Social media has empowered nonprofits to be able to engage and rapidly distribute their messages and stories through free or low-cost channels.
The benefits of social media can be enormous for nonprofits in allowing them to motivate donors and participants, and connect with partners, allies and resources.
The majority of marketers who are using social media have found that they have been able to generate exposure for their organization (81 percent), increase traffic (61 percent) and develop new business partnerships (56 percent), says a survey sponsored by the Social Media Success Summit.
However, with all of these results, many organizations have not been able to develop an effective social-media plan, or have chosen to avoid social media altogether.
Why are there so many nonprofits that are ignoring the opportunities and potential of this new medium?
For all of the amazing stories of results that many organizations have had, there are just as many “social-media consultants” who have muddied the waters for everyone.
When considering your social-media strategy, it is critical to be reasonable and recognize what social media can and can’t do.
The realities of social media are similar to a typical marketing strategy.
Beginning with a realistic expectation of your results, and knowledge that there is no silver-bullet solution, often helps to ease the difficult initial conversation within your organization.
Keep in mind that participating in social media will not substitute for an effective marketing strategy.
Engaging and encouraging participation from your entire organization especially top management, and understanding that results will not likely be immediate are two of the key points made in the blog post “10 Things Social Media Can’t Do,” by BL Ochman.
Beginning with these items in mind, you’ll be ready to go to battle with the naysayers in your organization.
Starting the conversation about your plan for social media from this position of realistic results will provide more strength to your argument.
Illustrate that you don’t intend to get overnight results, will be able to target key participants and intend to engage and converse in new ways.
Measure twice, cut once
It is critical to begin by evaluating which tools will be best for your individual organization before signing up for all of the various social-media platforms and broadcasting your message.
Evaluate the demographics of your current participants and donors and think about where you would likely find them.
Are they likely to be active users of Twitter or MySpace? You should understand your potential scope before you spend time and resources on a medium that may not be effective.
Success for your organization might be measured by the number of comments, “re-Tweets” or responses to your posting or ad.
Success will be counted when there is a conversation present – in whatever method is defined by your organization.
Designing a dashboard for your social-media efforts can be a great way to quickly reference where you are planning to spend your efforts, who you intend to target and what you expect your results to be.
This also will keep your organization clear on the function of the various types of campaigns you intend to execute.
In order to quantify the effectiveness of your effort, you should determine what a particular action is worth to you.
What is the value of an email address versus a phone number versus a donation?
In other cases, fundraising and event attendance may be your goal and would potentially require a different message and target audience. Another example, using just Twitter, is to calculate your impact using Twitalyzer, a tool that calculates your influence on Twitter.
It also allows you to calculate a score for any other Twitter user you wish to track. By tracking relative increases and decreases to your influence over time, you can refine Twitter strategies.
Build a community, build momentum
After your strategy is developed, the final step is to work on a long-term commitment to community development.
Begin with your existing community and contributors who are actively engaged in your cause, provide value to these participants. then branch out by empowering them to spread the word and get other people involved.
Community-building will not happen overnight and should be thoughtfully considered in order to leverage your most important members and ensure long-term success with your overall social-media strategy.
Karin Conroy is a nonprofit marketing consultant based in Minneapolis and an Affiliate with Shoestring Creative Group, (http://www.shoestringgroup.com/). Karin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-888-835-6236.