- Tue, May 15 2012
- Filed under: Social networking and web 2.0
This post on social media for nonprofits is adapted from The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit by Jacob Smith and Trey Beck. Jacob blogs at brightplus3.com.
Should your nonprofit dive headlong into the world of Web 2.0? The simple answer is to first know your audience, how it communicates, and how its members interact with each other and with organizations they support. You may be able to mine some of this information from your personal knowledge of supporters and prospects, from your member database, or from analytics on your web site. But if you don’t know who they are, ask them. If you want to engage with young adults, the odds are good that you’ll want a strategy that uses Facebook or SMS. Do you want to communicate with 40-somethings? That might involve crafting an effective email campaign. You want to talk to Bedouin camel drivers? Buy a ticket to Morocco. Wherever your audience is, get into the habit of going to them.
If you decide that it’s finally time to take the social networking plunge (and if your audience includes people younger than 50 that’s probably the right answer), there a few caveats you’ll want to keep in mind. Mind these four points - otherwise, you’re doing little more than putting social lipstick on a network pig. In other words, your efforts will be cosmetic rather than transformative!
1. The wrong culture. One is that effectively using social media, as Beth Kanter and Allison Fine argue in The Networked Nonprofit, requires an organizational culture based on transparency, empowering staff and members, and risk-taking. You can’t simply layer a social media strategy on top of a traditionally hierarchical organization and expect it to work. Requiring three approvals for a single tweet will sink you social efforts.
2. Aimlessness. If you aren’t clear about your goals and how you’ll measure progress you are unlikely to use your social media strategies very effectively. Kanter and Fine make this point, as do most effective social strategists. If you don’t know why you’re doing something or what you hope to accomplish, it’s hard to tell when you’re winning or losing.
3. Obsolescence. People change. The use of social networking next month will probably look different than it does today, and by next year it may not even be recognizable. You’ll always need to pay attention to who uses what tools in what ways and adjust accordingly.
4. The echo effect. As blogger and social change researcher Ethan Zuckerman argues, social media often replicates and amplifies existing social segregation and networks. If your goal is to engage people like yourself, adding social media to your engagement strategy might work well. But if your goal is to engage with different communities, you may need to do more to make sure you reach the right people.
Social media really is changing the world, and in profound ways, but whether and how you participate has to start with an understanding of who you want to engage with, clear goals, and an organization open enough to use social media effectively.