By Katie Bess, MSW, and Gary Bess, PhD
A 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.
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.
Learn more about GBA at www.garybess.com.