This is a beginner level introduction to social media for nonprofit organizations; presented as a webinar for Lori Jacobwith on May 6, 2010 by Amy Sample Ward. To connect or learn more visit amysampleward.org
Social media is broadly defined as any technology that enables social activity; social activity meaning anything that’s back and forth, conversational, networked, or otherwise allowing collaboration or exchange. There are, though, hundreds – thousands even – of social media tools and shiny object syndrome is highly contagious. People are often persuaded or interested in using tools because of their “coolness,” “newness,” or the fact that someone else is doing it. It’s important that social media be seen as part of all your work, and a separate thing and as such it is used strategically as part of your other communications, outreach, engagement strategies.
So how does it fit into what you’re doing? Think of a party, that you’re hosting. The party is your overall strategy (combines communications, outreach, volunteer recruitment, donor management, everything). Your website is the kitchen – where most of the congregating happens and most of the preparation for the party is done.
As more and more folks arrive at your house, you want to circulate with the goal to listen for interesting conversations that you can join in or contribute to. You also want to help by answer questions (“where’s bathroom?”) and making introductions.
Notice which groups are congregating where, what they may be interested in, what they are talking about. This will help you put out food and start games based on where people are and who may be interested in what. Same with your communications or calls to action online, you want to be able to talk in a way and deliver information that is appropriate to the groups you’re talk with, wherever they are. The key is that you encourage everyone to create and participate – whether they bring food or a bottle of wine or a board game. All the places you engage online should be two-way spaces so that your community can start conversations, ask questions or share content just as much as you can. This should be a space where people feel comfortable contributing and being themselves – even if they do have blue eggs.
Lastly, you have put out balloons, signs, or other decorations to sign post your location for those looking to join in the fun. This is the same as connecting your website link to all your various profiles or including it every time you comment online so people know how to get back to you.
It’s best to always start at the beginning. And with social media, there are so many options that the place to begin is by listening. This means using tools that will let you find conversations, discover which platforms or tools your community is already using, identify the best places to start contributing, and identify how you can include social media in your other strategies.
Much of listening is fueled by RSS. RSS means really simply syndication and the way it works is actually pretty simple. You often visit many of the same websites in any given day or week, you may visit news sites, other organization’s websites, and so on. You might also visit youtube channels or blogs. All of these sites have RSS and by subscribing via RSS you are essentially subscribing to any new content. So, if the site is updated, if there’s a new video posted, a new blog post, or any other new content, you don’t have to visit the site to see it; instead, it will be delivered to you either in email or an RSS reader. The RSS icon is the orange signal-like square. You’ll see this in a browser bar or as an image that is linked in a sidebar.
You can also subscribe to the RSS of a search. You can search on google or another search engine, or you can be more targeted by searching for content where conversations are more likely to happen: blogs. This is Google Blog Search and Technorati. Searching on these sites will let you zero in any new content from the blogosphere.
Google Alerts is a tool from Google that lets you set your search criteria - just like you would use in a web search - like your organization’s name, key words related to your services or sector, project names, and so on, and then determine how often you want to be alerted with any search results (daily, whenever it happens). For example, say you work at NetSquaredand you want to know whenever you name appears online. You’d put your organizaiton’s name, “netsquared” in the search terms box. Select what type of content you want to search - if you are only looking for videos or blogs etc. Comprehensive will search all content types. Select how often you want to be notified and then enter your email address - voila! You have an alert set up! You can set up more than one; I like to have an alert for the organization name in and out of quotes (as the google alerts function just like google searches where the use of quotes means it looks for the exact match and no quotes means it looks for those words), the key words for the sector like technology,innovation, or social change, and then the names of key staff members like the executive director, communications or PR director and so on so if they are mentioned or quoted we can see that, too.What is great about alerts is that you can deliver results to your email, or to RSS.
Twitter search is a great example of how you can listen to conversations without having to use the tool. Facebook would require you to join the platform before you could see or listen. Twitter search lets you search for names or words, just like google or a blog search, but see what’s being said right now. And, as you can see from the orange signal icon, you can subscribe to searches of Twitter content via RSS as well.
Now that you have all of these various RSS feeds, you need to put them into a dashboard, or an RSS reader. There are a few free tools you can choose from including Google Reader or igoogle (the google home page tool). I like to use Netvibes because of the personalization options and flexibility it offers.
Here’s an example of my public-facing RSS. I’ve created this as a resource page for anyone interested in reading what I read and finding content from the larger nonprofit technology field. You can see that I’ve created tabs for topic areas and each feed has it’s own box. To create another tab I would simply click on “new tab” that you can see in line with the others; and to add content (another feed), I would just click on the big green “add content” image. This is where you can start adding your google alerts, your blogs, news sites, twitter searches or anything else. You can arrange the tabs however you like but I think that it’s important to consider timeliness as you are listening in order to respond. So, consider arranging your tabs and the corresponding feeds by things you would want to reply to immediately, soon, fairly quickly and then only if you have time, with a tab or two of things you may never respond to but might want to follow (like searches about technology news in general opposed to netsquared’s programming).
