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10 Things Every Nonprofit Should Know About Social Media and Online Communications

Last week I spoke on a couple of great panels at the Politics Online Conference about technology, social media and how Congress is trying to adapt to the ever-changing world wide web aka the “series of tubes” as former Senator Ted Stevens so hilariously described it. From grassroots advocacy staffers to Hill staffers and PR folks, the same questions arose during each panel session – what are the top social media tools to use to spread an organizations message and how does an organization effectively use online communications tools. All great questions! Let’s get down to my top 10 list of things every nonprofit should know about social media and online communications.

1. Google Analytics:
Google Analytics, a free and powerful website stats software, lets you dig into your website data so you can find out all sorts of useful info such as who your audience is and what keywords they are searching for to find your website. Katie Harbath of DCI who joined me on the panel “Every Question I Was too Embarrassed to Ask about Technology” said that this is one of the best resources of data when you begin to search for people to build your social media community. Agreed!

2. Enewsletters Still Work
Enewsletters are still a valuable form of communications for most organizations. During the panel “What Effect Will the New Administration’s Use of Tech Have on Congress?”, Rob Pierson, Online Communications Director for Congressman Mike Honda and soon to be New Media Director for the House Democratic Caucus, said that sending enewsletters to your online list is the best bang for your buck when you have limited time and resources. Enewsletters can easily generate a lot more clicks then social media outlets such as posting a video to YouTube. Furthermore, according to the latest benchmarks study by Convio, enewsletters are one of the most “cost-effective ways to build relationships with new constituents, increase engagement, and educate supporters about your organization’s mission.”

3. Twitter

Twitter, oh such a trendsetter these days between Oprah, Ashton Kutcher and CNN. The entire world seems to be fixated on Twitter and for good reason. Twitter is a great way to spread your message and brand your campaign, while building a community. As I have mentioned in prior posts, you need to be where your target audiences are. Consider it like an interactive 24-hour news cycle. It’s where people go to gather news, resources and discuss issues. But remember don’t treat it as a one way communication tool to just blast out your latest press releases and action alerts. The Twitter community likes to be engaged.

4. Facebook
As the fifth-most trafficked site in the United States, Facebook is a great social network for nonprofits to build a community and brand their campaigns. Nonprofits can start a Facebook Group, Cause Page to raise a bit of money, or Fan Page to post recent news, videos, photos, events, launch contests, and talk to your members via discussion boards.

5. Build Your Community
At the end of the day raising money, motivating people to take action and social networking is about building up your community – a base of friends. For example, you can search for “friends” that share similar interests to your organizations mission through Summize.com on Twitter or on Facebook by clicking on your own interests and viewing the list of recommendations who come up in your search. Friend Feed is another option.

6. Engagement is Key

Ask your "members/friends" to share their opinions and have them post their responses online. Respond to their comments so they know someone is reading their posts. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) recently said that “Online tools help me stay connected and get feedback from the people I work for.”

7. Freshen Up Profiles
Update user profiles every couple of days with new stories, interesting facts, new videos, blog entries, photos, etc.

8. Transparency Counts Big Time
If you are tweeting or blogging on behalf of an organization sign your name at the end of the post so your community makes a connection to the different people blogging or tweeting. Don’t pretend you’re somebody else like the Executive Director. People can see right through it and will call you out on it which can be embarrassing. For example, when Joe Trippi is not able to be on Twitter, he asks his staff to tweet timely news on his behalf and sign their own name at the end of the tweet.

9. Make It Interesting
Don’t bore your community with wonky status updates or tweets. You are competing with thousands and thousands of messages. According to Ben Pershing, who writes for the Capitol Briefing blog of the Washington Post, reporters are always looking for good stories and hooks, so your blog should be filled with interesting and compelling news not boring press releases.

10. Integrate Social Media Across Your Communications
Times have changed. Remember when all you needed to do was send out a press release, follow up with your rolodex of reporters or buy an ad in the New York Times? In today’s communications world, social media should be a part of your overall communications plans and strategies. Don’t ditch your traditional communications tools though – just expand your channels and use all of the tools at your disposal. Social media is a good thing (not a chore) and gives you more ammunition to brand your organization, spread your message and cultivate supporters.

Do you have more tips to add to my top 10 list? Comment below!



