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Tips for Entering Your Nonprofit into the Social Media Environment


March 2009

Do you Tweet? What's your Facebook page got? Ever think of how to promote your nonprofit on YouTube? Follow any bloggers? What's an "influencer," and should you be, well, influenced? More important, are your target audiences socializing in cyberspace, not just for fun but for the purpose of deciding how and where to invest their time or financial resources?

Make no mistake, social media is changing the way we—from the individual to the corporation—are communicating. And the environment is rich with opportunities for nonprofit organizations to get noticed. The following tips will help you understand a bit more about this new medium and how it may benefit you and your goals.

  • Realize that social media is not just a fad or something young kids play around with.
    Social media is here to stay. A survey by Deloitte reported that 43 percent of Internet users over the age of 61 spent time sharing photographs with people. Some 36 percent watched and read personal content created by others. And surprise: the average blogger is a white, 37-year-old male with an average annual income of nearly $56,000. For a nonprofit, that profile is prime for targeting as a potential donor.

  • Social media is a cost-effective means to promote and market your messages.
    Downward economy? Shrinking budget? No worries with social media marketing. It requires very little—if any—financial investment. And it is effective. The one "cost" to account for, however, is time. When done correctly, social media requires a great deal of staff time and resources. That said, MarketingSherpa reports that social media is the one area for which companies are increasing budgets.

  • Realize that not knowing is no excuse.
    In court, not knowing the law is no excuse. When it comes to social media, many people choose to stay in the dark because they fear the unknown or believe that so many others already know so much more than they do and are leaps and bounds ahead of them.

    Truth is, social media is still in its infancy and ever-evolving. The best thing to do is jump right in and participate, even as an individual. For example, setting up your own Facebook page is easy and fun and quickly gets you up to speed on who is out there, what groups might be right for you or your organization, what tools are freely available, and more.

    Learn some new lingo: Keyword cloud. Mash up. RSS. Influencer. Tagging. UGC. Evangelist. Social media comes with a whole new set of rules and its own dictionary. On-line, there's a wealth of resources to help you start speaking like a pro. And remember: those who don't engage and join the party may very well be silenced and left out in the cold.

  • Social media is incredibly viral, which is both good and bad for nonprofits.
    Winston Churchill (or Mark Twain, to whom this quote also has been attributed) once said, "A lie can make it half way around the world before the truth has time to put its boots on." And that was long before the Internet was even born. So just imagine now how quickly some bit of information—good or bad—can travel through the cybersphere, reaching millions upon millions globally.

    Nonprofits who want to speak directly to consumers can, indeed, do so easily ... as can foes who are ready to unveil any bit of founded or unfounded scandal. Entering into the social media arena when times are good and participating fully as an active member helps enormously should any bad news befall you or your company.

  • Your social media approach needs to start out with traditional tactics: make sure you set your baseline and determine your goals.
    The more things differ, the more they are the same. Just as you would with traditional communication efforts, you need to set a baseline and determine goals for your social media strategies. Educating your organization's leaders is key to setting appropriate goals and being successful in the social media arena. Finding your organization's social media ranking (Google "social media ranking" to find free tools for this purpose) helps show where you are now and just how far you need to go to get to where you want to be.

  • Make sure you do your research.
    There's so much on-line chatter, how do you know what's worth listening to? Which are the relevant communities for your nonprofit, and who are the influencers in your field? Who are your evangelists? What is everybody talking about, and how does your organization fit into that topic?

  • Pick your poison.
    So many rich multimedia elements, so many more to choose from. Which tools do you choose? Press releases? Social news sites? Social networks? Blogger relations? Podcasts? Video? On-line media relations? What specific mix will best suit your organization's culture and goals? The answers to these questions are key to putting your plan in motion.

  • Recognize the big "R" in ROI.
    Some traditional communicators ignore social media, maintaining it is impossible to measure. Truth be told, social media is very measurable, and not with "eyeballs" and impressions but by counting blog posts and comments and evaluating the tone of those comments. Results are very achievable and can be extremely cost-effective.

  • Underscore the "social" in social media. At the end of the day, all of the new technologies and modes of communication mean nothing without the people. And not just the people who use the space but also the people on your team who need to do the work required to promote your nonprofit to on-line communities. A Social Media Press Release does simplify the work by incorporating multimedia elements and distributing your release through non-traditional channels. But remember: although a Social Media Press release may be the perfect vehicle for reaching consumers, non-traditional media, and on-line communities, you still need people to create and follow up on the release.
Paolina Milana, Marketwire
© 2009, Marketwire

Paolina Milana is vice president of marketing for Marketwire, a leading newswire and communications work-flow provider. She brings nearly 20 years of experience as a former journalist and a seasoned PR and marketing professional with several years at a major nonprofit.