Archive for July, 2011

SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT FOR NONPROFITS: START FROM THE INSIDE

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Social media engagement is like casting a pebble in a pond: Networks grow in concentric circles. For a nonprofit organization looking to build its online network and presence, the networking must begin from within.  Whether you’re looking to populate your Facebook page or jump-start a LinkedIn Group, the place to begin should always be with your staff and volunteer leadership. 

Enlisting your staff to be part of the conversation has a number of advantages. It allows you to tap into their networks and synergize ongoing conversations to help project your brand and amplify your message. It will also serve to bolster internal communications and an organization-wide sense of empowerment and ownership.

Consider holding one or more “lunch and learn” sessions to discuss the organization’s social media strategy (including its social media policy). Share and discuss your objectives as well as the key messages you want to convey. Invite staff to contribute ideas on how the organization can grow its social media influence and invite them to join your existing networks.

Reaching out to your volunteer leadership is the next step.

In most non profits, the volunteer head of the organization and its senior staff person share media spokesperson responsibilities. Effective social media engagement  requires a more horizontal, less hierarchical, and more trusting approach to external communication.  Part of this approach involves bringing your volunteer leadership–Board of Directors, Executive–into the social fold.

While in the past organizations embraced a tightly controlling spokesperson policy in the name of message discipline, today’s real-time social environment requires investing in engagement and conversations.   

The reality is that just as people in volunteer leadership positions will from time to time speak out to traditional media  on issues that concern the organization, those active on social media will engage online on those same issues with much greater frequency.  It is therefore critical that volunteer directors be brought into a non profit’s social media tent at the outset.

Just as with staff, engaging your leadership involves sharing your social media and overall communications objectives, tactics and messaging.

In addition to helping to maintain message discipline and unity,  internal engagement will allow the organization to leverage its all of its networks, further amplify its message and extend its reach.

USING SOCIAL MEDIA FOR MAINSTREAM MEDIA ADVANTAGE

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

In a blog earlier this week, I wrote that social media can transform how nonprofit organizations operate. One important way is in leveraging traditional or mainstream media (MSM) coverage in support of their brand or to advance their advocacy agendas. This involves taking advantage of the changing media landscape which is characterized by: 1) a growing MSM online presence; 2) changing news cycle; and 3) reporters’ growing reliance on social media channels for story ideas, breaking news, background and fresh voices.

Today, not only is real-time monitoring of social media chatter a must for news organizations, but traditional media organizations have begun using all of the tools in the social media toolkit to maintain market share and relevance.   Strategies such as search engine optimization of stories, social amplification, and increased use of shareability-enhancing video, are being used by MSM to leverage social media traffic and influence and push their own online and traditional content.  

In response to this changing media environment, nonprofits that in the past monitored traditional media channels and coverage as part of their environmental scanning, are now turning their attention to the monitoring of media chatter on social platforms.  They are also using social media platforms to engage in conversations with reporters and news outlets, or push out statements, news releases and background information.

The most popular of these platforms is Twitter.Twitter is ideally suited for the real time nature of the modern news cycle. In fact, the immediacy of Twitter has contributed to changing the news cycle.

Before the rise of social media, radio was the medium that provided the greatest flexibility and ability to cover breaking news. Twitter has now outgrown its role as amplifier of mainstream media news to become a “news breaker”. This has generated huge pressure on MSM outlets to be the first to report–with predictable implications for the quality and depth of reporting.

For organizations looking to use social media to enhance their MSM reach, Twitter can provide an important and direct channel to news rooms but it also means competing for attention on what is becoming a very crowded platform. 

Tips on using Twitter for MSM relations

  • Use Twitter Search to identify reporters that cover or are interested in your issues and start following them 
  • Listen. Use Twitter to learn about specific journalists’ interests, needs, styles
  • Build a rapport, engage in conversations, be genuine
  • Provide background and respond to queries
  • Be available for on-the-record comment, including online
  • Use Twitter to inform reporters of upcoming media opportunities (press conferences, product launches)
  • Post your news releases on Twitter
  • Do not use Twitter to pitch stories directly; paticularly if you have no rapport with a reporter
  • Don’t neglect personal, face-to-face interaction with reporters

Success in this new environment means being nimble  and responsive, and it means understanding the reality of the modern news room: fewer resources and more pressure to break stories. Failure to do so means running the risk of being left behind when your story breaks. 

