Social Media

We would like to welcome guest blogger, Laura Quinn. Laura is the executive director of Idealware, and a frequent speaker and writer on nonprofit technology topics.

With the new year upon us, it’s a good time to make resolutions for both yourself and your organization. Why not resolve to improve your social media efforts? More than 800 million people are using Facebook alone, and chances are good your constituents are among them.

Planning is vital to success with social media, and thinking ahead can ensure the best return for your efforts regardless of the channel you’re using. We created our free Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide specifically to help organizations like yours strategize their approach to social media.

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I recently returned from Boston, where I co-presented a session titled “How to Tame the Social Media Monster” at the Communications Network conference.

Just two years ago, I moderated a similar session at the same conference. And although the focus was a bit difference (back then we recommended listening as the almost-always way to start, and talked mostly on that), the motivation for most participants to join our session was the same — fear of social media. READ MORE

Nancy Schwartz in Social Media | 2 comments
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I’m thrilled to welcome Holly Ross, our newest guest blogger. Holly has spent seven+ years at the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), working with community members to identify technology trends —  from ubiquitous access to technology leadership — that will reshape the nonprofit sector. Full Disclosure: I’m an NTEN board member and a huge fan.

“Social media is not a megaphone, it’s a conversation.” You’ve doubtlessly heard this phrase uttered at dozens of conference sessions and read it in many blog posts. Although that’s the first lesson most of us learned about social media, it’s been the hardest to implement. Having a “conversation” with people you may not know very well, on a platform you’re not entirely comfortable with, isn’t easy to pull off. It’s a skill that has to be developed.

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I’m pleased to welcome back guest blogger Kimberlee Roth. Kim usually blogs on annual reports (one of her specialties) or effective writing for nonprofits, but steps outside the norm today to cover this very compelling webinar on social media.

As a writer who often works with nonprofits, I’ve become increasingly interested in how social media can support an organization’s other communications efforts and, on the flip side, how it can detract.

That’s why I was excited to learn about “Using Social Media for Social Good,” a live discussion (a.k.a. online chat) with Allison Fine, presented by The Chronicle of Philanthropy in late March. Fine is co-author of The Networked Nonprofit and she presents a weekly podcast for The Chronicle, called “Social Good.”

What ensued was an informative and lively virtual discussion with participants candidly sharing challenges, advice and experiences.

At the end of the chat, I closed my browser window with a list of takeaway messages worth sharing. My summary doesn’t do the whole event justice, though, so make sure you check out the full transcript here.

  1. When it comes to social media, strategy should trump tools.
  2. Think about social media in terms of your audience(s) and goals–and how it fits into your overall communications plan. You may detract from your org’s overall communications if you’re putting mixed messages out there. (I would add that you’re also undermining your organization’s branding and positioning, something you’ve likely worked extremely hard to establish.)
  3. Content should reflect your organization’s personality; be open and honest.
  4. To translate an engaged social media following into donors, focus on building relationships first. Listen to supporters, learn what they’re interested in, then share information about your org and cause.
  5. Broaden your definition of ‘involvement’ from donations to include participation. Young adults in particular may be enthusiastic about devoting time to your org but unable to make monetary donations.
  6. Think about social media in terms of conversations with individuals. Interact. Be generous. Celebrate others’ successes. Grow your network by deepening existing connections. (Quality over quantity.)
  7. Don’t let fear of losing control of the conversation about your org keep you from using social media. If you encounter negative feedback, admit mistakes. Being open about shortcomings can win you long-term fans.

What has your org learned about using social media to communicate with your target audiences? Please share your experiences here.

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Welcome back to guest blogger, Susie Bowie, Communications Manager at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Over reliance on numbers—particularly when it comes to measuring the impact of social media—is getting pretty annoying. The problem isn’t a new one, so why do I find it especially bothersome?

I hear a lot of frustration from nonprofit communicators about leaders and board members who still insist on measuring social media success solely by the number of fans or followers. To be fair, it’s probably the only way they know how to justify the investment of precious staff time.

