A few years ago, we were approached by Amnesty International Canada to help them develop a communications strategy for their efforts to raise awareness and support for Alberta’s Lubicon Cree. We gave them a social media strategy that included an issue-specific Facebook presence.
Since that time, our social media expertise has been growing. We have advised municipal and federal government entities, and we have helped private and not-for-profit (“N4P”) sector organizations to make effective use of social media opportunities. But from what I’ve seen, it’s the N4Ps that have the greatest potential for growth in the world of shared internet interests. And too often that potential is untapped.
Why are N4Ps uniquely positioned for social media success? I’ll give you four good reasons:
1. Because they aren’t selling anything
Social media aren’t the place to sell product. Whether on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or elsewhere, your communication with your audience is always permission-based. While N4Ps may make a direct appeal for fundraising or social action, they do so in the spirit of a shared belief.
Commercial brands get permission to enter people’s social networks because they provide interest, amusement or cool factor. Governments get in because they have useful information to provide. But N4Ps are welcomed in to become part of the user’s deeper identity (much deeper than their brand of candy or whisky). This is why private and public sectors brands are so keen to partner with N4Ps. They have a unique, more intimate and trusted, relationship with their audiences.
2. Because people really want to make a difference
Spend any time at all on your favourite social media, and you’ll notice a trend. “Please put this in your status,” “Please share this image”… many people seem to have a fundamental need to feel like they’re doing something about the issues that concern them most. Often, these memes are grassroots efforts that grow out of the average person’s sense of helplessness when facing big and scary issues like bullying, cancer, or political injustice. And each one is a missed opportunity for associated N4Ps.
As active as many N4Ps are in the social sphere, there are obviously still people out there who just need an outlet to feel like they can make an individual difference as part of a group effort. They want to belong. And a relevant and trusted N4P can help them find that power by providing concrete actions and results, instead of just telling people what colour of bra they are wearing.
3. Because social media make it so easy to be “good”
The other thing people are looking for in social media is validation of their “goodness” by their peers. Associating yourself with a popular cause can increase your online reputation and real self-esteem. Sure, a lot of it is “slacktivism”, but even the easy solution of liking or sharing a campaign can contribute to its real success by exposing the N4P and its issue to an ever-widening audience — including potential active participants.
4. Because they facilitate cooperation
One really positive movement I’ve been observing in social media is the way likeminded N4Ps are forming alliances to spread their influence. In the past, partnerships were stuffy, formal affairs, where money or favours were exchanged for logo space on the bottom of another organization’s event posters.
Today, N4Ps can easily and fluidly interact on social media for mutual benefit, and gain the advantage of greatly increasing both their reach and credibility, as intuitively as individual users do. In fact, quite often it’s the administrators behind the pages and feeds who are making friends with their colleagues around the world, playing a game of karmic ping-pong that acts like a continuous feedback loop for their cause.
Why aren’t all N4Ps making full use of social media?
There are many, many great social marketers among the N4P sector. But there is a great deal of room for improvement overall. What is holding them back?
In all sectors, I see an all-too-common reluctance to commit the time, money, effort and training to maintaining an effective social media presence. A national organization is going to require the attention of one or more managers committed to monitoring and moderating the channels. (They can have other duties too, but they need to be able to check in frequently.)
These professionals need to be experienced and trained in communication, public relations, conflict resolution, and laws and rules of online communication, not to mention the N4P’s own causes and issues. They also need to have outgoing personalities and good conversational writing skills, as well as being empowered and responsible enough to make wise decisions without constant supervision.
We’ve all seen the kind of epic fails brands can commit on social media. In almost every case, it was a result of bad hiring and poor training.
In some cases, it’s the N4P’s organizational structure itself that gets in the way of successful social media. Slow-moving, controlling boards or staff that can’t make quick decisions are going to have a hard time adapting to the fast and furious world of social media. As well, those in charge may be too risk-averse to let their brand and message be in the hands of the public — or even their own employees.
I have also observed particularly tragic cases of old-school turfism hampering successful social media adoption. Just because Facebook didn’t exist when current job descriptions were written, the question of who is responsible for social media can cause conflict. Is it communication? Marketing? PR? Digital? Social media require all of those specialties. But if an organization insists on letting social media fall between its silos, without considering the need to redefine roles, and foster interdisciplinary internal cooperation, it’s not going to get anywhere.
These worst case scenarios are just that, however. The majority of N4Ps I follow on my social media are evolving towards best practices. But some are faster than others.
Want to make the most of social media for your not-for-profit?
Note: Logos at the top are from a Google image search, and do not represent clients.