Now you’re listening, observing, and understanding where conversations are taking place, what kinds of topics are of interest where, and which groups are interested in what kind of content. This means you know where your community is strongest and where you can jump in!
Here’s an example. Using the listening dashboard I have a feed set up from a google alert searching for N2Y4 which stands for NetSquared Year 4, and the corresponding Challenge and conference we held in May 09. Even though the conference and the challenge are officially closed, it’s important to continue watching for those tags or titles as we want to continue supporting all those who participated. I see a youtube post that has FrontlineSMS Medic in the title and they were one of our winners, so let’s see what the link really is.
I click through and come to a video interview with Josh discussing the project. This is a great short piece that’s personal (it has the interviewer and Josh both on video) and could help more people understand the work they are doing. So, I can post a comment here, I could tweet a link to it, or I could even put up a blog post on the NetSquared site and embed the video. My choice would be based on our internal strategy about promoting and sharing content from the community.
Signposting is another way to start joining in. Wherever you may have a profile, whether it is actually on a platform like facebook or twitter, or if it is on a working group, a network, or other online space, be sure to always include information and a link back to your website so people can follow the breadcrumbs to find you.
Now you’re listening, your starting to engage – it’s time to create! You can really start having a party now that you have friends (new and old) over to your house, you’ve circulated and checked in to know what folks are up to and interested in, and started making introductions and recommendations so people know each other and know you (plus where the bathroom is – or your website). It’s now time to start creating content and creating spaces for your community to share content. Remember, even if you’re a wine snob and someone brings boxed wine, that’s okay. So long as it’s appropriate (as in, it’s not a children’s party!).
Because you know where your community is, you can begin creating a presence on the corresponding networks or tools. When it comes to creating profiles, you have a few options. Remember that social media is about being social, and it’s pretty hard to be social with a building. Your organization is a building. But your staff are real, lovely, people! You can have an organizational presence on twitter, for example, but your staff don’t (and shouldn’t) be confined to that account.
First of all, be real. Say who you are and who you work for. Signpost back to your organization’s website or even to your staff page. Use a real picture. This works for both organizational accounts and staff accounts. For example, we have a NetSquared twitter account but in the description it shows who (with their Twitter names) are actually contributing to that stream.
Be engaging. Actually talk with, not to people. If they wanted to listen to broadcast messages, they could watch for news on your website. If they are connecting with you online in social media it’s because they might just want to chat! Remember that conversations with just one person, in social media (so long as they are public and not in private messages or email) will really be with everyone. Others might learn from listening, might have the same question or answer or maybe will find something else to talk about based on hearing your conversation with someone else. This means replying publicly online whether it’s a forum, a blog, a tweet or a facebook post.
Lastly, be valuable. This doesn’t mean you have to push your content – don’t confuse being valuable in conversation as being valuable as an organization. Your services, programs, and efforts will speak for themselves. But in social media, where it’s all based on content and conversation, you want to be a valuable voice. When there are opportunities to point people to your research, data, or services, then do it. But don’t be shy about point people to resources or information from other groups. What’s most important is not where you point them but that you are the one with the answers; you become a valuable resource. Share your ideas, experiences and observations just as much as data or information – remember, you’re being real!
I’ve said already that you want to be sure you let your community create and share content just as much as you do. Often, though, groups can concentrate on the community and completely forget about those in the office! Your organization has a lot to offer and it’s important to find ways to tell stories from all departments, all efforts or projects or programs and to do so authentically. Meaning, you want to let everyone in your organization tell a story, instead of just one person speaking for everyone. There are lots of ways to do this including having different blogs for different people or departments, creating content series’ around various projects, and so on. You aren’t the only host, you have a partner or a family or a group of friends all pulling together to make it a success – it’s okay to share the credit and share in the responsibility.
Here are a few things you can do right now, as soon as this webinar is over: First, start listening. You probably already have a few blogs or websites you know you visit every day, and you can subscribe to them via RSS. You can set up Google Alerts. You can even set up your listening dashboard. The first two will only take a few minutes, the dashboard will take longer though. Maybe a good Friday afternoon project!Second, send out a survey using surveymonkey or another free survey tool that asks just a couple key questions about your community’s social media use. This can jumpstart your listening by getting direct feedback about where people are going online and what kind of conversation or exchange they’d like to have with you. Remember to keep the questions as open as possible as you’ll be surprised about the honest feedback and ideas you get! Send the survey link out via email in your next enewsletter or in an email of it’s own (be sure to explain that you’re just getting started with social media and you hope to use their feedback to help you be strategic, inviting them to contribute to your work).
All photos from flickr and are licensed via creative commons.
Here are links to tools mentioned in the presentation as well as TechSoup and We Are Media, two networks where you can find many great resources.
Connect directly with me any time!
Social Media for Organizations: Enjoy Your Own Party
Social Media for Organizations: Enjoy Your Own Party<br />Amy Sample Ward<br />AmySampleWard.org<br />This webinar is part of the membership<br />series from www.lorijacobwith.com<br />