3 Proven Ways to Make an Impact When Message Control Is Out of Your Hands

Now that you know what happens when control of your nonprofit’s message passes from your organization to your audiences, you’ve got to do something about it (see They Said What? for details). Here are three strategies that will ensure your organization works this all-voices-have-equal-weight conversation to its advantage:

1.  Start To Monitor All Channels, All the Time

Your nonprofit may have once counted on a clipping service to capture print and broadcast coverage of your organization. But what’s equally – if not more – and comments on your org – on websites, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other channels.

Effective listening will help your org: (hat tip to WeAreMedia.org)

  • Be able to better serve your target audience by knowing what they’re saying to others and to you.
  • Be able to respond to and/or engage critics.
  • Stay on top of the latest development in your area of work.

Here’s how you can automate a process to monitor online coverage – of your org, key leaders and issues, and the issue area in which you work:

>>Set up Google Alerts to alert you – via email – to content on your org and leaders.

In addition, you can use these alerts services for updates on coverage of keywords and phrases in your issue areas, and of partner and competitive organizations. Google Alerts does miss some mentions, but picks up a huge amount of relevant content.

>>Search Twitter every few days to see what’s tweeted about your org and other key terms.

>>Use Technorati – a search engine of blog content – to check for blog coverage of your organization.

Not all blog content is indexed by Google or Yahoo. Technorati is as comprehensive as it gets, at this point.

>>Check your nonprofit on Wikipedia.  If you haven’t already searched for your organization, on the Internet’s open source encyclopedia, do so today. Wikipedia allows users to research a subject and add their own information.

I just researched several nonprofits, and it quickly became apparent that there’s a lot of content here that didn’t come from those organizations. For example, the Sierra Club entry goes into detail on the battle of a reduction into its mission. The article’s accuracy been disputed but the main Sierra Club has not joined the conversation.

Look up your organization, and check back frequently (once every two weeks). If there’s something missing that people should know about, add it. You’ll have the option of registering as a contributor which allows you to remain an anonymous poster.

Wikipedia is a popular place. You can be sure that some prospective donors, volunteers, members and clients are learning about your nonprofit here. Make sure you know what they’re learning.

>>Use Google Reader (Or Use Another RSS Reader) to synthesize content from the blogs (and some websites) that cover your nonprofit or issues regularly.

Who has time to dive into a hundred sites or blogs on a regular basis? Tools like Google Reader enable you to easily read key content from blogs (and more and more websites) that you need to know about.

Once you identify the sources that cover your organization or field, Google Reader synthesizes all the new blog posts and website content on a single web page. You just read it, clip content (for later use) or email it to a colleague.

2.  Build Internal Support For User-Generated Content, Listening, and Active Participation

Once you start to scan, and find what’s out there on your nonprofit, you’ll have some proofs of the importance of nurturing this conversation (it’s going to happen anyway, so you might as well embrace it). It’s likely you’ll need to convince your boss or leadership why to support these conversations, and you have the data to do it.

But your work goes beyond support:

  • Make sure you and your leadership are listening to what you hear. It’s all too easy to dismiss unwelcome comments as unimportant or one person’s opinion. The fact is that, if those comments are online, that opinion is accessible far and wide.
  • Focus your communications on strengthening your nonprofit’s credibility. If your audiences don’t trust your organization, they’ll ignore what you have to say.
  • Evolve your organizational voice to one that’s warmer and more passionate, so that your audiences will develop a more genuine connection with your organization.

3.  Participate, Participate, Participate – After You Develop a “Conversation Policy”

You’ve got to participate in the online conversations that are important – to show you’re listening, to add your perspective and, sometimes, to set the record straight.

It’ll be impossible for your organization to respond to every conversation about it, and a bad use of your time. Even though it can be so difficult not to shoot back a knowledgeable response to a cutting (and uninformed) remark, you want to ensure your response achieves what you want. And you need to ensure that your responses are consistent with your nonprofit’s values and mission.

I suggest that you outline, and train colleagues on:

>> What your organization will respond to:

  • Format wise (blogs, message boards).
  • From which organizations or individuals.
  • On what topics.

>>Who will respond?

  • Many organizations have one person responding, with colleagues alerting her to online “finds.”

>>What to say, in what tone?

>>When to step out of a conversation?

>>Which comments and conversations to report out to colleagues?

When you take these three steps to strengthen your nonprofit’s online presence (beyond your own site), you’ll ensure your org is aware of what’s being said about it, and participates when it makes sense. It’s a no-choice addition to today’s communications to-dos.