How Online Communications Help Strengthen Relationships – Andrew Sullivan at NTC

andrewsullivanI blogged this practical but fresh perspective from Andrew Sullivan’s keynote talk at NTC (NTEN‘s annual conference). Sullivan, top blogger at The Atlantic‘s Daily Dish, shared his take on the potential value of blogging (and other online channels) for orgs and what it takes to realize that value to strengthen relationships.

Author, provocateur and early (since 2000) blogger Sullivan covered what’s different about online communications and community, and what that means for your nonprofit:

  • Blogging (and other online content and conversations, I’d say) is about relationships, not content.
  • Online readers, even when alone, are not really alone. Immediately, without waiting for the news or the paper, they enter in a relationship with the writer.
    • Readers interact w/content in a personal setting–at their computers, which are personal–where they do their work, keep photos, etc–so you are speaking directly to each one in a way you can’t via print, even if they don’t participate actively in online conversation.
    • So online reading and conversation becomes more part of your audience’s lives. It’s a great opportunity.
  • But, for that to work, online content has to be ever-changing.  If it’s not (like a static brochure site, as so many orgs have), it’ll fail to engage your network. And likely to alienate them.
    • When you have this relationship with your network, you already have their permission. So your organization can move quickly to introduce them to a campaign.
    • The speed is critical since our focus shifts very quickly.

Online communications is unequaled for relationship building, but is reinforced through direct mail, phone outreach and in-person gatherings.

But your organization’s online communications success may not come easily. Here are some of the common challenges cited by Sullivan:

  • The lack of control inherent in social media (such as enabling readers to comment on your blog, which I suggest you do) is terrifying, especially for those with something to hide. That’s everyone, and every  organization.
  • As a blogger or site producer, your role changes from expert to conduit of thought for your network.  Most organizations fear this shift, thinking it signals a decrease in their significance.
  • A personal face and voice (or a few of them) for your organization online is a must. You don’t develop a relationship with an institution, you do so with an individual.

What do you have to add to the list of benefits, or deterrents? Please comment below.

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Photo: Flickr Lydia Mann

Nancy Schwartz on April 13, 2010 in Blogging for Nonprofits | 7 comments
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  • Chris Perrius

    If blogging is not about content, only pseudo “relationships,” then I will happily stay in the print world. But it’s not: Sullivan’s blogs are valuable because he is smart and literate, not because we have a ‘relationship’ that is any more special than the ones I have with book or magazine writers or tv talking heads. Photos on the “personal computer” makes blogging more intimate? That’s silly. Where you do see on-line dialogue around blogs are in the comment sections, which sure, the blogger can enter. For a handful of heavy users, this might be the key attraction. But for most people, blogs are a content delivery tool, not a relationship end in themselves. Sullivan overstates the case and downplays ‘content,’ ie compelling writing – don’t you agree?

  • Chris, you make several good points. I agree that Sullivan overstates the case — hyperbole is definitely the name of his game.
    On the other hand, I agree with him that blogs (and facebook, and twitter…) are much more relationship- oriented that traditional one-way communications–they give me the opportunity to talk back, just like you did.
    Best,
    Nancy

  • Jeremy Shatan

    My biggest fear is that we would start a blog and no one would read or comment on it. People are interested in the program we fund but not in what we are doing day to day.
    Thinking aloud – I suppose that means that if – big if – we started a blog it would be about the program and not the charity itself…

  • Jeremy, if you’re considering blogging you definitely need a strategy–figure out how it’ll help you achieve your org’s communications goals and whom you need to read it to make that happen. Then figure out if those folks are blog readers in general. If the answer is yes, overall, move forward.
    And yes, on the focus of your blog should be the wants and passions of your base, not on the organization. Consider what’s important to supporters, program participants etc and those become your top subjects.
    Here are some great blog concepts to consider: http://www.nancyschwartz.com/value_nonprofit_blog.html
    But be prepared–cultivating an engaged readership does take time.
    Hope this helps,
    Nancy
    P.S. Another way to start is for you and your colleagues to comment on posts in blogs of orgs working in your issue or geographical arena.

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