Top mobile social media apps for nonprofits

Flickr/Irish Typepad

Reminder: If you don’t have a great website and email strategy, you probably shouldn’t be focusing on social media yet. Those have to be your first priorities.

It’s predicted that by the end of 2014, mobile (smart phone and tablet) access to the web will have outstripped desktop access. Think about that in relation to your current website and social media strategy.

It’s time to start thinking/acting mobile.  Even if you’re aiming for older audiences, you can’t ignore mobile—tablets are becoming very popular.

I just took a great webinar from Heather Mansfied, author of Social Media for Social Good, on the most useful social networking mobile apps for nonprofits and I want to share the top 8 with you. These apps are essential content management tools when you’re away from your desktop.

But first, a couple of pieces of sage advice from Heather.

  • Real-time stories rock. Understand that your communications role via mobile is that of a 24/7 reporter. You need to keep your eyes open for storytelling opportunities that you can post, update, tweet, and upload on the spot (rather than next week when you have time).
  • For small nonprofits with tiny staffs, probably the most important entry into mobile is the creation of a mobile website. She recommended doing that through mofuse.com, where it costs about $8 a month to launch a mobile site.

Top 8 mobile social media apps

Now for the social media apps nonprofits should consider downloading and using. Most nonprofits won’t need all of these because few organizations have a presence on every social networking site. Where on the social web you invest your time and money depends on which sites make the most sense for you in light of your strategic communications plan. But once you’ve got a presence on one or more social media, use these apps to add and edit content on the run.

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. Location-based apps: Foursquare (Gowalla–more a travel guide; Google Latitude–which will probably merge with Google Places and Google+ brands at some point). Location-based nonprofits (museums, parks, etc.) have just scratched the surface of these apps’ potential. Great for activism. But be very clear whether you’re using them as an individual or an organization—it can get messy.
  4. Photo-sharing apps: Flickr works best with mobile right now, but other options include Twitpic, Twitrpix, and Instagram
  5. Video-sharing apps: Twitvid and Youtube
  6. Live-streaming apps: USTREAM, but a warning from Heather that this is hard to use on iphone 3. Great for events and conferences. Heather believes live streaming apps will get better and much more popular very soon. Nonprofits will even start their own TV stations as this medium gets more traction.
  7. Payment app: Square (allows any smart phone to accept credit card payments for 2.75% fee, with next day direct deposit to your bank account.)
  8. Free group-texting app: GroupMe (great for working with volunteers)

My advice to communications staff is  to download one app at a time and get used to using it. Once that one becomes routine, download another—if that makes sense. For instance, maybe you’ve got conferences coming up that you want to do live tweeting from—so you might want to download the Twitter app, learn to live tweet, and then download Twitrpix or Twitvid apps and learn how to use those with your phone camera.  The app combinations are endless, but if you learn one at a time you won’t feel overwhelmed.

The most important thing to remember is the 24/7 reporter role you play for your organization. To do that well, you’re going to have to learn some new tricks! These 8 apps are one way to start.

Thanks, Heather!

Creative Commons photo credit: Irish Typepad

The CEO bully pulpit: Commentaries in the digital age

Flickr/southtyrolean

I’ve wanted to post for a while about one of my favorite media tactics for nonprofits and foundations. I guess it’s one of my favorites because I’ve been lucky enough to work with some courageous CEOs and executive directors who were willing to use their stature and credibility in the community to move the needle on social issues—everything from renewable energy to the importance of arts for school children.

I call this media tactic the bully pulpit, and you should only use it if you and your board are comfortable taking a public stand on an issue.

As more foundations and nonprofits understand that information is one of their chief assets, their leaders are using online tools like blogs and twitter to share their knowledge and perspectives with a wider audience. One simple sharing tactic is the submission of opinion editorials or commentaries to online media outlets—both mainstream and niche.

Most mainstream media have robust online websites, and nearly all include invitations for people from the community to submit opinion pieces or commentaries for online publication. Think about the media outlets—and don’t forget the specialty media—that are read by the audiences you’re trying to reach.

First, let me remind you that any tactic has to fit within your larger communications strategy. For instance, if you’re trying to change an issue frame on a particular issue, or bring new information and wisdom to light about a public policy, this tactic may be of use to you. If you’re trying to change public policy, this can work too, but be sure to adhere to nonprofit guidelines about advocacy.

Part one: Placing the commentary

This tactic actually has two parts, both equally important. First, you need to write and place the commentary. That involves five steps:

1) Clarify what you want to change (behavior, policy, awareness) as a result of the commentary and who can actually make that change (your key audiences).

2) Thoughtfully pick which media outlets reach those people and look over those outlets’ submission policies.

