Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Social Media and Nonprofits

Posted on | February 26, 2009 | 1 Comment

It’s amazing how a thoughtful discussion of social media strategies and tactics relating to nonprofits can get derailed by the word “Twitter.” But that’s what happened Thursday in San Francisco at a very interesting and education event put on by the Council of Public Relations Firms. It wasn’t a derailment, but it was emblematic of how, with so many lovely trees out there, we can quickly lose sight of the forest.

“Groundswell” co-author Charlene Li, who has been on her own for a while running the Altimeter Group, moderated a panel of social media knowledgeables (I won’t say gurus because Jeremiah Owyang put a fork in that term this week). The audience was populated with dozens of people from nonprofits, and many of them were there for an overall education. But the minute someone brought up Twitter, the wheels came off for a moment. Down we dived into the murk of Twitter, Twirhl, TweetDeck, and so forth. This can be sexy stuff, but they’re the trees; non-profits are there to figure out how to develop audience and raise money. That’s the forest.

Jason Mandell of LaunchSquad helped get the train back on the track. He has a good vantage point: His company helped popularize the Obama Girl video. Said he:

You’re trying to build a community. That’s what the tools are all about. These tools and networks allow you to have an ongoing engagement…that’s faster and cheaper than traditional methods for nonprofits.

Twitter might be a great thing for you if your organization wants to target 18-25 year-olds, but if not, you need to look at other social tactics, blogging and the like, he added. Plus, you want to include your channels with other marketing channels from offline to online world so that in five years you’re not sending out letters any more.

This may be common sense to some, but most marketers–in the nonprofit world and elsewhere–are just coming up to speed. Some are concerned about controlling the message and privacy issues, and some are just flat-out suspicious of new media. Thanks, Jason.

Charlene Li reinforced this point. It’s about figuring out what works without your overall marketing and communications strategy…. whether that’s Twitter, blogs, YouTube vids or Facebook groups.

The bad news is I had to leave early so I may have missed a great discussion about the 800 pound elephant in the room: monitoring and metrics. It’s a point Jeremiah made in his post.

The recession. This is going to cause a purging of the opinion-makers, pontificators, and the gurus to be passed up as companies need to make decisions based off intelligence, information and references of previous success.

This is where the light should be focused now.

Other cool stuff….
Sandy Pfaff West Coast director of Peppercom gave a fine overview of the space. She works with wikipedia, which tripled its fund-raising goal to $6 million this year and hit it. Much of that was driven by a late-campaign email call-to-action (good, old-fashioned email, whoda thunk it??). Wikipedia raised much of its goal through $1-$5 donations from around the world in this fashion. Long tail in action.

And speaking of micro-finance, Miles Orkin with the American Cancer Society shed light on a fascinating, digital way nonprofits can raise money: text-to-give programs. They’re in their infancy, but have significant upside. In short, you, Mr. or Ms. mobile phone user, are urged, usually at a live event, to text a word to a number to donate $5 or more. It shows up later on your phone bill.

In the cancer society’s case the word is “hope” and the number is 20222. Try it out.
They ran a pilot at halftime of a UCLA basketball game. It was astonishing to see how many fans held up their mobile phones to signify they’d been touched in some way by cancer.

Pop stars, including Alicia Keys, are using this during concerts to raise money for their favorite charities.

Bottom line:
All of these examples illustrate where the conversation is now shifting–to the audience. Who is your audience, where is it and how best to reach them?

In Hamlet, Polonius tells his son, Laertes, “This above all: To thine own self be true.”
Today, we might alter it a bit with the recommendation: “Know thy audience as you know thineself.”

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One Response to “Social Media and Nonprofits”

  1. Loring Wirbel
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 10:48 am

    Twitter: designed for navel-gazers, about navel-gazers. Only the temporary site-du-jour for teenagers, and of little lasting value for those that want to correspond intelligently, since 140-character limits and intelligence are mutually exclusive categories.

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