“The Truth” About Social Media and Nonprofits – Or Just Assumptions?

October 22, 2012 by  
Filed under social media strategy template

ac262 origin 2898403042 600x600 “The Truth” About Social Media and Nonprofits – Or Just Assumptions?Yesterday a blog I read avidly and respect (NetWitsThinkTank.com by Blackbaud) published a post full of assumptions about nonprofits and social media, and I feel that I need to respond.

The title of the post – The Truth About Social Media and Nonprofits: A New Perspective May Be Required – intrigued me (as a good blog headline should).

Unfortunately, the meat of the post was far from “the truth”.

Jay Jones begins by claiming that nonprofits are seemingly obsessed with social media. Everywhere you look these days; it’s another story about nonprofits and social media! (Is that a bad thing?)

He then lays out the challenges that nonprofits face when using social media tools, suggesting that “a new perspective may be required” (what this perspective is, we’ll never know).

This is where he gets it all wrong.

“The Truth” Challenge #1: “Social media is relatively new to nonprofits.”

Social media tools are not new, and they are certainly not new to nonprofits.

Blogger and LinkedIn started in 2003. Heather Mansfield started the “Nonprofit Organizations” MySpace profile in 2005. In her book Social Media for Social Good, Mansfield details how nonprofit organizations “ushered in the era of the Social Web” and were the “early adopters of social media tools”.

The tools may have changed, but nonprofits have been building communities and energizing constituencies through grassroots movements and word-of-mouth campaigns much longer than the Social Web has existed.

While the actual online tools may be confusing to some nonprofits, the act of storytelling, communicating with supporters and building an energized constituency shouldn’t be.

Those nonprofits that lack compelling missions or effective ways to communicate the impact of their work will not succeed, with or without social media.

#2 Challenge – “Using social media technology and techniques requires time and expertise.”

A person or organization can have all the money, technology, expertise and fancy equipment in the world, but that does not mean that they will have a clue as to how to succeed in the social media space.

Very few people (the tech savvy included) innately understand how to use social media to build an online brand. The best social media managers already have years of experience with online communications and fundraising.

Succeeding with social media requires authenticity, transparency, passion and interest, not a serious knowledge of technology and online marketing. It requires all the things that nonprofits should have been doing all along – identifying and knowing their audience, being transparent, showcasing their success stories, asking for partners.

Take the example of Julie Nations, Executive Director of The Ellie Fund. She might not be able to create custom Facebook tabs or build a fancy blog template, but you know what she is good at? Telling her story, communicating with supporters, conveying enthusiasm for her topic, and connecting with people. Those are the reasons why The Ellie Fund kicks serious butt in the social media space.

All the technical skills and time in the world in the world are not going to help you if you can’t be genuine and interesting, and if you can’t tell your story in a way that connects to real people.

#3 Challenge – “The idea that social media works is intuitive, but not widely proven.”

Clearly Jones has not yet read Beth Katner’s new book, Measuring The Networked Nonprofit.

Nor has he heard of Twive and Receive#GivingTuesdayTwestival or any of the hundreds of successful online giving campaigns run by FundlyRazoo and others.

Social media tools are just that – tools. “Social media” itself is not a strategy. These online tools, just like an annual giving mailing, a letter writing campaign, and a phone-a-thon are tools that nonprofits use to accomplish their goals and therefore, their missions.

It is true that there “aren’t as many stories” and studies on the direct ROI of social media for nonprofits – but that does not mean that they aren’t out there, waiting to be told.

Conclusion – Why Is a Change In Perspective Necessary?

Without answering the question posed in the headline (as to why a new perspective is needed), Jones concludes that nonprofits need to use social media in their CRM strategy.

I agree with this part. Nonprofits should incorporate social media tools in their donor and support cultivation strategy and not as a standalone solution that will eliminate the need for everything else.

We need to get away from the perspective that “this social media stuff” is taking away time from other things. Rather – it should be REPLACING other things – outdated, outmoded, useless things. Think of the money and time you spend printing a paper newsletter, for example.

We are all learners in the social media space. Nonprofits shouldn’t be discouraged from participating; they should be actively encouraged with open arms.

What do you think of the challenges that nonprofits face in using social media? Anything I left out? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section or continue the conversation on my Facebook page. Thanks for reading! 

 “The Truth” About Social Media and Nonprofits – Or Just Assumptions?

This article is an original contribution by Julia Campbell.

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