3) Think about timing (if you’re submitting more than one, do you want a blitz or a stream? Do you want to tie this to an event?).

4) Write a commentary tailored to each media outlet and the audience it attracts, which includes understanding your main talking points and path of persuasion, as well as the commentary guidelines for each outlet. Most op-eds run between 500-800 words.

5) Submit the piece online, including a brief explanation of who you are. (NOTE: Most outlets can take up to three weeks to publish op-eds. They may ask you for a photo.)

For each of the outlets you think are good matches for you key audiences, take time to read through the last few months of  published op-eds—both from  their editorial staff and members of the community—to get a sense of what kinds of issues and approaches each outlet is interested in. (Also, make sure no one has already written what you’re planning to write.)

Then do a topic search of their news for the past two months on the issue you want to write about. Pay special attention to what they’ve published about this issue in the past two weeks—there may be a news hook for your piece in there. For instance, if you want to write about education, it’s important to know that a new educational achievement report just came out last week—you may want to tie your commentary to that article.

Part two: Targeted recycling

Part two kicks in when the commentary is published. It’s great when visitors to the media website happen to read your piece, but don’t rely on serendipity for getting your key audiences to the website. Let them know once it’s been published through a short email with a link included. Don’t look at the email as a way to toot your own horn, think of it as sharing interesting content with potential readers. (Check to see if the media outlet requires link rights. Sometimes, these articles go offline after a couple of weeks unless you have obtained those rights.)

If you want to get even more personal, get reprint permission rights from the media outlet and send it out to key people with a personal note attached. (Be aware, reprint rights can cost money. Be sure to ask if they offer a nonprofit discount.)

More likely than not, this post-publication recycling of the op-ed is going to be the best way to ensure that those people you really want to see it actually do.

You can use online commentaries to create buzz by submitting different pieces to different media on the same topic in a short period–3-4 weeks. Or you can create a steady stream over a few months, or aim at quarterly placements that keep an issue in front of the public.

If you have any other advice for nonprofit leaders who write commentaries—please share it below!

CC photo credit: southtyrolean

Nonprofits: Become a personal “content” shopper for your audiences

shopping bags

flickr/Somewhat Frank

Content curation isn’t new, even though a lot is being written about it these days. Some nonprofits have been curating content on their websites and blogs for quite a while…maybe without exactly calling it that.

Content curation is filtering, selecting, and/or remixing and reorganizing online content, typically to meet the needs and interests of particular audiences.

Why is this practice valuable? Because none of us has time to comb through the web for the bits we’re most interested in. Think of this service as akin becoming a personal shopper for your audiences—someone who finds the stuff they love and pulls it conveniently together for them, saving them hours, frustration…and 500 bags!

Ever since Clay Shirky’s observation about information overload being a problem not of too much information but of filter failure, folks—including the corporate sector—have begun paying more attention to the crucial role of filtering quality content to serve their customers/supporters. Now that about anyone can publish and the web is rife with information of questionable quality/credibility, this filtering role has taken on even more value.

If you look around, content curation is everywhere—from “10 best restaurant” recommendations to magazine features on sustainable gardening tips to blogs that provide the latest tech news for geeks. Remember, this isn’t just collecting, it’s selecting. Good curation is more than aggregation. Your supporters want you to provide them only with the cream of the crop.

It also involves organization. Using the personal shopper metaphor—you have to decide whether your clients prefer to view outfits (where the shoes, tops, bottoms, etc. are put together by you), functional categories (all the shoes, all the tops, etc.), or everything grouped by color. You want to make it as easy for them as possible to understand what parts of your content they’re going to like the most.

If you want to get more intentional about curation, first become your key audience. Think from their perspective about what information they want and need related to your issue or cause. What will help them make the decisions they face in their lives? What will reward them and make life easier? What will amaze and delight them?

Here are a few examples of blog and website curation that hit the mark. They’re audience-centric, selective, and presented in a way that provides enough information about relevance and significance for viewers to decide what links to click. These examples range from simple lists to broader topical contexts.

  • Wild Apricot blog’s monthly list of free webinars well serves their audience of nonprofits interested in technology and social media. Professional development content is very relevant (especially the word FREE). They further help you filter your interests by telling you both the date/times of the events and a bit about the topic, so you can go right to the content that fits your schedule and interests.
  • The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog curates news and information about conservation and climate change, covering everything from migratory birds to coral reefs and rain forests. They include original content, links to interesting online features, news from around the world, and reader comments. But it all centers on conservation , their core work.
  • The National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There blog helps parents think of creative ways to get kids away from their computers and video games to spend time outdoors. They want young people to build a relationship with the natural world that will benefit both the kids and the planet…and develop potential future donors to NWF!
  • Another great curatorial site is mnartists.org, an online marketplace for Minnesota artists and a clearinghouse for almost anything art related that’s happening in the state—from competitions to concerts to community events. Because the site’s so good at curating content useful to artists, it’s built a large, active following.

