Social Media for Non-Profits: Simple Ways to Protect Your Organization Online

Having worked with Non Profits for the past 20 years, seeing them take to social media is exhilarating ... and terrifying. I don't think anyone is better primed for social networking than the social profit sector:

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-Your organization already relies on, and knows how to put your social connections to work for your cause.
-No other sector is more sensitive to social issues.
-You already have experience making people FEEL GOOD about interacting with you.
-Low/no cost to organizations with low/no budget for marketing? That's an ideal scenario.

HOWEVER, non-profits can also be dangerously vulnerable to exploitation. With non-profits increasingly adopting business models (complete with CEOs and Human Resource Managers), hiring or seeking the advice of someone who specializes in social media makes a lot of sense. The catch is that if you aren't confident with social media already, would you know a good social media professional to see one? Would you recognize bad advice when you got it? Are you willing to be accountable for the damage bad advice can do?
Your social networking will be there long after any social media professional. Your investment in it is therefore greater. Here are some very simple suggestions to protect that investment.

Look beyond all or nothing. 

It’s not necessary to be on every social media channel available, but that doesn’t mean going to the other extreme and not doing anything at all. Learning basic functions of the top social media platforms most relevant to non-profits will help provide an idea about which ones fit well with  your organization, and offer a framework for building.

Don't assume 

that social media strategies for businesses will work for non-profits. A simple search for social media marketing will produce nearly 1 billion results. 1 billion. Few of those results concern best practices for non-profits, nevermind comprehensively addressing their needs. A smaller fraction still will be relevant to your specific needs, or come from people who have long term experience working within non-profits. Having an idea of how social media can be used is fantastic, but it's up to you to decide how it should be used by your organization.

Share successes and failures 

with organizations you already work with in the community. Have an email group, Google doc, Twitter list, subreddit, facebook group, meetings- whatever works for you to share information with others who are in a similar boat. This is an efficient way to share information about things in your organization (like events, fundraising initiatives, open positions etc.), increase the reach of marketing efforts, and talk to others about what social media strategies have worked, or potential pitfalls to avoid.

Ask for input. 

Even if they know absolutely nothing about social media, nobody knows your organization better than the people who have been working hard within it, and the people you serve. They already meaningfully contribute to the way your organization is represented, and the connections you have. You already know those voices are important. Ask for input, keep it constructive, and don't stress out the people you rely on with unrealistic expectations.

Yes, hire a professional 

(if you can). Some non-profits may be able to afford a Social Media Manager, but of not it's still worthwhile to allocate a small portion of the budget to bringing in a social media consultant periodically throughout the year. This gives you access to important technical knowledge, while keeping you at the helm, and costs low.  

Ask questions. 

Lots of them. Ask questions to determine purpose, objectives, and realistic goals. Ask questions of social media professional(s) to determine if their values appropriately align with your purpose, if their knowledge is sufficient to your objectives, and to ensure their advice is relevant to your goals.
If your organization deals with a sensitive issue, ask questions that reveal how people handling your social media respect those sensitivities.

Take advice with a grain of salt. 

One of the most prevalent pieces of advice for organizations currently is: Make platforms personal, ie. tweets by @JaneDoe. 
Grain of salt: If an organization has a great presence on Twitter, is it really because of Jane Doe? And beyond Twitter, is the organization really successful (or, are they-for instance- losing money year after year) in any meaningful way that relates to Jane? 


Regardless of how amazing one person is tweeting, if there isn't a tangible benefit the energy might be better used elsewhere. And while it sounds reasonable that people are more likely to connect with a person than an entity, remember why you’re there before following what others are doing. Are you setting up a facebook page, twitter account, or blog so that people can connect to Jane Doe? Maybe. Or maybe your organization has a personality, a mission, and a way to connect that you don't want to be contingent on Jane. Maybe not everyone likes, or wants to interact with Jane. Social media involves different perceptions, and ultimately Jane is only one person, your organization is not.

Whether you're looking for tips from Mashable, and Social Media Examiner or consulting directly with a Social Media Professional, remember: most social media professionals are focused on (big surprise) social media. The goals they have for their business are not necessarily the same as the goals you have for your organization. Examining how social media marketing serves your organization's core values (and not the other way around) is always a best practice.

What worries you about non-profits using social media?

by Jane Barkley

You should visit me on YouTube HERE.