There’s More to Marketing than Social Media

We, as nonprofit communicators, are facing a difficult challenge.

The challenge was seeded years ago when social media began to take the nonprofit world by storm. First came blogging. I treasured (and still do) the vitality and vibrancy of blogs as a source of succinct, timely content and discussions. That’s why in 2005 I launched the Getting Attention blog to complement our long-form e-update articles.

But as we continue to be inundated by a plethora of social media tools, many of us have caught the fever, allocating our never-enough-time to experimenting with whatever’s new and shiny—frequently in response to pressure from above. 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 get it.

It’s hard to resist jumping on what’s hot. Social media is practically all you hear from marketing experts and nonprofit leaders alike. So much so that many nonprofit leaders frequently push their communicators to jump in, even if they don’t really understand what the “in” is. Several of you have shared with me the pressure you’re feeling – whether self-inflicted or coming from other sources.

This human services agency is using Facebook’s “safe space” to build awareness of its family violence prevention services. That international aid organization is bringing front-line stories of its far-away work to supporters back home via online video. And an online organizing superstar dramatically increases email list counts and quality for his client organizations via social-media advocacy campaigns.

It’s incredibly seductive. Lots of success stories, lots of experimentation and lots of attention. Finally, we communicators are on the leading edge!

Don’t get me wrong.

The excitement generated by social media tools has dramatically changed the marketing landscape and invigorated our field. And I do value the distinct benefits of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other tools for and for nonprofit clients. Twitter is fantastic for sharing and discussing hot news. Facebook is an ideal way to nurture an engaged community, and enable community members to extend it to their friends.

But these are just tools, and should never lead your marketing agenda. Dedicating 40% or more of your organization’s marketing resources to social media all too often comes at the expense of the fundamentals that form the foundation for effective marketing. I promise you that for every nonprofit social media success story you hear, there are three or more failures. They are there—but folks are just too shy to share them.

Core marketing is your path to breakthrough results—beginning with a thorough, proactive, ambitious, but realistic marketing plan that defines your steps to make the most of what your organization has to offer, in a way that connects with the network you need to engage.

Social media tools just won’t do that. But focusing on the cornerstones will—from planning to getting to know your audiences, crafting relevant messages, defining the best channels  to engage those folks in productive conversation and action, and measuring the impact of your work.

Here’s the dilemma. Many times when I talk marketing cornerstones to nonprofits I get a nod, but that’s about it. It’s only about half the time a nonprofit marketer agrees that the cornerstones come first, with social media somewhere down the line. These are the folks who most frequently report dramatic marketing wins to me.

That leaves at least half of you who are missing out on your nonprofit marketing potential.

In the last two months, others I respect greatly have articulated the same perspective.  Social media wizard Chris Brogan recently highlighted the problem with social-only nonprofit campaigns, cautioning us to avoid littering the online communications landscape. MarketingProfs contributor Elaine Fogel asked Isn’t Anyone Using Offline Marketing Anymore?

Most significantly, nonprofit innovators Beth Kanter (the nonprofit social media guru) and Allison Fine published The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, in which they position social media as a principle means, not end, for effective nonprofit operations today.

These social media and marketing experts join me in asserting that social media tools are just that, tools. And warn of the dangers of mistaking them for strategies. But despite the fact that the choir is growing in size, I bet many of you remain skeptical that there’s nothing more important right now, nonprofit marketing wise, than finding ways to use social media to advance your organization’s mission.

I want to ask for your feedback.

For those of you who believe in the value of marketing cornerstones, and maintain them as the heart of your nonprofit marketing work:

  • Why do you do so in the face of so many social media options?
  • How do you respond to leadership and colleague pressure to do more with social media when your resources are already limited?
  • How can we build understanding among our peers that the basics must come first?

For those of you feel that social media is your MOST important focus now, please share your strategies:

  • How do you decide what to do social media wise?
  • How do you measure results?
  • How do you communicate effectively without having to tackle the marketing basics I rely on?

There’s no single way to do it right. But I also know that that marketing cornerstones remain the right way to go, even in the shadow of the new and shiny.

Baby and bathwater; we can have it all. Hearing your ideas and experiences will help. Please share them here.

Thanks, in advance for participating in the discussion!