A 5-step quide to social media strategy for nonprofits

flickr/luc legay

flickr/luc legay

Many nonprofits have already dipped their toes into social media. They see others doing it and figure they should be doing it too. So they jump on Twitter and create a Facebook page. Or they put event photos on Flickr, or buy a Flipcam to get videos on YouTube. Then what?

Back up.

Grab your strategic communications plan and start over.

But first, understand that social media is not about marketing, it’s about community. Yes, nonprofits can reach influencers and raise money through these channels, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. To succeed with social media, you have to genuinely appreciate the idea of community—offering help and value with no expectation of return. (I’m not saying it’s not great if you do get support in return, just don’t demand it.) These are useful channels for building relationships.

Using social media, nonprofits can:

  • gain insights about audiences and issues
  • spread important ideas and create awareness
  • share resources and opportunities
  • build networks and social movements
  • strengthen trust in your organization

Step one–the match game

Looking over your communications plan (or your organization’s strategic plan)—identify goals that could be supported by using social media in one of the five ways above.

For instance, advocacy groups may want to use social media to build networks and social movements. Foundations may want to use them to spread ideas and create issue awareness, or share research findings. Other nonprofits may want to use them to learn more about the needs and preferences (or complaints) of the clients they serve. Some nonprofits may want to use them to deepen trusting relationships with their donors.

This little match game should highlight areas that hold the most promise for your social media use. Refine and prioritize these into a set of social media objectives (what do you’d like to accomplish).

Step two–grab the earhorn not the megaphone

Before you start investing in social media, listen to what’s already being said about your organization and your issue. Get the “feel” of these media and how people are using them.

Even if you’ve decided social media isn’t a good investment for you, every nonprofit should at least have a listening outpost. Set up Google alerts for your organization’s name, executives, news release titles, and issue keywords. Research which bloggers are writing about your issues through Alltop or Technorati and subscribe to their blog feeds.

Organizing all this through Google Reader makes it easier for a staff member to keep up with relevant online conversations. Listening is not just a one-time exercise; it should become part of your standard day-to-day operations. That means expressly making time for it (1 hour a day) in someone’s schedule. That person should routinely report significant findings not only to executives, but to all staff members. And you should think about developing a way to make sure that anything negative you hear is addressed!

What do you do with what you hear? Check out these 17 ideas from Kivi LeRoux.

Step three—who, what, and where

If you have a strategic communications plan you already know who your key audiences are. If you don’t, use your organizational strategic plan and ask these questions: What changes are we trying to make in the world? Who can make those changes happen? Those groups are your key audiences. Be very clear about what they need to do to make the changes you desire happen—those are the actions you’re aiming to trigger through your communications.

If you don’t feel that your listening outpost captures your key audiences well enough, enhance it so you can find out more about what these particular groups of people think about your organization and its work. You especially want to find out which social media are popular with these folks. Do you need to start tracking Facebook because your audiences are there? Are they Tweeting? What blogs do they follow? Are there other online communities they participate in? What kind of research do you need to do to find out where they are congregating online? It might also be helpful to scout out which social media your peers and competitors are investing in.

Once you know who you’re trying to reach, what you want them to do, and what social media they’re using—you’re more than halfway home. Remember, just developing a deeper relationship with your key audience members can be an “action” goal.

Step four—putting it all in context

There’s a huge universe of social media out there, so don’t get carried away. Stick to your objectives and key audiences. Pick out a couple of social media that offer the most promise of reaching your key audiences, then focus on going deep with those.

Once you’ve chosen them, think about the larger picture. How are these social media tactics going to integrate with your website, email strategy, publications, media relations, and special events? (Don’t forget widgets.) These are all threads in the same cloth and they need to interweave and reinforce each other. (They also need to reflect that there are human beings behind your logo.)  Write down your integration plan, even a starter time line for the next few months.

Get creative about how you repurpose content in all these media so you’re not reinventing the wheel but still providing valuable content in fresh ways.

