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Turn social media into nonprofit gold

Submitted by on July 30, 2009 – 6:00 pm
You’re the marketing director of a nonprofit — or perhaps the director if it’s a smaller organization. You know you need to add social media to your tool kit. Where to begin? Any good swim coach starts with a plan. You need one too. To ensure success, consider these five key points before you dive in.

By Wanda Hennig

1) Make sure the pool has water in it. In other words, have a handle on what you’re getting into.

Different strokes: For some folks, its the Facebook Page.

Different strokes: For some folks, its the Facebook Page.

This involves, on the one hand, learning about the tools. On the other, understanding the practices and principles of effective social media use and having a clearly stated social media mission and vision. The tools are not cookie-cutter in terms of which to choose, what combination will best serve your organization, or how you set them up and use them. And also, there’s more to social media than starting a Facebook page, signing up with Twitter, setting up a blog (to name just three of your options) — and bombarding people. I have a marketing book, geared to professionals and consultants, that was recommended to me when I was setting up my coaching business a few years ago. Chapter 1 begins like this: “Marketing is telling people what you do — over and over. There are many ways of telling people — in person, in writing, through the media, by phone — but you have to tell them.” I remember finding this jarring when I first read it, same as I find it jarring now. Social media marketing has the advantage of putting you out there. It gives you a platform.

But if you tell people what you do — over and over — it’s called spam.

Social media is — the name is the clue — social. You share, you contribute, you have conversations: It’s a two-way-stream.
  • Yes, you need your mission and your vision, which may by different from your  organization’s regular mission and vision.
  • Yes, you need to have focus and know what you want to achieve.

Within this context, you might want to ask questions like: What contribution can our organization make? What can we give our members and donors? How, in other words, are we going to meaningfully participate in the conversation? The Monterey Bay Aquarium model

SeaNotes, part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's integrated social media platform.

SeaNotes, part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's integrated social media platform.

I love how the Monterey Bay Aquarium is using social media. Look at their blog, for example. They’re out there discussing sustainability and big-picture political issues; they making statements and take a stand. They have their Seafood Watch program. What they put out is educational, informational and entertaining. (They make social comment but never sound preachy.) Their Facebook page is interactive. They have more than 28,000 fans. They welcome comments. They have an integrated platform; their Web site, e-newsletter, Facebook page, blog and Twitter each work separately — and together. (All of this supporting and supplementing their ongoing regular “traditional” marketing, PR and ad campaigns.)

Blog conversation.

Blog conversation.

Communications Director Ken Peterson told me recently when I quizzed him about guidelines he and his team use to post: “Whatever we do is in the interest of advancing our mission; or advancing visitation; or fostering others to talk with each other. On our Facebook page, for example, we allow people to post comments and talk. Communication is important.” Recap:

  • Before you jump in the water, learn about options and open up to possibilities. Look at examples of how other organizations are using tools like Facebook, Twitter, Ning, WordPress and others.
  • You don’t need to become an expert, but — unless you’re hiring a dedicated person — you do need to become informed. Consult with and ask advice from those you trust and respect.
  • Decide which tools you believe will serve you best and how you want to integrate and use them, even if you’re only going to begin with one or two. Know that this is a process.

2) Have colleagues / staff / all the important players bought in? Are they ready to jump in with you?

Social media is social — about communication and conversation; the tribe and the team. Collaboration is key. By its nature, jumping into social media is not jumping in alone. You’ll most likely have people in your organization who will balk at the idea. People accustomed to working independently might need to be convinced of this new-to-them reality. Work with them. Hear them. Give them the support they need. They’ll most likely give their support when they begin to understand the potential big-picture benefits to the organization. Similarly, you don’t want random people Twittering and Facebooking off-message. You’ll foster goodwill if they understand why — and even more goodwill if you find ways that people who are not directly involved can participate and feel involved.

3) Do you all know how to swim when you jump in?

michael-phelpsPutting on life jackets and giving life support in the water is challenging, to put it mildly. In other words, have everyone up to speed beforehand. Maybe you’re immersed in social media already and know what you want to do. There is loads of information online for you to google and learn from. But if you don’t have the time or the inclination, don’t be reluctant to call on a social media coach or consultant for support. Get help becoming informed. Get help with training. Get help where you need it. Get help developing and initiating your custom-design plan.

4) Does each person know, and has each person practiced, the stroke they’re going to swim?

Not everyone needs to be — or has the capacity or time to be — a star in the individual medley. More effective is to have a team medley;

  • for example, the Facebookers (think breaststroke swimmers);
  • the Twitterers (think butterfly);
  • the Bloggers (think freestyle);
  • the Vloggers (video bloggers — think backstroke);
  • not forgetting the people applauding from the stands (those in the organization, as well as members, donors, and volunteers who are not directly involved, but who might play a supportive role, give suggestions and leads, and help as needed);
  • and the team manager, who may or may not be the trainer/coach.

5) Do all members of the team have a clear picture of the race they’re competing in?

You can probably survive for a time treading water or floating and maybe it will even get you somewhere eventually. But think of Michael Phelps. Training for the right race, wearing the right swimsuit — knowing where you’re going — gets you there fast, and first. There’s gold in social media. It’s within reach. Do the prep, select the tools, choose and equip the team, and once you’re set — Go! Let gold be your standard. And enjoy the swim. © Wanda Hennig, 2009

No Comment »

  • meg kiuchi says:

    I know nothing about social networking. How is it different from facebook, twitter, etc. What is its main focus?

  • Dana says:

    This is a really good overview. Thanks for presenting a social media plan in such an accessible way.

  • Debbi Murzyn says:

    I like the analogy between social networking and swimming, it helped me put my head around the overall concept. I’m inspired to do some investigation into how others tie their social networking together. The aquarium is a good place to start, thanks for the great advice and info.

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