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Monday
Aug022010

There’s More to Marketing than Social Media

I’m facing a difficult challenge and would love to hear your ideas.

The challenge was seeded years ago, as soon as social media began to take the nonprofit world by storm. I treasured (and still do) the vitality and vibrancy of blogging to generate succinct, timely content and discussions. That’s why in 2005 I launched the GettingAttention.org blog to complement our long-form e-news articles.

But as we’ve been deluged by social media tools, I’m concerned to see nonprofit marketers forsake the basics to do all social media, all 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 have social media fever and pressure their teams to jump in, even if they don’t really understand what the “in” is.

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. 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! That’s why so many of you spend a huge percentage of their time learning and implementing social media tools.

Don’t get me wrong. The excitement generated by these tools has dramatically changed the marketing landscape and invigorated our field. And I do value the distinctive benefits of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other tools for GettingAttention.org and for nonprofit clients.

But they should never lead your marketing agenda. Your intense social media focus all too often comes at the expense of nonprofit marketing basics.

The basics are your route to breakthrough marketing—beginning with a thorough, realistic but ambitious marketing plan defining your org’s steps to make the most of what your organization has to offer in a way that connects with the supporters you need to engage.

Social media tools won’t do that. Marketing basics—from getting to know your audience, planning your path, crafting meaningful, memorable messaging that connects their wants and yours, defining the best ways (likely to include social media plus “traditional” online channels such as email and your website, and offline outreach as well) to engage those folks in productive conversation and action, and measuring the impact of your work—will.

Here’s the dilemma. Many times when I talk marketing basics to nonprofits I get a nod, but that’s about it. I’d say that it’s only half the time that I succeed in convincing a nonprofit marketer that basics come first, social media second or even third; or find one who agrees with me. But these are the folks who report dramatic marketing wins to me down the line.

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 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 the end, for effective nonprofit operations today.

Chris, Elaine, Beth and Allison all say 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, I bet many of you remain skeptical that there’s much 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 help…

For those of you who believe in the value of marketing basics, and maintain them at the core 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 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 tell me how you decide what to do social media wise and how you evaluate your results. How do you communicate effectively without having to tackle the marketing basics I rely on?

What I know is that there’s no single way to do it right. But I also know that a lot that’s been done before is the right way to go, even in the shadow of glittering new tools. Baby and bathwater; we can have it all. Your suggestions will help.

Thanks, in advance for sharing your thoughts. I’ll share your feedback with the nonprofit marketing community.

 

Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing and communications.  Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update.

You should follow Frogloop on Twitter.

 

 

Reader Comments (11)

At Mission Minded we couldn't agree more! We're members of that ever-growing choir of marketers begging our clients to understand that social media is not a strategy, but a tactic for achieving broader strategic goals.

Here's how we get our clients to see the light: We price out the cost of hiring us to manage social media for them. For most, this instantly helps them understand that not only is social media not free, it can be a big investment of time and/or money.

Remember the early days of nonprofit website development. "If we build it (a brochure page) they will come" was the misguided belief of many. Now the refrain is, "If we use them, social media tools will magically solve all of our visibility and fundraising challenges."

The tools are inexpensive, but using them effectively in a way that helps you achieve larger goals, is a science an art and a major endeavor. What's the cost of a consultant to manage your message in social media? The cost of a full-time staff person to leverage all that social media offers? It's not free. It's a big investment and one you should make after evaluating how else that investment might be used for even greater impact.

Before investing in social media, smart organizations have evaluated how to make the most of that investment as carefully as if they were considering hiring a new fundraising professional or program director. No board or executive director would take those expenditures lightly or without a clear sense of the benefits those positions would return. The same scrutiny should be given to how much to invest in social media and what specific outcomes will be realized.
August 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennie Winton
I love social media, but still I agree with you. Without a solid grasp of marketing basics (and an understanding of how those basics are currently being reshaped), it seems highly unlikely that an organization would be able to succeed -- whether using just social media or taking a more integrated approach. I don't think you can communicate effectively without tackling the basics; simply using the tools doesn't mean one is using them well. But then, I think that applies to all the marketing tools available, be it email, your website, direct mail, advertising, etc.
August 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCherita Smith
Nancy, Absolutely agree with you except on one point. I think it's okay for non-profits to lead with social media. For some non-profits, social media is a great way to begin the donor acquisition process and get people in the marketing funnel. The mistake some non-profits are making is they are dropping things like email and direct mail to move people through the funnel.