Step five—the rubber hits the road

Now, the tricky part. Who’s going to be responsible for what? Who’s going to generate the content and when? Who’s going to do the organizational listening? Who’s going to handle IT and legal support if needed? Do you need outside expertise? How are you going to measure ROI? Who’s going to gather that data?

Are you opting for an organizational voice or are you inviting employees to participate as individuals? How will you handle negative online comments about your organization? What are the budget and staff implications? (These media may be free to use, but they require a sustained investment of staff time to be effective.)

Some people put this question as the very first one an organization ought to ask itself in the process of developing a social media strategy. I don’t. I think that once you understand if, how, and why you need social media to advance your agenda, you’ll probably find a way to shift resources to handle the workload. Maybe you can adjust your other communications commitments to free up time. In the beginning, you may need to rob Peter a bit to make room for social media. Your efforts don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to be consistent and professional.

If you want estimates about how much time Tweeting, blogging, managing a Facebook or YouTube page takes—ask one of the nonprofits successfully using these media. From my own experience, listening and Twitter take me about an hour a day, and my blog posts take 1-2 hours each.

Even with a modest investment in social media, you also probably want to create a short user-friendly policy for your organization. Keep this in simple-to-understand language. There’s a good example at the end of this helpful Mashable blog post.

These statements can help trumpet and clarify for your employees the cultural shift that participation in social media represents—toward more transparency and openness, less control of marketing message, trust-building rather than self-promotion, and more authentic, multi-way engagement with partners and potential supporters.

Now, you’re ready to start using social media strategically—more confident that your investment of time and energy will actually advance your mission and goals.


Free tool of the week: Digital Identity Workbook for nonprofits

DIM captureI’m so glad I found this gem last week when Nancy White released it on her blog. It’s too good to keep to myself another day, so I’m taking a break from my review of digital storytelling tools to share it. (Back next week with Glogster!)

It’s a new hands-on workbook for nonprofits about their digital identities—how to think about and intentionally plan for your organization’s online profile. Because your digital identity is gleaned from dozens of different online sources, you have to know what’s already out there and be strategic about what additional information/resources you want to add.

Here’s how the workbook—entitled ThisIsMe—defines digital identity.

As you use more and more online services which allow user content and discussion, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Delicious, Twitter, Google, blogs and so on, you leave a ‘digital footprint’. This ‘footprint’ is what makes up your Digital Identity– all those things which can be found out about you from the content you post, the profiles you make, the conversations you have with others and the things other people post about you.

This identity is closely tied to your organizational culture, your brand, your reputation, and your future! You can’t control it completely, but you should understand it, monitor it, and manage it as much as possible—always in an authentic way.

The workbook is a series of exercises and worksheets that lead you deeper into understanding your current digital profile and its implications for your key audiences, then to the ethical and best practice decisions you’ll need to make going forward. Ultimately, it helps you manage your digital identity and set policies that guide future organizational behavior. It also includes a helpful digital identity mapping tool (above photo).

I have yet to see a better guide to this topic, which is getting to be a MUST DISCUSS issue for many nonprofits who now use social media and web 2.5 tools. Make time to use these worksheets; have this discussion sooner rather than later.

By the way, this workbook—thanks to Creative Commons licensing—was based on an original from the UK.


31 ways for nonprofits to save money on communications

flickr/Daniel Y. Go

flickr/Daniel Y. Go

If you’re really chafing under 2009 budget constraints, try this exercise.

List all your communications projects for the rest of this budget year and prioritize each from the standpoint of how important it is in meeting your strategic communications objectives. Eliminate the bottom 20% of that list.

It may seem drastic, but it also might surprise you how little effect it has on your communications impact. There’s never been a better time to cut programs and products that don’t contribute significantly to your end goals. It can give you extra time and money to focus on more effective tactics.

Below are some other ways you can squeeze impact from a smaller budget. But first, a word of caution.

