Social Media Strategy is Key for Nonprofits

It may seem obvious, but for nonprofits to use social media effectively, it takes more than creating a Facebook Page and sending out a few tweets. They need to adopt a social media strategy.

Last spring, the Rita Allen Foundation began a pilot project to help six nonprofits who won grants from the foundation employ social media effectively. These nonprofits, with an average $1.8 million in annual revenue, worked with The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit consultancy, to determine how to make the best use of social media. The Bridgespan Group recently issued a report called “Tweeting for a Better World” that summarizes the findings of the project.

The report’s key findings serve as a kind of roadmap for nonprofits who want to maximize the effectiveness of social media. Five key areas were identified:

1. Choose appropriate social media goals and connect them to organizational goals.

The Bridgespan Group says that a nonprofit’s social media goals need to support such organizational goals as fundraising and collaboration, but they should “also play to social media’s strength: encouraging authentic interaction through conversation with the audience.” The Bridgespan Group also points out that social media does not support every goal effectively. For example, an organization looking to upgrade its major donors probably needs to invest time in one-on-one conversations rather than assume social media can handle that challenge.

2. Define and understand your community.

A nonprofit has many constituents: donors, volunteers, alumni, people who benefit from the organization’s work, and so on. It is important to define the target for social media, whether it be all of these audiences or a specific subset.

Then, says The Bridgespan Group, the organization must “understand what that community wants. What are its social media habits? What might it get out of your social media campaign?” It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to talk rather than listen to the voices of their community. In a previous post, I discussed the way in which the small nonprofit, Epic Change, built a community of donors. A key aspect was the fact that the organization really listens and responds to what its supporters have to say. The result, according to the organization, is an involved, deeply engaged community.

3. Determine what to measure.

It’s relatively easy to measure social media by such criteria as the number of Facebook “Likes” or fans, the number of Twitter followers, the number of views for a YouTube video, the number of clickthroughs to a website, or the number of comments on a blog post. But The Bridgespan Group suggests it’s essential to have some idea of “what these social media measures tell you about what you’re actually seeking to achieve.” The Bridgespan Group suggests digging deeper by periodically surveying people who interact via social media, asking questions about what subsequent actions they took to further engage with the organization.

4. Allocate resources to get the job done.

The perception of social media is that it is “free,” and to a great extent, it is. After all, a nonprofit doesn’t have to pay to use such tools as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. However, the staff time involved in using social media effectively can easily be under-estimated. The Bridgespan Group encourages nonprofits “to be realistic about how much time it takes to update social media sites and create or find meaningful content; to monitor and respond to comments (including the kind of “edgy” or inappropriate comments that are bound to pop up); and to analyze what’s working and test out new approaches.” Additional costs could be associated with the creation of media.

5. Experiment, monitor and modify.

Most social media offer tools such as link trackers that make it easy to experiment, which helps nonprofits learn what is working. The Bridgespan Group says it worked with each of the six nonprofits in the project to “develop a learning agenda.” One organization, for example, created three key questions that it wanted to answer and then developed a strategy and timeline for learning and acting on the answers.

Nonprofits who understand and apply the five key findings from this study are certain to make far more effective use of social media.

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