Less Is More! – Uncommon Advice from a Nonprofit Social Media Enthusiast

nonprofit social mediaLet me introduce you to guest blogger Celeste Wroblewski, vice president of external relations at Donors Forum in Illinois.  Celeste is a longtime friend and colleague, and one of the smartest minds in the field…

As I review advice on social media for nonprofits, I often come across rules like these:

  • It’s about conversing and listening: It’s not about sharing your own news.
  • Post X times a week on your blog and X times a day on Facebook.
  • For every tweet about your organization, tweet four times about others.

While this advice works well for some, I think it overwhelms beginners and those working in small organizations.  Moreover, this approach generates a flood of content for those who read these posts, updates and Tweets.

At Donors Forum in Illinois, we believe that there are no rules or,  at least, that it’s time to reexamine them.  Our strategy is to:

This streamlined approach is shaped by the limited size of our communications team (1.5 people) and by the knowledge that our constituents are already overloaded.

As social media proliferates, the messages have become overwhelming and the conversations  recursive. And we know that, consistent with our mission,  our constituents want us to filter and curate information.

Our social media strategy follows suit.  We do not converse simply to converse—we don’t do #FollowFriday, we don’t retweet a lot, we don’t provide accounts of mundane activities.

What we do is to concentrate on what is most important to grantmakers and nonprofits in Illinois.

So, what do you think:  Can less be more in social media? Please share your comments here.

Guest Blogger on June 14, 2010 in Blogging for Nonprofits, Social Media | 10 comments
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  • Thank you, Celeste, for speaking out on behalf of bringing some order to the chaos that is social media. There is so much ‘stuff and nonsense’ clogging social media networks that it is difficult to find that which is truly important and of value. If everyone would operate using the principle that less is more, think how much more value could be gained through social media.

  • Talia Ran

    Yes it is true that less is more and content should be limited to the most pertinent information. However, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ so it may be difficult (on some occasions) to find out what is ‘stuff and nonsense.’ As far as #FF and RTs go I think they are a useful part networking that shows you are engaged and interested in what other people have to say. Having said that, I do agree, there is a lot of crap that gets pushed in social media that I really could do without.

  • Justin G. Roy

    There are some great points brought up in the post above, in regards to sometimes flooding the online waves and I wanted to thank, Celeste for posting!

    I do agree on the “rules” or accepted numbers challenge above; there really is not any “proven” magic number on how many blogs, posts, comments, tweets, or what-have-you. When you see interesting posts or information that you think your followers would like to read – post it. If you don’t then do not retweet something or post just to cross it off your list. Everybody’s following and their habits are different than another’s, so experiment and find out what works best for you in regards to building your followers/friends/readers/etc.

    I am curious, however, why a nonprofit would go out onto any of these social networks if they are not going to be active? Simply being present is not enough for any online branding and marketing (aka social media) strategy. Would you attend a networking event and sit in the corner, choosing one person (based on the numbers), walk up to them and announce your good news, then walk away?

    Any good strategy/plan would understand and touch upon the importance of building your audience (your target market), engaging your audience, building links and traffic to your site, and having a call to action. It’s time to throw away the billboard mentality and truly understand what online marketing and branding (social media) really is.

    Time (free or spent) is absolutely an ongoing challenge for any brand (yes, nonprofits are brands too), adding in the question of who is responsible for social media. Some larger brands have resources to assign and most small(er) businesses don’t. When I speak to small business owners, I often remind them that it is just as important to “work” for your own business and don’t loose sight of that. If you allocate 10 hours a week to marketing then fit social media and engagement strategy in there.

    I am really curious to hear others thoughts on this, knowing that I may be standing alone in left field. However, just as we embrace the ability to say what we feel we also need to embrace the possibility of standing alone.

  • Pingback: My response to less is more…. « Justin G. Roy()

  • Celeste Wroblewski

    Carol — thanks.
    Talia and Justin — yes, it’s important to experiment; thanks.
    Justin — thanks for your critique. Any good friend of Barbara Talisman is a friend of mine. In terms of your analogy — I don’t think we are going to a networking party and talking to one person — I think we’re at the party, and sharing what we think is important with other guests at the party. What we’re not doing is talking constantly at the party, repeating what everyone else at the party is saying, or making lots of small talk. To talk about “truly” understanding social media is to say there’s only one way to go about it. – And that’s my point and perhaps where we disagree — I think it can be many different things. No one has definitely proven that that any one particular strategy works for all of nonprofits (or individuals or businesses) all of the time. One’s audience may actually appreciate the “less is more” approach. Time will tell.

  • Great article and advice! Posted a blog about it to our listeners in Australia. http://www.connectingup.org/blog/connecting-up/less-more-uncommon-advice-social-media-enthusiast

  • Emily Culbertson

    This is a great discussion thread, and it’s prompting me to think about the ways my approach to social media with clients is evolving. I see a definite variation in appetite to take on social media in the groups I am fortunate to work with. In many ways, time is not the only limiting factor: the objectives are, too. Encouraging folks to experiment with social tools requires being enthusiastic about a number of approaches that can work well for an organization’s goals. For example, I, too, encourage folks to listen first and share the work of the field, but I am increasingly probing the other ways people listen to the field as they begin their social media exploration as there are multiple ways to be plugged in. (in this instance, there’s no question Celeste is plugged into the major conversations in her field.) In particular, in some niche communities, the conversation is not online, but it’s just as important to know about. Perhaps this is an extreme statement, but the only “you’re doing it wrong” approaches I can think of are (a) ignoring a complete firestorm about your brand online and (b) overpromising on where you will engage and then underdelivering. I’m sure there are others — and ways these aren’t failures but lessons — but I’m glad for the chance to think about it.

  • Thanks for sharing that, Karen, and thanks for your wise words, Emily. I think another point important to make is that building relationships takes on many forms and formats. For some organizations, in-person, face-to-face real-time relationships and network weaving should be the focus and priority. Social media can indeed help weave those in-person networks, but one cannot assume that an organization is not “network weaving” if it is not extremely active in social media. The “Working Wikily” article in the recent Stanford Social Innovation Review nicely espouses online network weaving, while acknowledging the evergreen value of older forms of network building.

  • A quick update: One of our principles is continuous improvement. We have decided to start participating in Follow Friday as a way to bring attention to grantmaking Members, advisor Associate Members, and nonprofit Forum Partners that are active on Twitter.

  • Andy’s Web Tools

    There are some great points in this post! Less can be more when it comes to social media – the most important thing is to be authentic and real. The same principles can be applied to your website – while it is important to update it regularly, it is also important that the content and design be authentic and accurately reflect the mission of the organization.

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