You’re top priority is always effectiveness. If you find cheap paper but it doesn’t do what you need it to do, or you find an internal staff member who can take photos but they aren’t high quality–those savings are not really savings. The goal is to explore small ways of cutting costs without lessening the impact of your communications. Keep that in mind as you look over this list of ideas.

  • Cut down on meeting time. Free your staff up to get more work done so you have to outsource less. Eliminate most information-sharing meetings by using other kinds of internal communication. Meet only when you need a decision or action.
  • Hold your staff accountable for managing their budgets. Monitor slippage and tie it to performance review.
  • Attack all areas of cost, not just what you spend out-of-pocket. Look at internal staffing/overhead costs, and ask the tough question: Would I better off outsourcing this function?
  • Curb your enthusiasm. Do what you absolutely need to do well. Then—only if you have extra time and money—take on new projects. This is a time to think about what you can take off your plate, not what you can add.
  • Find volunteers, unpaid interns, or short-term lower-paid staff to keep up with the daily routine of maintaining relationships and accurate contact data, and doing follow-up tasks. Once the routine has been explained, these workers shouldn’t require a lot of supervision.
  • Cull and update your mailing lists. You cannot believe how much postage you’ll waste if you don’t. Add “address service requested” to the mailing label of one of your newsletters (or another mailer) to improve the accuracy of your list.
  • Be ruthless about which publications you really need to produce. Don’t rely on: “We’ve always done it this way.”
  • Eliminate some of your printed publications and publish online PDFs instead, to save on printing and mailing.
  • Group print jobs together to save on press time. This means you have to plan in advance.
  • Have your printer/designer analyze everything from paper stock and size to number of halftones and colors to see if you can shave costs.
  • For important publications, ask your designers to try to leverage free or discounted paper from paper companies.
  • Take your own digital photos and video. There are plenty of online sources that can teach you to do this well. (My Thursday blog post this week will give you some resources for this.)
  • Use free online stock photos. (See my April 16 post for sources.)
  • Can you eliminate a conference or workshop and replace it with a less expensive webinar?
  • Ask your board members if they know printing or design vendors who might offer discounts or even pro bono work to your nonprofit.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel unless you have to. Adapt the great ideas of others (but absolutely no plagiarism!) There are many places online to find design inspirations for all kinds of communications.
  • Instead of attending professional conferences, make use of free professional development opportunities online in the field of communications (webinars, blogs, etc.).
  • Use every free tool you can get on the internet—photo and audio editing tools, jargon finders, Web site analytics, PitchEngine, Google Docs, SlideShare, JS-Kit, and much more. (For ideas, select “freetools” on the ImpactMax tagcloud. I highlight a new free tool every Thursday.)
  • If you’re still using a clipping bureau to track media coverage of your organization, use free online Google alerts instead. Set up alerts for your organization’s name and acronym, your CEO’s name, and other top executives’ names. You can also set up temporary alerts for special keywords related to your media relations tactics.
  • If you’re considering using a low-cost, online vendor for emails, enewsletters, teleconferences, or webinars, be sure to take advantage of the free trials they offer to test their services.
  • Small nonprofits may want to put wish lists for in-kind contributions in their newsletters (e.g., perfectly working electronics like digital cameras, video cams, printers, etc. and new office supplies—whatever is needed).
  • If you need a quick, low-cost design, consider 99 designs, where you can hold a little online contest for a project.
  • Talk to instructors at local colleges offering design courses to see if you can make the design of one of your major publications into a class assignment or contest. This takes advance planning to give instructors enough time to prepare. Be sure you control the final decision.
  • Talk to journalism or creative writing program graduate program directors to explore what kind of talented writing interns you might be able to place with your organization.
  • Cut spending on special events and galas. Think about lower cost events that have more of a programmatic context.
  • Do more fundraising through email than higher cost direct mail. (But make it permission based.)
  • Use free Web 2.0 media as alternatives to traditional paid communication channels. But remember, while they’re free, these media take staff time and thoughtful planning to use well.
  • Use email news releases rather than printed snail mail. You save on paper, printing, and postage, and reporters prefer email.
  • Explore partnerships with businesses related to your issues or in your geographic area. They can sponsor events, underwrite publications and advertising, etc. But know they will want recognition in return.
  • Leverage your staff expertise. Encourage staff members to publish articles and accept speaking engagements to help you raise your organization’s visibility.
  • Network, network, network. Partner and collaborate to cut costs. Share video cams. Share webmasters. Share copywriters.

