Social Marketing for Nonprofits

By Katie Bess, MSW, and Gary Bess, PhD

afterwardsA new era has developed where social media, including web and mobile technologies, have turned communication into an interactive dialogue, surpassing the days when telephone, letters, and in-person communication were the conventional ways to interact. Today, we can have social interaction no matter where we are in the world with just a mobile smart phone. We are moving into a generation where social media is taking over and expanding the ways in which we communicate. How can we use this new and powerful resource to promote and advance the world of nonprofit organizations?

The social media environment is expanding the way nonprofit organizations administer their services, communicate with stakeholders, and manage the relationships they have with other nonprofits and community members. It is an inexpensive and powerful networking tool to promote nonprofit interests by informing and empowering constituencies and supporters to raise money for services, advocate for important issues, or simply remain connected to the nonprofit’s mission.  Whether your organization’s goals are to promote policy, advocate for a specific cause or a high-risk population, or to provide direct services, social media can help  promote awareness about the issue and the need.

Through Internet and mobile smart phones, social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter allow the user to send instant updates (aka Live Feed) with the intent that  your subscriber audience will immediately observe what you posted. This is a great way to get information out in a timely fashion to a large and presumed supportive audience. Social media platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and blogs can be easily added to an organization’s webpage, which remains the repository of key facts and organizational background information, and makes it even easier for your constituents and those interested to remain current on issues of importance to the agency.

Social media can provide many benefits for nonprofits. It can foster collaboration opportunities with other nonprofits, for-profits and governmental organizations by instantly providing information on important cause-related topics and issues in which the organization is currently involved in an easily accessible way.  It affords others the opportunity to provide support, fresh ideas and feedback on topics of common interest. For example, if your organization is working to pass a resolution or oppose a particular bill and you need people and/or organizations to quickly sign on and lend their support in little time, providing an instant message to your members will quickly spread the word.

It is important to keep your audience interested and engaged in your organization or informational campaign by providing a place for the audience to discuss issues. This can be accomplished by linking a social networking platform (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, blog) to your nonprofit’s webpage. Posting questions on specific topics that relate to your nonprofit agency’s mission or practices, and asking for feedback from your audience of their views on the issue are ways to link your webpage to social media platforms.  You can encourage a rich, interactive and vibrant environment for sharing information while sustianing support for your organization.

These opportunities for immediate engagement also come with potential risks, though if you are vigilantly aware, there are multiple ways to avoid them.  A key component in avoiding risks is creation of a social media strategy that anticipates possible problems in addition to strategic actions.  Developing and carrying out a social media strategy will assure your attainment of organizational goals, implementation of measurable objectives and overall delivery of performance, while safeguarding against potentially harmful comments that others make.  The social media strategy may include, for example, daily updates to webpages and other social media sites, weekly blasts to constituents, and daily reviews of new posts to ensure appropriateness of comments.  Many organizations are also including social marketing as a part of their agency’s strategic plan as there is a logical fit with several key plan directives that range from fund development to advocacy to service integration.

To avoid potential risks once a social media strategy is implemented, stay active on the webpage and platforms (e.g., regularly review interactions / responses), and answer a respondent’s question or acknowledge a respondent’s statement in a timely matter. Since you cannot control what is said by your audience, it is important to control for inappropriate or harmful statements, which you can either refute or delete.  Hypothetically, if someone posted something on your nonprofit social networking site that wasn’t appropriate (i.e., expressed displeasure with a seminar  attended or service received,  or posted something that was against the nonprofit’s purpose), it’s best to stay active on the platform to either immediately delete the comment or provide a public response to the comment. Providing a public response will show your organization’s openness to other opinions and reinforce the issue, while assuring that everyone’s voices are heard.

While using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it is important to remember that social media is another representation of your organization and therefore should be handled carefully as to not publicly post or provide information that is against your organization’s mission, goals or image. With that said, this is an exciting new era that can provide many benefits to nonprofit organizations.

For more information regarding social media resources, strategy templates and training materials, please visit: http://www.wearemedia.org/. We Are Media, a social media blog in of itself, provides a community of people from nonprofits that are interested in learning and teaching social media strategies and and offers tools for organizations like yours.

Authors

Katie Bess, MSW, currently serves as the Washington D.C. representative for the National Association for Rural Mental Health (NARMH), is a research assistant with the National Association of Counties (NACo) and a senior policy intern with the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors (NACBHDD).

Gary Bess, PhD, is the principal in Gary Bess Associates (GBA), established n 1991, a nonprofit and government consulting firm that specialized is grant writing, needs assessment and nonprofit management. For several years he directed free medical clinics in southern California, including the South Bay Free Clinic in Manhattan Beach and the Los Angeles Free Clinic, and building on this experience, GBA specialized in applications for Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) designation and renewals.

hyper-arrow Learn more about GBA at www.garybess.com.

Webhosting Reviewed

By Richard Hamel

frustratedYou’d think that selecting a decent webhosting service provider (webhost) would be as simple as, well, choosing a new laptop – or even a washing machine for that matter. But the simple, somewhat bizarre, truth is: it’s not. It’s truly maddening. No wonder webhost customers would rather endure overpriced and under-serviced accounts rather than roll the dice to find a better one. Maybe that’s why I’ve kept mine – Jumpline.com – for a dozen years, when I should have let them go a long time ago.

