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Nonprofits 2.0

Social media-based marketing is a natural tool for organizations that depend on the willingness and interest of their supporters to remain involved in and connected to the organization. Social media include online networks like Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter that allow users to post photos, videos, blog posts and so forth to share with others. Viewers can vote on the posted items, and the popular ones spread further through the Internet. Social media are playing an increasingly important role in nonprofit organizations such as museums, theaters, relief services, and family and child support groups. These nonprofits are deeply connected to their members and the audiences they serve. They typically have solid contact information on which to build and, more often than not, have the capability to create both content and experiences that people inherently find talk-worthy. In fact, if they couldn’t connect with people that way, they would probably go out of business.

Nonprofits depend on people taking an active interest in what they do: Volunteer efforts and donor support are often the center points of these businesses.

Compare this with the for-profit sector, much of which is filled with providers of commodity or relatively low-involvement products that we know we must have. People know they need toothpaste and soap. Support for these products is assured at some base level, at least within the category.

Over in the nonprofit world, it’s uphill all the way. People don’t need theater or art in the same way they need soap and toothpaste, for example. (These programs, along with physical education, are typically the first to be cut when school budgets get tight.) And no one thinks she’ll need the Red Cross until something bad happens, like a hurricane, flood, or fire. The challenge is that these types of organizations must continually drive awareness, get people involved, and maintain a high level of community visibility and participation simply to stay alive. It’s that much tougher when the economy heads south (an expression I still find odd, given that I live in Texas) and corporate and individual donations dry up.

Social media can be hugely valuable for nonprofit organizations in their efforts to continually drive awareness and involvement. Because social media are largely consumer-generated, production costs can be low. Similarly, because social media are typically simple to use, they can also be generated in-house by nontechnical staff, volunteers, and interns, further reducing the costs and complexity of production. Of course, maintaining an awareness of what people are saying takes real work — and that has real cost. However, this is a common challenge that anyone servicing a market faces: If you have customers, regardless of what types of markets you serve, chances are they are talking about you, and it can be crucial to stay up on what they are saying.

In a recent series of two-day social media workshops I conducted for the American Marketing Association, nonprofit participants learned about social media and actually planned and launched core elements of social media programs for their organizations.

The range of solutions that were developed by workshop participants was amazing. Too often people equate “doing social media” with putting up a Facebook page and/or creating a Twitter presence and using both of them to communicate. Three of the organizations we worked with were: Dad’s Garage Theatre Company in Atlanta, the Raue Center for the Arts near Chicago, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas. Now these organizations have plans that collectively include Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, blogging and blogger outreach, FriendFeed, Flickr, YouTube, Eventful, Eventbright, and more. Each plan was integrated with the organization’s marketing program and anchored in a defined set of metrics. These plans will be implemented in the coming months as part of the organizations’ regular marketing efforts.

What do these plans include? One of these organizations is using Facebook’s Groups feature for outreach to members and its Business Pages for people who may not be on Facebook yet. Unlike typical Facebook profiles and groups, Business Pages can be viewed without a Facebook account. Another organization is using its Facebook Group to organize its staff and as an internal conversational tool.

Twitter is being used for everything from business development to games that involve a live audience. Services like YouTube and Flickr are being used for content sharing as well as to drive the content that appears in blogs and on Facebook through FriendFeed. This not only maximizes content exposure but also minimizes the amount of work required to keep everything running.

The effort required to keep a social presence running was a major concern of all three participating organizations as well as the workshop attendees. Using social media is real work, and there is no getting around that.

A social media strategy should be developed based on your business objectives and knowledge of your audience, including, your knowledge of what social media your audience is engaging in. Your strategy should include tactics to implement and measure your success with social media. That basic methodology — which includes consideration of business objectives, audience, strategy, a basis for measurement, and tactical methods — will serve any organization well. To see an example of how social media can be used in a highly effective way, check out the Brooklyn Museum’s Web site. And, in addition to Nancy Schwartz’s blog and Katya Andresen’s “Robin Hood Marketing,” take a look at Mayra Ruiz’ blog and Kivi Leroux Miller’s “Nonprofit Marketing Guide” and the associated blog.  Both are easy to follow and full of resources for serious nonprofit marketing.


Dave is the author of Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day, a practical, hands-on guide to implementing and measuring social media as part of an integrated marketing program. Building on the approach he outlines in his book, Dave listens to what a client’s business communications needs are, then evaluates current operations, marketing, and management processes. Working alongside his clients, Dave develops an effective, measured approach to using social media and achieving organizational and business goals.

Dave cofounded Digital Voodoo in 1994. Digital Voodoo provides strategic marketing services for clients wanting to tap the power of the social Web. In 2005, he cofounded HearThis.com, a podcasting service firm focused on social media and marketing.

This originally appeared in ClickZ, [http://www.clickz.com] an online publication that covers digital marketing and advertising, and was adapted by the author for use in this newsletter. Other coverage of social media on ClickZ by the author can be found here. [http://www.clickz.com/daveevans]

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At Community Wealth Partners we dream of a world in which all people thrive. To realize this dream, we help change agents solve social problems at the magnitude they exist. As a Share Our Strength organization, we bring the successful practices of one of the nation’s leading anti-hunger, anti-poverty organizations to hundreds of change agents nationwide.

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