What cost-saving ideas would you add to this list?

Thanks to LinkedIn contributors Janet de Acevedo Macdonald, Bridget Bevis, Jonathan Carter, Jill Eckhoff-King, Elizabeth Flynn, Jeffrey Kramer, Randy Milanovic, and Ed Peabody. Their smart ideas are part of this list.

CC photo credit: Daniel Y. Go


Best Practices: Web Site Design for Nonprofits

Kathy Sierra's Hierarchy of User Needs

Kathy Sierra's Hierarchy of User Needs

Download my free Best Practices eBook below!

I love this illustration by Kathy Sierra about a Web user’s Hierarchy of Needs. That flow/enchantment level give us all something to aim for—but we have to work up through the other needs first.

That’s what my free eBook Best Practices: Nonprofit Web Site Design is all about. It combines the wisdom of online Web site experts with my own experience to offer some basic best practices to help your Web site achieve the first five levels.

Too often, nonprofits are so thrilled about having developed a Web site, they stop there. They don’t invest time in evaluating and improving it once it’s up. That’s a waste of their original investment.

I recommend a thorough, top-to-bottom evaluation of your Web site every year. That’s in addition to continuously tracking important useage data. This 20-page DIY eBook is a guide to get you started. It’s certainly not exhaustive, but it’s a great starting place. It’s also a helpful resource for any nonprofit developing a new Web site.

DOWNLOAD HERE: Best Practices: Nonprofit Web Site Design


Creative Commons–A Nonprofit’s Dream




I’m hoping most of you already are familiar with Creative Commons licenses, but it’s such a great notion that everyone should know about them.

Creative Commons, a nonprofit itself,  has opened the door for other nonprofits to: 1) raid a treasure trove of FREE creative content for their communications, and 2) more quickly spread their knowledge by enlisting new emissaries.

Years ago, many of us in nonprofit communications put “All rights reserved” copyright bugs on our major publications. It was a necessary policy in those days, but one that struck me as counterproductive. Here we were, trying to market new information, yet making it more difficult for people to share what we produced.

A the same time, copyrights choked us from the other direction. If we wanted quality content—say a photo—we either had to buy it at a high price from a stock photo shop or hire a professional photographer. That’s tough on a small budget.

But, thanks to the web’s strong collaborative push, a few years ago Creative Commons introduced new legal guidelines for the public use of intellectual property—a set of free licenses that allow creators to share their work with some rights reserved. The six main types of licenses, which complement copyright laws, are explained in CC’s comic book. They address issues like attribution, non-commercial or commercial use, derivative works, and more. 

One very visible example of how this liberation of content works is flickr, where many photos are are offered for free reuse under CC licenses. (On flickr, the level of rights reserved for each photo is posted on the bottom right of the page. You can even do an advanced search that limits the search to CC licensed photos.) Most of the time, that means you have to provide attribution for the photo and a link to the photographer’s CC license page. Many of the photos on this blog are from those generous flickr photographers. 

Thanks to Creative Commons, nonprofits all over the world now have access to a whole new universe of FREE photos, slideshows, graphics, videos, documents, writing, and art. To find CC content online, use Google advanced search and select “use rights” at the bottom of the window. I highly encourage nonprofits to return the favor and publish their own communications–whenever it makes sense–under Creative Commons licenses. Use this CC license generator to create your own license.

Photo credit: Mikipedia