My curatorial aim in tweeting is to share the best resources and advice I find in my daily online reading about nonprofits, communications, and social media. The intended audience is nonprofit communications staff, and my goal is to do some of the heavy “sifting” for them. Organizations can use Facebook the same targeted way. You already know that from all the pages you’ve “liked” that provide you with continuous content related to a favorite book, TV program, movie, celebrity, etc. Even advertising is curated on Facebook.

As repositories of important information, nonprofits and foundations can be great content curators. Not only does their knowledge about their causes allow them to spot the best online resources, but they can also curate their own original information.

For example, does your website categorize your information by type—publications, links, news releases, speeches, video? Why not gather your best resources from those categories on specific topics of interest to your audience? (Few viewers come to your site eager to learn about your publications or news releases, they’ve got a subject in mind.) Put it all in one place for them—and that includes links to your social media channels if they contain relevant information. (Don’t forget the share buttons!) Here’s an example from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—a news page on multicultural health issues for journalists who write for Latino and African American readerships.

Another way to curate content is to display it by its popularity. You can do this by tracking clicks or by actually opening up your content to “Like.” It may feel risky, but it will be a great source of intelligence (rather than guesswork) about what kinds of content matter most to your audiences. Lots of retail sites have already begun to display their most Liked wares (e.g., Urban Outfitters). In the nonprofit world, Wild Apricot blog does a great job of this—allowing viewers to vote on which content they like best and then highlighting that content each month.

Chances are you’re already doing some kind of content curation on your website, blog, and social media. I hope this post helps bring sharper focus to that practice. It’s crucial expertise to have as the amount of online information grows every day.

CC photo credit: Somewhat Frank


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Nonprofit storytelling—beware of impact stories that don’t link to public policy

flickr/armadillo444

flickr/armadillo444

You can’t swing a cat these days (I never would) without hitting a storytelling workshop for nonprofits. It’s kind of the new silver bullet for conveying organizational impact.

I’m a big fan of stories, but I’m a little concerned about the approach the nonprofit sector seems to be taking.

What concerns me is the drive to tell episodic stories of individual success without tying them into a larger thematic policy context. Making an emotional connection is essential, but it’s not enough.

Very few of these impact stories reveal underlying causes, or assign responsibility for those causes to policymakers and the citizens who vote for them. This tends to reinforce the dominant American frame of individual rather than societal responsibility for the solution of social problems—a frame that the media has helped create and perpetuate.

By telling stories about their impact on individual lives, nonprofits and foundations may be shooting themselves in the foot with that silver bullet. Such storytelling can garner dollars and support (no small thing, I realize), but it doesn’t necessarily lead to social change. Nonprofits have to get more intentional about using impact stories to achieve both their short-term survival goals and their long-term social change goals.

Often, annual reports, newsletters, web sites, or videos that string together emotionally evocative stories about how a nonprofit has helped a few of its beneficiaries are fashioned for fund-raising. They pluck heartstrings, but don’t connect those people’s situations to the larger context of public decision making. In fact, they can leave readers and viewers with the impression that solutions to social problems are up to individuals and nonprofits, rather than to the public.

For instance, a nonprofit tells a moving impact story about a troubled youth who’s turned her life around. The nonprofit may get a temporary boost from that, but the story does nothing to show the larger context that led to her troubles or to explain how citizens acting together can eliminate the obstacles she faced. It’s all about her success at bettering herself and the organization’s role in those efforts. There’s no societal accountability built in.

Without tying stories of individuals to our collective responsibility for the policies and systems that have shaped their lives—we’re unintentionally reinforcing the notion that their troubles were their own doing. At the same time, we’re preventing audience members from making the connection between themselves and the people in the story. They may feel momentary sympathy and admiration for the story’s protagonist, but they are still just consumers of the story, not participants in it. We need to help citizens understand they play an influential role in any story about social issues.

The news media are notorious for gobbling up episodic stories about individuals. Media relations experts may tell you that’s the way to get headlines, but it’s not the way to change society. Most news stories strip away context to a point where the goal is provoking a superficial emotional response, certainly not empowering citizens to take action against injustice.

Here are a few broad-stroke examples of how news (and advertising) use individual responsibility frames in their storytelling.