We have to move our leadership past a social media question of “should we?” to the question of “how do we do it best?” And it’s our responsibility to provide them with more guidance and a supplement—not substitution—for numerical metrics.

We’ve moved from a culture that receives information to a culture that begs to participate in information. Our organizations have to figure out which stakeholders we’d like to engage online and set some goals about what we’d like to accomplish through that engagement. After that, we do have a big, ugly ROI question staring us in the face.

Social media has worked well for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. And I feel fortunate that our organization embraces a culture of innovation and technology. What do I think it’s done for us?

  • Broadening Our Knowledge:

We can easily follow our grantees in quick updates on Facebook, track philanthropic trends using Twitter, and see what foundation work our colleagues are doing in other areas.

  • Shedding Light on What We Do and Who We Are: We’re better able to showcase the personality of our staff and convey that we’re real people here. We truly care. Social media has provided a vehicle to share stories and quick updates of our donors, grantees and the impact of both.
  • Participate in High-Value Conversations: Asking open-ended questions has provided insights into our stakeholders’ thoughts about philanthropic and community issues. And now that we can comment on other Facebook pages (as a page), we can congratulate our local nonprofits for a job well done on a frequent and informal basis, sending the message that we support their impact and their work.

Most small to mid-sized organizations just don’t have the budget or the staff time to spend on heavy metric analysis, but there is a really simple way to test whether your social marketing is effective.

We recently decided to ask our followers to answer a quick online survey to test our suppositions—that our social media goals up to this point are being met. I’m excited about what we’re discovering.

More than 90% of our current respondents have said our Facebook page has helped them to better understand what we do. This is huge, considering how mysterious and complex the community foundation world often seems to those who aren’t on the “inside”. Comments like “your page has helped me connect the dots”, “I feel like there’s a more personal connection to the Foundation”, “serves to humanize the work of the foundation” have been so affirming.

Nearly 70% of respondents at this time have indicated that our Facebook page has helped them feel like they better know our staff. That’s important for us. Our success is based on relationships.

We asked other questions about our blog, our Twitter presence, what kinds of posts our respondents like best, and what they would like to see less of, but the main message for you is this:

If you’re immersed in the world of social media fairly regularly for your organization, consider a simple survey. Although it’s not the absolute answer—it’s only part of this constantly evolving ROI challenge—it will facilitate a better understanding of what your followers have gotten out of your social media presence. It’s powerful and may take you far away from the Count von Count Sesame Street method of social media evaluation.

P.S. Get more in-depth case studies, templates and tools, and guidance for nonprofit marketing success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

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We’re excited to welcome our newest guest blogger, Joe Waters. Joe blogs on cause marketing and how social media, location-based services and mobile technology are revolutionizing the field at He’s also the co-author of Cause Marketing for Dummies (July 2011).

One of the most frequent questions I get from nonprofits is on how they can use location-based services (LBS) like Foursquare for marketing and fundraising. It’s a good question, because while I’m convinced that LBS will play a major role in cause and company partnerships in the years ahead, location-based services are in their infancy.

Foursquare, the dominate location based service currently has eight million users. Impressive, for sure, but tiny compared to the 600 million users Facebook has. In short, LBS has a long way to go before it’s mainstream.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore LBS or wait until it’s more popular.

Disregarding LBS is not a smart strategy for causes. A driving feature behind LBS will be offers and discounts from retailers to smartphone-toting consumers. It won’t be long before two key demographics, moms and Millennials, embrace this new technology. As these two audiences are the two major audiences for nonprofits, it makes sense for causes to get busy with LBS now.

Waiting for LBS to become the next Facebook isn’t a good move either. Smaller nonprofits in particular have a history of ignoring important trends and then playing catch up after larger, savvier nonprofits have pulled far ahead. This is one movement that nonprofits of all sizes shouldn’t sit out.

Getting started with location-based services is similar to starting any other type of cause partnership. First, you need a willing business partner. This is probably the most difficult thing to accomplish, but once you have one you’re more than halfway there.

