Social media are no longer just for tech-savvy teenagers and computer wizards. Now nonprofit organizations are using social media to get their messages out to a broad audience at a very low cost (typically for free, though with the investment of staff time). In fact, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research study recently looked at the use of social media among America’s largest charities and found that 89 percent of nonprofit organizations are using them in some form, including blogs (the most common among nonprofits), Facebook, and Twitter. In fact, U.S. nonprofits are now more actively engaged with them than U.S. businesses and academic institutions are.
Below we de-mystify 10 of the most popular (and easy to use) social media outlets available to nonprofit organizations.
Facebook allows an organization to start a group, which entails creating an informational profile and inviting people to join the group as virtual members. An organization can invite anyone with a Facebook account — board members, past colleagues, supporters, etc. — to join its group and can update its information any time with links to its Web site, promotional videos, pictures of staff members and volunteers, etc. For detailed instructions on how to create a Facebook page, see the TechSoup article on “Beginner’s Guide to Facebook“.
MySpace is similar to Facebook in that a nonprofit organization can create a group with a profile to share information on its cause and allow interested MySpace users to join the group as members. MySpace also offers a service called MySpace Impact, which is a directory made up of nonprofit profiles that MySpace users can search to find and join causes that resonate with them. Before joining MySpace Impact, your organization will first need to create a MySpace profile. DIOSA Communications, a firm that specializes in Web 2.0 marketing for nonprofits, offers 75 best practices for nonprofits interested in using MySpace. (Read more here.) Once your MySpace page has been created, you can sign up to be included in the MySpace Impact directory by clicking here. Your profile will then be visible to MySpace members searching for organizations promoting causes that interest them.
LinkedIn is similar to MySpace and Facebook except it’s focused on connecting professionals in similar fields or with similar professional interests. LinkedIn recently started an initiative called LinkedIn for Good, a forum for raising awareness and funds for nonprofits around the world. LinkedIn allows nonprofit organizations to create their own pages on the site to share information with the over 40 million professionals in the LinkedIn community. Members of LinkedIn can add “badges” to their profiles highlighting organizations they support. Any member of LinkedIn can click on a badge to get to the nonprofit’s page. For more information on LinkedIn for Good and to see sample profiles created by nonprofits, click here.
Care2 is a new social networking option that links individuals and organizations that support the same social causes. Users of care2.com choose the causes that interest them when they create their profiles. A nonprofit organization can market its cause through Care2 by either creating a cause-focused group or joining another cause-focused group, making it a great place to promote events or to solicit supporters for a petition or for donations. To join and create a group, click here.
Twitter is one of the latest social media tools available to nonprofits. Twitter is a micro blogging tool, meaning that it allows a person or organization to post short messages, questions, updates, and announcements to its members. A nonprofit organization and the Twitter members who opt to follow the conversation on the organization’s page interact with each other by posing questions, asking for advice or opinions, posting notices about events or activities, or sharing links to articles – all in 140 characters or fewer. Nonprofits use Twitter to send frequent, short updates to their followers. Twitter allows nonprofit groups not only to promote themselves but also to find out what their followers are saying. Change.org shares 10 Twitter Tips for Nonprofit Organizations here.
Video has always been a compelling way to capture people’s attention. YouTube, which is the leading forum for posting and viewing original videos online, allows people to upload and share video clips on http://www.youtube.com/ and across the Internet through Web sites, mobile devices, blogs, and e-mail. YouTube now offers a Nonprofit Program, which provides a format for charities to post videos promoting themselves and their causes through free nonprofit channels. Videos posted on the nonprofit channel may highlight public service announcements, footage of activities and events, calls to action, etc. Additionally, the channels allow nonprofits to use Google Checkout (which does not charge fees) to collect donations. A variety of organizations, including the One Campaign and the Clinton Foundation, are participating in YouTube’s Nonprofit Program to post videos on the channels that promote their causes. Share our Strength recently created a YouTube video advocating for people to get involved in childhood hunger issues. See the YouTube Nonprofit Program Web site for more information on the Nonprofit Program, to read a tip sheet on how to use the nonprofit channels, to obtain advice on how to run video campaigns on YouTube, and for guidance on how to save time and money editing videos.
More and more, people are looking for concise information in a downloadable format that allows them to listen on their own time. Podcasts, which are audio (or audio and video) files distributed over the Internet that can be downloaded either on a computer or onto a portable audio player such as an iPod, provide an inexpensive way for a nonprofit to connect with people in a way that will fit in with their schedule. Beyond information sharing, podcasts can be used to generate buzz to visit a nonprofit or participate in an event. For example, many nonprofit museums are now providing free podcasts on their Web sites with sneak peaks of new exhibits. A 2006 article written by Karen Solomon and posted on TechSoup provides guidance on how to create and promote a podcast. (Read the article here).
Wikis are Web sites containing customizable content that can be updated and changed by users. Wikis can be public (anyone on the Internet can edit), protected (visible to the public, but only editable by a set of selected users), or private (only authorized users can view or edit the wiki). The tool allows for information sharing and collaboration among a wide network of individuals and can also help an organization store information and ideas exchanged among users. Additionally, a wiki can be used to post questions or topics for debate or to track opinions and thoughts that a wide range of people have on a topic.
Blogs are online journals that capture commentary and dialogue among a set of online members. Nonprofits operate blogs for a variety of reasons, including reporting information, providing a forum for members of the blog to share information, and sharing opinions and engaging members in debate. To keep the communication open and creative, blogs should not be highly monitored. At the same time, blogs require staff time to ensure the dialogue is continuing and stays fresh. Two popular services to help create a blog easily are Blogger.com, which is free, and TypePad.com, which has more advanced services starting at $5 per month.
10. RSS Feed
The term “RSS feed” may sound highly technical, but “RSS” actually stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” and it is in fact, really simple for a nonprofit to establish its own RSS feed. An RSS feed automatically delivers summaries of Web content that is being changed frequently, such as that on news sites, wikis, and blogs. Nonprofit organizations that have a blog should publish an RSS feed to share blog updates. RSS feeds are typically read through a feed reader, such as Google Reader, which pulls together stories and headlines from all the RSS feeds the individual subscribes to. Subscribing to an RSS feed requires locating the RSS symbol on a Web site, clicking on it to get the URL to the feed, and then pasting the link into your feed reader. RSS feeds make it convenient for constituents and supporters to see frequently updated content without having to check a Web site on a regular basis. RSS feeds may be driven from your blog (posts to the blog will be added as a news feed), from your content management system, or from an online service. For more information on each option and to get links to services that can develop your RSS feed, click here.
To stay on top of the latest information about nonprofits and social media, read a blog on the topic. Beth Kanter, an expert in social media for nonprofits, provides us with continually updated information through her blog at http://beth.typepad.com/.
To hear first hand from nonprofit leaders at the cutting edge of social media, check out the recent podcast from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Episode 11: Using Online Social Networks to Promote Good Causes
 Pateakos, Jay. “Study: Nonprofits Flocking to Social Media.” The Herald News. 2009. http://www.heraldnews.com/business/x986614764/Study-Nonprofits-flocking-to-social-media
 Pitman, Marc. “Twitter for Nonprofits.” The Fundraising Coach. 2008. http://fundraisingcoach.com/2008/10/07/twitter-for-nonprofits/
 Soloman, Karen. “How to Record, Edit, and Promote Your Nonprofit’s Podcast.” TechSoup. 2006. http://nonprofit.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ&sdn=nonprofit&cdn=money&tm=97&gps=115_45_1260_866&f=10&su=p554.12.336.ip_&tt=3&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.techsoup.org/toolkits/web2/