What happens when control of your nonprofit’s message (frankly, always an illusion) passes from your organization, and the traditional media, to your audiences? Well, you better figure it out quick, because it’s happened.
Most organizations I know have centered their communications strategy around a brand (whether defined as such, or not), expressed through a graphic identity and a narrative one — positioning and key messages. We’ve trained our leaders, staff members and base to keep on message, and ensured that our print and online content does so as well.
That’s the right way to start. But it’s only a start –now more than ever.
This radical change is all about decentralization, and about building real relationships, rather than trying to push your messages out.
In the past, your base has gathered their news from you (via direct communications) and the media (your conduit). Not that message control was completely in your hands. Journalists and letters to the editor often re-frame, or even dispute, your messages. But that could be addressed, as long as you tracked (and responded to) coverage.
But these approaches have been superseded by what’s happening at the edges of increasingly ubiquitous networks, with social media tools at the forefront.
As your audiences participate in social media, they create online content on your nonprofit and its programs. Before you shout out that’s mainly the 30-and-unders, let me share these recent Facebook user demographics, which show how broad users skew: The lion’s share of Facebook users are split about evenly between three segments: 18-24, 25-34 and 35-54. The remaining 20% of users are split evenly between the 17-and-unders and the 55+ groups. More stats here.
Your Org Can Discover What’s Being Said about It Via these Two Online Info Sources
Here are the two core genres of alternative community, news and information sites that have evolved outside of traditional media, and, in many cases are driven by a specific self-defined community.
Sites such as Google News and Huffington Post are aggregating news produced by nonprofits and traditional media, and repackaging it by topic or point of view.
- Alert services such as Google and Yahoo Alerts deliver links to online content on the keywords and phrases you want to track, directly to your email in-box.
- I have Alerts set up on the following keywords and phrases:
- Nancy E. Schwartz
- nonprofit communications
- nonprofit marketing
- Getting Attention
- Nancy Schwartz & Company
- nonprofit taglines
- These tools enable me to track online conversation on what’s important to me, and learn what’s going on in the marketing arena. I respond (via a comment on a blog post or an email to an e-news or web site editor) when it makes sense to share my point of view or correction.
- Blog readers (I use Google reader) that allow your audiences to easily aggregate content from a variety of sources (blog post, updates from your favorite web sites).
- I use my reader to track bloggers who write in the marketing and nonprofit marketing arena, so that I can keep up, and join the conversation with a comment when it makes sense.
- Email mailing lists that enable any self-defined group of individuals to discuss your organization, and to post this conversation online. Our block (Owen Drive) has an active mailing list where neighbors talk fast and furious on everything from school board elections to the forced eviction of old-time small businesses at the local strip mall.
B) Social Media — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, More
- Facebook (especially fan and group pages), LinkedIn groups, Twitter and blogs are the leading examples of social media tools contributing to the dominance of user-generated news, information and opinion, as they help people with common interests and/or perspectives build relationships with each other.
- A program participant blogs about the strong facilitator or…the useless handouts.
- A frustrated online advocate complains on his Facebook page about the glitch in your nonprofit’s system that prevented him from easily registering his protest on your key issue of the moment. A link to your org’s home page is included.
- A donor satisfied with the information she receives about your org’s new programs, and related use of recent gifts, shares that information — and her satisfaction — via Twitter.
Why Your Nonprofit Should Care
- Your base, and others, are shaping the way your nonprofit is perceived via social media conversations.
- Their content is viewed as just as valid as yours is, and is just as easily found via online search engines and links.
- As a result, your nonprofit has less control than ever before — on how the organization is perceived.
- Your communications model has to change.
What You Should Do About It
Set up the right online listening tools so you and your colleagues can:
- Sharpen your understanding of what those you serve need by knowing what they are saying about your work.
- Engage more effectively in conversation with colleague orgs and critics.
- Stay ahead of the curve on what’s happening in your org’s issue arena and related fields.
Please email me your listening strategies today.