The second step is pick your location-based service. There are many to choose from. My two favorites are Foursquare and Facebook. How do you choose which one is right for you? Always keep your audience in mind. Choose the platform on which you think your partner’s customers and your supporters are most active.

Third, choose a promotion that focuses on awareness or fundraising, or both. A promotion centered on awareness might have you using Foursquare to add tips about your nonprofit to venues in your community. For example, if you’re a nonprofit that provides wigs to women in cancer treatment you might leave tips at local hair salons, with whom you could partner for additional exposure. When Foursquare users check into these locations they’ll learn about your nonprofit’s efforts and what they can do to help.

A promotion focused on fundraising might have you working with Facebook Places. When users check-in to a location–like a Barnes & Noble, Borders or even your favorite independent bookstore–the business donates five dollars to a nonprofit that is working to improve childhood literacy.

Whether you use location-based services for awareness or fundraising, remember these tips.

Use LBS as an Enhancer. Most fundraising is still offline. Look for ways to add LBS to these programs. Using LBS for a standalone program is a wonderful way to better understand how specific services like Foursquare and Facebook Places work. But the small return-on-investment that will follow the program won’t offset the time and effort you gave the promotion. By itself, LBS seems small and maybe not worth the effort. But combined with more traditional fundraising, like cause marketing and special events, it will make a good program look even better.

Use LBS as Is. We have to work with location-based services as is and not get distracted with the things they don’t offer, or aren’t easily accessed, like badges on Foursquare. Stick with built-in features like check-ins, tips, offers and mayorships, which you can control. Check out my Drive Thru Guide to Fundraising on Foursquare.

Use LBS with the Right Demo. Not every location is right for LBS. For example, if you live in a rural area and/or serve an older audience it may not be the right tool for you. But if you’re focused on urban areas and young hipsters, LBS may be the right tool. You have to do your homework. And while it’s alright to lead your supporters with a new idea, you should confirm there’s a good chance they will follow.

Use LBS to Build Credibility. This may be one of the most undervalued benefits of LBS. Businesses get pitched all the time on marketing ideas. A lot fewer of those pitches include any talk of social media. Even fewer discussions include LBS.
Distinguish yourself from your competition by knowing all about the thing everyone is buzzing but few can talk about.

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Planned Parenthood faced a communications crisis last week when a clinic manager was videotaped covertly by actors working for an anti-abortion group, while she giving advice on getting medical care for under-age prostitutes. The stunt was designed to power the group’s campaign to cut off public financing for Planned Parenthood.

But Planned Parenthood responded to this crisis swiftly and comprehensively, emphasizing its commitment to “stay focused on giving women the health care they need and deserve.” Most importantly, Planned Parenthood didn’t leave it at traditional crisis communications. It acted swiftly to articulate the strategy behind the video stunt and to terminate the manager in question, as the organization does not provide health services to minors. And it leveraged the strong relationship it has with its community online…

I was pleased to hear from Planned Parenthood almost immediately after the news hit, via Facebook. I’m one of the organization’s 97,000 likes which means I saw this update before I heard the story elsewhere:

That was followed by several updates over the next few days, dripping out the organization’s response as the sequence of events became clear. Planned Parenthood’s use of Facebook for immediate and ongoing outreach — positioning the action as part of a de-funding attach, reinforcing its own values and focus, asking for support, pledging to do the right thing — motivated strong and vocal support for the organization.

Ironically, Planned Parenthood’s outreach to its Facebook community on its Facebook presence (a.k.a. audience research) had caught my eye earlier last week:

What better way to hone your social media presence than asking your community? Planned Parenthood has received 194 comments to date in just one week. The staff has taken an active role in the discussion, asking for clarification and thanking commenters. And the feedback they’ve received is really useful. Here’s a sampling:

  • It would be great to have info about volunteering/interning opportunities for young people with plenty of free time to give to good causes.
  • Seems like a lot; I see several posts per day, and I glaze over at least half of them.
  • Great idea to poll your supporters! Have you developed a formal strategy for utilizing social media? You can include more posts, links, and information without clogging the newsfeed by using customized tabs. If you want tips/strategies, I’d be happy to share! Keep up the good work.
  • I don’t know if I’d separate the info– I like the posts; hard to separate health info from the political since a lot of yourr health services are constrained by politics.

