Eran Reshef, CEO of online social media advocacy company Collactive, suggests a simple course of action for nonprofits looking to ride the new social media wave.
First things first
In order to successfully engage with social media, there are a few things an organization must take into account from the start.
- Set a goal
The first thing is deciding what you want to achieve. Many clients we work with aren’t quite sure what they want, and they end up with mixed results if they don’t take time to define their goal before plunging in.
That goal, for example, can be approaching the new generation, or simply seeking donations through social media.
But getting advocacy efforts to be mirrored in social media and influencing public opinion is what most groups are after.
Once you’ve established your goal, the next stage is considering your resources.
What’s your available budget? How many people are you willing to allocate to social media work? How willing is your organization to involve its existing supporter base in social media efforts?
- Allocate resources
Social media might seem like an alluringly inexpensive undertaking at first glance – the Internet is public domain, right?
But building proper networks of advocates requires considerable time and technological resources.
Social media advocacy is often not as cheap as it seems, if you want to do it on a significant scale.
Free software and a committed volunteer base might get you started, but be aware that they might not take you as far as you were hoping.
Top tier groups usually need to allocate a few hundred thousand dollars worth of technology annually and hire a full-time staff member in order to achieve the results they want.
- Engage your supporters
Finally, you must consider support systems.
Nonprofits are generally in an excellent position to engage on social media because they already have many vocal supporters who can be turned into online advocates.
Whether or not to do that is a decision senior management needs to make, because a nonprofit’s supporter base is a precious resource.
Social media avenues
Some social media avenues are easier to navigate than others; I’ll go over three below, in order of increasing complexity, as well as one precautionary tale on the so-called easy networking tools of Facebook and MySpace.
The first avenue to utilize the social media component of newspapers. This method promises the most bang for your buck.
Every news site these days actually contains a piece of social media. Most have a way to show what users are doing on the site, for example displaying articles by popularity based upon readers’ own ratings.
The idea is to get your own supporters to voice their opinions on these sites or email the stories to their friends through the site.
Because these are heavily-trafficked websites, it’s well worth the effort to propel those articles important to your organization’s cause to the top of “most emailed” or “most commented on” lists.
The second avenue would be to find bloggers that support your cause and engage them in a way that turns them into real advocates.
Don’t just write them an email asking if they’d write about your organization – spend time convincing them.
Open a blog of your own and converse with them on it, send them interesting news, treat them as real people to be won over.
Over time you will have a group of bloggers that supports your cause, and when you have a piece of news to share, you can ask them to share it with their readers.
About one hundred thousand videos are uploaded to YouTube every day, so just investing a few thousand dollars in a video and uploading it is not going to work.
So again, you need to find your advocates and engage with them, in order that when you actually have video content, they will come and look.
You also need to make sure your own supporter base is actually able to come and see your video and talk about it and share it. The more this happens, the more plausible it is that your organization will become popular on the site.
- Myth of Facebook and MySpace
Be sure to think through using Facebook and MySpace.
They are great resources to recruit people, but many start thinking “Ok, we have 5,000 ‘friends,’ so that means we have 5,000 advocates.” Actually, that may not mean anything.
If you’re going to recruit online, you need to understand why you’re doing it on Facebook (and not, for example, an e-newsletter) and how you’re going to mobilize them afterwards.
Unlike bloggers or YouTube videos, there is no exponential effect. You have to mobilize Facebook or MySpace users in the same way as if they were on your mailing list.
Whereas 5,000 bloggers might bring your organization to the attention of half a million people, Facebook or MySpace advocates might recommend to you only 10 of their friends.
Eran Reshef is CEO of Collactive, a social media advocacy company that works with nonprofits, and has founded and developed several other online security and technology companies.