“Dude, just Google a review, choose a new webhost – and stop whining,” you say. (“Ha! Go ahead and try that,” I retort.)

Call it a conspiracy, fear of advertiser backlash, or even an untapped news niche (hardly), but finding a bona fide review of webhosts is far more elusive than the rational mind would think.

When I decided to check into a possible replacement webhost for DOWW, as well as for a few of my clients, I did the first logical thing: I Googled “webhosting reviews.” What spewed out were hundreds – perhaps thousands – of “web resources” on hosting: “Top WebHosting Reviews, Top 10 Web hosting reviews, Web Hosting Reviews of 2011…” What I realized after slogging through a couple dozen of these sites was that they were just advertising portals for the webhosting industry. Although all of them provided some sort of rating, if you bothered to check the customer reviews on the very same site they rarely supported the ratting provided by the reviewer! (I remember looking into a couple of well-positioned webhosts and all of the reviews were scathing. Those were the top rated webhosts!) So, I then took the next logical step: I sought out advice from the established big dogs of technical reviews: PC Magazine, PC World, Laptop Magazine, CNET Reviews and even Consumer Report. Nada. Really! None of these guys had any webhosting reviews done in the last decade. CNET’s page was simply another list of paid advertisers.

Finally, I started asking a few of my colleagues which webhost they’d recommend. They had all, more-or-less, simply chose the least problematic webhost. At best, they’d say “my webhost support is polite” or “I can’t complain, but I rarely use the tech support.”

Well, to put this story in the nutshell where it belongs, I finally sorted out four hosting services – discovered through different means – to put through the test. For FatCow.com, one of the nation’s largest and emerging companies, it was because the first half-dozen “webhost review sites” I’d thought might be the most ethical, had positioned this webhost rather well.  For Superb.net and later WestHost.com, it was based on on-line articles that I’d stumbled upon. For these three I went as far as paying for hosting, uploaded a WordPress site, and then tested their speed and customer support. As for GreenGeeks.com, which was mentioned in an article by PCWorld about the environmentally conscious hosting market, I didn’t bother.

What I wanted from my hosting provider was this:

  • cPanel technology that would handle php and MySQL versions 5 or greater. (All offered that.)
  • 24/7 live tech support (with phone, chat and email preferred). Support that was both knowledgeable and would not automatically state “We don’t support that outside application.” (Most failed this test.)
  • A personal customer representative should tech support be unwilling to help. (Only half could oblige.)
  • A company big enough so it’ll be around for years to come, but not too big that the support staff wouldn’t act like robots – like they do at NetworkSolutions.com. (Most succeeded.)
  • Reasonable Internet speed. (Most passed this test.)
  • Shared hosting plans (all offered this); with dedicated IP address option. (Most offered this.)
  • A fair price. (They were all pretty good.)

Findings

FatCow (Albuquerque, NM) were very pro-active and very polite. Although they would not provide me with a personal customer rep, I was willing to test them out. Their cPanel was intuitive and pricing was great. But they were too short on hosting plans (they have just one) and offered no dedicated IP address option (which is very important when you’re building a new site). Finally, when I needed their help in configuring their service to the WordPress “config.php” file (which any decent support person should be able to handle with little thought) they were unwilling to. Needless to say, they failed the test. (But, I would not rule them out for a small organization needed minimal services and support.)

GreenGeeks (Santa Monica, CA) have been touted as the green alternative, so naturally I had to check them out. After a long conversation with one of their senior sales representative, she told me that having my own personal customer rep was not possible – even if I brought some of my client accounts with me. (She sounded a bit snarky when she said this.) I got a bad vibe with GreenGeeks, so I compared some of the customer reviews on them (which I took with a grain of salt), found them not to be a good-enough fit for me, before moving down on my list.

Superb.net (Honolulu, HI) was nearly my choice. Although they are a smaller company, they’re owned by a much larger one – so that was reassuring, sort of. I had landed a personal customer rep fairly easily who wasn’t some kid just answering phones, and I found their listed options met all my basic requirements. However, after purchasing a hosting plan and uploading my WordPress test site, I found that only one out of the five tech support people I’d dealt with seemed to have a clue about their job. And when the Internet speed failed to come up to snuff (the time to load the site took between 8 and 20 seconds – which is way too slow) after a week of them assuring me that they were checking into the matter, I thanked them for their time and work and moved on to the next one on my list.

Westhost.com (Providence, UT) is the webhost I eventually went with – and not just out of exasperation either. Within the same day I landed a “can-do” personal customer rep, got a free month of service (that’s for any of my clients as well), uploaded my test site without a hitch, found their support staff knowledgeable and helpful, the Admin (cPanel) interface intuitive, the speed fast, and their pricing fair. ($4/month for the regular hosting, $8/month for preferred).

Now I don’t know how long I will recommend Westhost.com, but since they’ve floated to the top of the heap, I believe they’re certainly worth considering. That said, if you’ve been satisfied with your webhost, please share with a comment. Oh, and if you’d like to get a free month of service via Westhost.com, just click this link: WestHost.com or email me and I’ll find out for you what the current online coupon code is.

Disclosure: DOWW participates in WestHost’s affiliate program. Details are available upon request.