P.S. Learn how to strengthen your nonprofit’s marketing impact with the new 2011 Guide to Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom.

Nancy Schwartz in Social Media | 0 comments
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Flickr:Leo-ReynoldsA few months ago I was invited by the folks at the Frogloop blog to guest author on a social media issue.

For those of you who don’t know it, Frogloop is a high-value resource focused mostly on social media. As you would expect, I was asked to write on social media.

But I found that a tough assignment.

There’s so much written on social media, and so much useful content already published on Frogloop, that I didn’t feel I had much to add. Then I realized I did have that something—to reinforce the framework that’s a prerequisite for social media (and overall marketing) success—marketing fundamentals.

You see, I’m concerned to see nonprofit marketers forsake the well-tested cornerstones of effective nonprofit marketing to do all social media, all the time. Or even 40% of the time.

I invite you to read my take here and add your perspective to the compelling conversation underway. Looking forward to hearing your point of view!

P.S. Get more in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing  success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Nancy Schwartz in planning, Social Media | 1 comment
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Photo Lyn Hughes 2009I want to welcome guest blogger Colleen Farrell.  As senior director of marketing and communications at New York Cares, New York City’s largest volunteer organization, she is a master communicator re: volunteer engagement. Today, Colleen shares some social media insights for volunteer communications…

I’ve been immersed in social media for several years, but like everyone else, have much to learn.  New York Cares has a very credible (and fast growing) online presence, but I often feel like we’re just scratching the surface.

That’s one reason I attended last week’s 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS). Social media was all the buzz, with its own dedicated track (standing room only) featuring speakers from Facebook, Twitter, Pepsi, Craigslist and others.  And most importantly, it created a vibrant forum for sharing experiences and wisdom from the crowd.

I came away with multiple takeaways (always a good sign). Here are my top five:

1.  There are no experts – There are no social media manuals, and there is no single right way to do it. The best way to learn is to get out there and do it. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey got laughs when he recommended not following panelists’ advice – instead trust and listen to your community.  They’ll tell you what matters.

2.  It’s not about us – The days of one-way communications are over.  Jessica Kirkwood of Points of Light Institute suggests thinking of social media like a cocktail party.  You can’t just walk in and expect people to listen to you.  You need to introduce yourself and ask questions – engage in a conversation.  If you do it right, you’ll get a chance to share your own story in a context that matters to people you meet.

3.  Measure – Many organizations – mine included – got into social media because it seemed like the right thing to do.  Now my team and I are looking hard at what we do, why we do it and results we get, e.g. ROI.  I’m interested to learn more about low-cost dashboards like Spredfast to automate measurement across channels.

4.  No silo zone – Don’t silo social media with one person or department.  Embed it in everything you do and empower people to participate, internally and externally. Set policies and guidelines, appoint owners, then mobilize your community to tell your shared story. Nonprofit leaders should lead by example and use the tools themselves.

5. Tone – Personalize, humanize, be transparent, and above all, be authentic.

The Case Foundation’s Sokunthea Sa Chhabra did a great summary of a session called ‘Social Media for Social Good.’  Check out conference hashtags on Twitter (#NCVS and #SM4SG) for notes and links on getting started, and more.

Do any of these topics resonate with challenges you’re facing?  How is your organization using social media to advance mission?


P.S.  Enter today – The 2010 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards (a.k.a. The Taggies) close on July 28! And this year, for the first time, you can submit your organization’s program, fundraising campaign and/or and special event taglines, in addition to your organizational tagline.


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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 in Blogging for Nonprofits, Social Media | 10 comments
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