In practical terms, this means nonprofits have to take stock of their internal procedures and streamline decision-making.  It  means empowering front-line communications staff to engage with reporters, frame the story and provide comment.  

In this new environment, organizations–nonprofits, private or public–no longer have all day to ponder the text of a statement,  news release, or Tweet. Overly cautious or bureaucratic media relations procedures will fail in the hypercompetitive real-time world in which MSM outlets operate.

SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT REQUIRES INVESTMENT IN TIME, PATIENCE

Monday, July 18th, 2011

The growing buzz around social media is making  jumping on the social bandwagon “de rigueur” for more and more nonprofit organizations. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most are embracing social media without really understanding how it  works, how it can help them meet their goals, and more often than not, without a real plan. 

Nonprofits that turn to social media to keep up with the Joneses but without a clear sense of direction or purpose, will likely fail.

Social media engagement is not like a switch that can be turned on and off at will.  Online relations need to be developed and nurtured over time and organizations that want to take advantage of these powerful new tools must be prepared to invest in listening, participation and genuine conversation. A good place for them to start is by distinguishing between their tactical and strategic objectives and opportunities.   

At a tactical level, social media platforms and social media engagement can be particularly helpful in facilitating consistent and targeted contact and engagement with an organization’s key audiences.

Twitter for example, can be used to start conversations and carve out relations with influential reporters or politicians.   

In addition to using Twitter to engage with important external audiences (mainstream media, political influencers, potential third-party supporters), organizations can use social media to connect and engage their membership, the sector they represent and the general population.

One low-cost way to do this is to create a Facebook Page around an issue of concern to the sector the organization represents  and around which an online community of interest already exists.  An example of this is the Facebook page created by InterChange Public Affairs to support FCM’s campaign to increase the number of women in municipal government.   

This tactic can be used to support efforts to mobilize an organization’s members, its sector and public opinion in the run-up to a key legislative vote, policy announcement, election or simply to raise awareness around a particular cause.

It is important however that organizations not fall into the social media “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” trap. A platform does not a social media campaign make.

Scoping out whether a community of interest around an issue or issues exists, its scope, level of engagement and top influencers are all critical first steps before undertaking any kind of social media campaign. This is particularly true if the campaign is designed for short term tactical impact.  

Absent an existing and broad-based conversation around an issue it can be very difficult to mobilize sufficient numbers to create political room for an issue. In fact, a social media campaign that sputters can have the opposite effect and serve only to demonstrate the absence of interest and support for an issue.

In the absence of a well-established online community or ongoing online conversations around an issue, a social media platform like Facebook can still be used to initiate engagement, amplify messaging and build a network, but its use should not be positioned or branded as a social media campaign.

Listening should be step one for any organization contemplating social media engagement.

Unlike full blown social media engagement where an organization openly and transparently shares information, responds to comments and queries, and actually becomes part of a community, listening is the first—but essential–step in successful social media engagement. 

As a general principle of social engagement, listening uncovers the nature of the conversations within a particular community. Just as you would not arrive at a cocktail party unannounced and attempt to monopolize the conversation, listening within a social media network allows you to determine your comfort zone and ease into conversations.

Whether it’s from a business perspective, a public institution, or that of a nonprofit advocacy association,  listening allows organizations to determine who the thought leaders are in a given community and what it is that makes them most relevant. Listening allows organizations to determine what content is most relevant and why. And most important, listening allows them to hear what people are saying about them, their brand or their issues.

Listening is easy and there are a number of tools available, from simple online search tools to advanced brand and reputation management platforms.

More strategically, social media can be used to expand and diversify an organization’s communication reach. In the short run, it can be used to grow its network by identifying like-minded influencers and encouraging conversations. In addition to expanding an organization’s network, this will amplify its message by promoting the sharing of content on multiple platforms.  

In the longer term, social media has the potential to fundamentally transform how organizations view and conduct advocacy, engage their members and staff, raise funds and develop policies.   

While tactical social media engagement is largely transactional and focused on achieving short term objectives, strategic engagement is based on a vision of emerging technologies as enabling transformative change.

From an organizational perspective, strategic social media engagement needs to rest on four things: a corporate vision of technology that embraces and facilitates change, the resources to implement it, a sound understanding of the dynamics of social media engagement and a well-established social network.