Also, there is still a generational gap. Even though baby boomers and retirees may be online, and have accounts on sites like Facebook, they may not want to be communicated with in that way.
August 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSue Anne Reed
I like to explain this to my clients in terms of audience. You should strive to reach out to people where they want to be reached, whether it's through social media, email, RSS, etc. The multiple touch points - as well as the new audiences you tap into in these spheres - will help develop a dedicated core group of supporters. What it will NOT do is do your work for you.
August 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElena Berger
Definitely should be part of the plan and not the only piece. Can't to see the feedback you get and what you do with it.
August 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersector3report
Great points, Nancy. When I plan nonprofit campaigns using the Causes application on Facebook, we always talk about what you call marketing basics. You can create the cause, or the petition, or the fundraising project but it's the strategy and the marketing that make it successful or not. But what you refer to as the basics - "getting to know your audience, planning your path, crafting meaningful, memorable messaging that connects their wants and yours, defining the best ways to engage those folks in productive conversation and action, and measuring the impact of your work." - are not only done in traditional media; they are essential to any social media strategy as well.

So I don't think it's an either-or situation - most social media strategies will fail unless they are rooted in marketing basics. Campaigns rooted in marketing basics can be successful only using traditional media but could have been even more successful using social media. But the key - which you rightly brought up - is how you're measuring results.
August 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Gordon
You are, of course, right. Fundamentals that are still meaningful do not lose their importance. You ignore them at your own peril. I remember when people acted as if that the Web fundamentally changed all the laws of economics and business. Yes it has enabled business models, fund raising models, and so forth that were not possible before on the same scale, but it has not eliminated the most fundamental aspects of good business practices. What you learn is that some principles are tied to certain assumptions about how the world works, and when those assumptions no longer apply, the rules change. That does not mean every rule changes.

So sometimes you need to rethink some of your rules to adjust to changes in technology and society, but that never means everything you previously learned goes out the window. For example, the old adage that PR people should ignore anything negative and not respond publicly and quickly to rumors or reported product problems no longer make sense in an environment where your constituents or customers are on the Internet where information can spread like a wildfire before you know what hit you. John Kerry learned this the hard way when he was "swift boated", and Steve Jobs, who has the reputation of a secretive control freak had to authorize Apple to give away free iPhone bumpers and credit customers who purchased them to stop the damage related to their reception problems.

Nancy is not saying ignore social media, but instead lead with good marketing and understand how you can use social media to achieve your marketing goals as part of your mix. It seems like commonsense, but then again that can be less than common than we hope.

In general, you can say that you don't want to lead with the technology, but instead understand how it fits into your overall goals and strategies. CRM does not organize your business for you, Drupal does not design your website architecture for you or a great user interface, and as Nancy writes so eloquently, social media sites cannot lead your marketing effort. These are all tools you use in support of an organization's goals, but don't forget your fundamentals!
August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Richer
Your marketing strategy should reflect your constituent/member/donor bases. If you are targeting senior citizens, then you should rely on more traditional types of media.Some of them may be on Facebook, but probably not on LinkedIn or Twitter. But they still read a newspaper, watch the local news, and open direct maiil.

If you are focusing on 20-somethings, then social should be more prominent (if those 20-somethings are engaged in social media--not all are.)

Be constituent-centric. Go where your constituents can hear you. Rinse and repeat.

Glenn
August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn
This is great and thought provoking, Nancy, thanks! I would just raise the point that the inverse is also true: There's More to Social Media than Marketing. And the same principles you point out here are also true in that context, that what has been good practicing in organizing and program planning still hold true although we're integrating social media into the mix. T

Thanks again!

Allison
August 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Fine
I love social media, but still I agree with you. Without a solid grasp of marketing basics (and an understanding of how those basics are currently being reshaped), it seems highly unlikely that an organization would be able to succeed -- whether using just social media or taking a more integrated approach. I don't think you can communicate effectively without tackling the basics; simply using the tools doesn't mean one is using them well. But then, I think that applies to all the marketing tools available, be it email, your website, direct mail, advertising, etc.
August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Fact is, email and websites are considered too slow by the younger generation--twenty/thirty-somethings, at least. If a nonprofit wants to attract and keep that demographic involved and contributing, then that's how you'll reach them. Or, at least until the "next new thing" comes out.
August 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGary Hanes

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