen.
  5. Get feedback: Figure out what social media works for you and what doesn’t.  Ask your fans, they’ll tell you!  If you get a lot more followers than YouTube subscribers, you might want to focus more on tweets.  Track your activity, use the Insights Dashboard on Facebook or Twitter Analyzer, and stay informed.
Don’t think that social media is beyond your reach or irrelevant for your organization.  It’s a powerful tool.  If you need help, ask for it, you’ll definitely benefit.

5 Responses to Social Media & Nonprofits: How Social Media Can Help

  1. Great post, Megan! I can see why Dawn has you interning! Social Media is such a powerful tool that sometimes we don’t look at how, specifically, it can benefit a narrowly defined industry or purpose.

    Any nonprofit will benefit greatly from reading this post!

  2. […] Megan Knight, an intern for my friend Dawn Westerberg, wrote a truly amazing post about how Social Media can help nonprofits. Very well […]

  3. […] stated in a previous post, I touched on some great reasons to why nonprofits should consider social media in their marketing […]

  4. […] Media & Nonprofits: How Social Media Can […]

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