Social media as a form of communications for nonprofits

Published 5:40 pm Monday, June 4, 2012

The Nonprofit Leadership column continues discussing marketing for nonprofits and the social media marketing strategy/plan.
In the last article we discussed the base line of social media; in this article, we will talk about social media as a form of communication for nonprofits. For those of you who have been in the nonprofit sector for many years, you will recall the way it was before social media came on the scene. First there was a long, drawn out communications committee meeting to discuss what it was that the nonprofit wanted to communicate. The draft was then approved, published and sent out to the existing constituents. The nonprofit would have then conducted a survey or focus group to receive feedback on the communication.
Now with social media the original message or idea is instantly sent out to all constituents following the nonprofit on their social media outlets. These constituents then share the related ideas and it spreads through their connections on the social media network. From this instant sharing, the message or idea is shaped and morphed into additional ideas and messages.
Some implications of social media for nonprofit organizations include that their messages and ideas spread rapidly, producing momentum and tipping points. The ideas and messages also move without bounds of time and place, meaning the Internet and social media are on 24/7.
For these two reasons nonprofits must ensure if they participate in social media they must be present. Being present does not mean that you have to be on social media every second of every day, but you should check and follow up regularly and have the volunteer staffing and/or regular staffing roles to accommodate being present in the social media realm.
Another implication of social media for nonprofits is that technology is a core competency for users and access to technology and basic computing skills are prerequisites to participation. This may mean for some nonprofit organizations that a percentage of your constituent database may not be able to participate.
Some examples of social media technologies for nonprofit organizations include the following. For communication nonprofit organizations can use one or more of the following technologies; podcasting, Vlogs, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and listserves.
Podcasting is a great free tool used with the ever-popular Itunes (either on your computer or smart phone). Universities have used podcasting for several years for distance students and nonprofit organizations dedicated to education. Vlogs are simply video logs, now being posted on popular sites such as YouTube. Many nonprofit organizations are using Vlogs for educational seminars, to capture events and promote their programs and services. Blogs are a great way to document events, programs or to have a continuing education dialog among constituents. Listserves are a great way to confidentially share information among a select group of volunteers, donors and/or constituents.
I am not going to say much about Facebook and Twitter in hopes that most of the people reading this know what these two tools are used for. For knowledge and collaboration nonprofit organizations can use one or more of the following technologies; wikis,, group sites and discussion forums. Nonprofit organizations, in addition to a regular blog can set up a “knowledge” blog known as a wiki.
Nonprofit organizations can also contribute to educational sites, such as Wikipedia and Nonprofits can also set up their own group sites and discussion forums where their constituents can hold in depth discussions about issues with others from across the globe.
For organizing and networking, nonprofit organizations can use one or more of the following technologies: instant messaging, event management sites and virtual worlds. Instant messaging is a free way for nonprofit volunteers, staff and board members to talk for free via their computer either by text or video chat. The nice thing about instant messaging in addition to the fact that it is free is that you can see when the other person is available or unavailable.
With event management sites nonprofits can now send out, take reservations and sell tickets for their events and programs using one software program.  Examples of some of the more popular event management sites and software are Constant Contact and Network for Good.
Since a whole series could be written on virtual worlds I am going to save this one for later in this series to explain this aspect of social media.
Nonprofits are also now seeing some hybrid technologies emerge such as social shopping.  Social shopping is where the nonprofits constituents can support their favorite nonprofit organization while shopping for everyday items. A great example of this is Good Search. Good Search is a site that constituents can make their home page and every time they search the Internet a penny is donated to the nonprofit they choose and when shopping at approved retailers, such as my favorite, Lands End, a percentage of their sale is donated to that or a different nonprofit of their choosing.
In the next article we will discuss the steps for getting started using social media for your nonprofit.

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