Reader Comments (14)

great tips! i'd add branding and consistency across all communication platforms as well.
April 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen Backman
Thanks Allyson, this is a great focused list. I recently read an interesting article that might help frogloop readers identify their ideal social media channels. It's based on the ideas in the book "Groundswell" and it links to a free tool called the Forrester Groundswell Profile Tool. You can read the article here: http://searchenginewatch.com/sew_email/experts/social-media
April 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHatef Yamini
Great list, thank you! I agree with all of your points and want to add a couple of mine. It's important to consider who your audiences are and where they are. Any communications strategy should consider which channels will bring the most value. I also recommend having a simple content plan and schedule for each social networking platform; that way, it's clear what and when to tweet, update, post, etc., and the messaging won't get muddled.
April 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna M. Pineda
I've shared your list on my blog. I'd also like to add the importance of being Googleable - having a Web site with fresh content that users (and, therefore, search engines) like. There are a lot of free and relatively easy to use resources out there - Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal, etc. - that can help groups start Web sites without having to spend a lot (or practically anything at all). But again, you need to be at or near the top of Google when folks are searching for you. A solid Web site is a key (and maybe the No. 1) way.

Brian at http://gainesvillepr.com
April 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrian P. Russell
I enjoyed your list and have posted it to my Twitter to our HIgher Logic User Group site under useful tools. I'd elaborate on your Ninth Point and really further flesh this out in another article that focuses on how to create demand. Really good communications still centers on creating a need or fulfilling a psychological/social/emotional need and this is what makes for a fulfilling user experience. At the end of the day, all of these "new" social media tools are just mechanisms for us to find ways to resonate with others and provide something of value---with this "value" being distinctive for various people and groups.
May 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Carawan
A great post - very clear and concise! I'm explaining this social media mystery to a Business and Professional Women's group along with two high school groups (who will probably end up explaining it to me) and how they can use these marketing tools to their advantage. While the tools may be different than those of the past, the message is still the same - take care of the brand and the customer first! Thanks for the read!
May 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRenee Fellows
I would add - Executives must understand tags and the social web. In the social networking land scape - webmasters cannot protect you from the way tags aggregate other elements onto pages which your organization may appear. In most cases on hosted social networks such as Facebook or Youtube use tags or keywords to gather ads and content that 'may' be related.

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to remove (usually unoffensive) links that were not 'on message...'

Facepalms a plenty.
May 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLiz McLellan
Wow, I just came across this post and find it incredibly helpful! I definitely agree with you about how it is important to keep content fresh on profile pages, this really helps to keep readers interested and paying attention to what you're saying.
I think it was also a great point that you made about integrating social media into communications. There are so many technological opportunities - especially online. We've just started using http://vestanetworks.com/index.php for Web Conferencing - they have a superb quality and their prices are the most competitive we've found. It's really helped our communication to run smoothly. It just goes to show that there are a great deal of useful things online that need to be tapped into.
July 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAliya
We have been working with many non-profits particularly within healthcare and education and it is exciting to see the powerful results we are generating for our clients by utilizing best practices in social media and online marketing. We start with the idea of creating an ecosystem for our clients. We are very strategic and develop and implement a road map of disciplines for our team or client to execute to extract the most value from these exciting tools and we measure it every step of the way to make tactical adjustments for maximum ROI. Social campaigns take a lot of ideation and a lot of engagement and it must be strategic and structured. We are able to generate live, online and mobile audiences more quickly and with less budget than our more traditional agency competitors because of our use of best practices, process and methodology. Given the current market environment it is critical to do more with less. Social media and online offers tremendous ROI when used properly. I would strongly agree with Maureen's comment. Consistent branding across all traditional, social and online mediums is critical. This plays into the idea of generating frequency which is just as essential as utilizing a multi-modal campaign. We love Google Analytics and use the service to help our clients see the success of our campaigns. We use more than 5 additional tools but some of the more recent favorites include Trendrr and ViralHeat.
November 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Wayne
Interesting article as for me. I'd like to read more about this theme.
December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMobile phone blocker
I enjoy all of the social networking insights from FrogLoop, but I'm wondering about a more overarching policy. As a small nonprofit poised to expand nationally, we've come to a crossroads with our social media. We need a policy for a multi-site organization! I've been looking into what other national nonprofits are doing and searching for advice on the web, but I haven't come up with anything. It would be great to hear more about how organizations do and should handle having sites in different cities and states. Should they have separate Twitter and Facebook accounts? What should information pertain to if it's posted on a central, national account?
January 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarie DeMars
Excellent post. An organization has to keep in touch with their people. They have to find new and exciting ways to engage the community, so that they are not just a distant memory. Updates should be frequent and relevant. At the same time, you don't want to bombard the audience with news that is not meaningful.

PS. There is a contest going on for nonprofit organizations to win a free website for 6 months, valued at $5000 from 3Minutecharity. If your organization needs a website, needs help revamping their current website, or needs more charity specific website functionality, then enter the contest for your chance to win.
All you have to do is register and sign up and have others vote for you. The organization with the most votes at the end of the month wins. Spread the word please.
March 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy
Great post, thanks!
April 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn G
Thanks for sharing it.
September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBella

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