  1. Though study after study shows that public policies and systems are a huge influence in the American obesity problem, public discussion about this issue still focuses on dieting and self-restraint as the solution. If someone’s overweight—it’s their own fault and their responsibility to change.
  2. In the environmental realm, much more attention is paid to how we should each change our individual behavior than to how we can collectively make big  policy changes that would have much deeper impact.
  3. In health care, the emphasis is on individuals making sure they get tested for disease rather than targeting the causes of those diseases through public policy change.

The last thing the nonprofit sector should be doing is feeding the media episodic stories—that’s counterproductive to its long-term goals for social change. It’s easy to jump on the impact storytelling bandwagon—especially when you’re hard pressed for funding. But think carefully about the real story you’re trying to tell. Don’t let it just be about one person’s struggle or one family’s success or one neighborhood’s make-over. Ensure citizens understand their role in righting wrongs and exactly what actions they need to take.

One way is to tell the individual’s story first—grabbing the reader’s attention—then concisely explain who’s responsible for creating these conditions, what the potential solutions are, and how the public can drive toward those solutions. Weave in a compelling statistic or two—appeal to both sides of the brain.

Please read this recent interview with Shanto Iyengar, director of the Political Communication Lab at Stanford University and the author of Is Anyone Responsible, on the difference between episodic and thematic stories and how they influence citizen understanding of public issues. Remember his remarks when you’re writing web copy, news releases, video scripts, and anything else where you feature stories.

I’m going to be covering other aspects of issue framing for nonprofits and foundations in future posts.

CC photo credit: armadillo444

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Free tool of the week: PitchEngine lets you create and distribute social media releases

pitchengine

I blogged a while back about the desirability of nonprofits and foundations using social media releases rather than traditional press releases to share their big news with media. I know social media releases are still an emerging tool for many, but PitchEngine is a dandy way to try it out–free!

Social media releases efficiently organize of a variety of online resources to make the journalist’s job easier. In the previous post I gave you a template for developing your own social media releases, but PitchEngine does all that for you, and more. It has a great template that you plug all your information into, it hosts your release, and offers you many ways to share your release with media, friends, supporters, etc. Four short how-to videos get you started.

PitchEngine is billed as a place for PR pros to get together with journalists, because the service can be used by public relations practitioners AND by journalists trolling for story ideas. But it’s also a cool tool for nonprofit communicators to consider using. Your free release is active for 30 days, then is deleted–unless you sign up for a paid newsroom archive. For now, just use the release building template, share your release with your key media contacts through their email function, and use any of their other distribution methods that make sense for your organization. Experiment and see what happens. (If demand warrants–you can always sign up for the archive function later.) They also send your release out through their PitchFeed.

Next time you have a big enough story, with online resources you’d like to include (photos, slideshows, videos, bookmarks, links, etc.)–simply sign up for and try out PitchEngine. There’s a built-in Twitter function that lets anyone immediately tweet it, and if your organization has social media pages there are also opportunities to automatically share a summary of the release on those pages. You’ll end up with a much richer and more engaging release and very efficient distribution flexibility. As as Social Media Today says: social media relations is clean, green, and smart!

Media coverage + handwritten note = powerful touch for nonprofits

flickr/klmontgomery

flickr/klmontgomery

When you combine the power of the handwritten note with the impact of objective media coverage, you can make a memorable impression on your key funders, supporters, potential supporters, and partners. It’s all about building stronger relationships.

If you’re fortunate enough to receive positive media coverage, leverage it by attaching a short, personal hand-written note to a copy of the article and sending it to the people you want to see it. That may only be a handful of people. This isn’t mass production; it’s human touch. You can also do this with media articles that don’t mention your organization but that cover points you want particular people to understand.

On your note, include the big message that you want them to take away from the article—without sounding institutional. This is you talking to a friend. It may take a little longer than sending emails with links or scans, but it will leave a more lasting impression. People read these personal touch communications in a different way than they do an email. (Who among us doesn’t love to see in our mailbox—amid the junk and business mail—a hand-addressed envelope?)

Don’t hesitate to use handwritten notes for other important communications where you want a more personal feel—especially thank you’s! It’s a great practice to send them to reporters who have done a good job covering your issue or organization. (They get a lot of story pitches, but very few thank you’s.)

CC photo credit: klmontgomery

Nonprofit news: Cultivate reporters through online comments

flickr/JoeThorn

flickr/JoeThorn

 

All of us have watched the huge shifts in news media over the past months. Locally, the questionable fates of our two print dailies have led some to wager we’ll have no major printed newspaper in the Twin Cities within five years…maybe sooner. That’s a possible scenario in many other large metropolitan areas as well. James Surowiecki had an interesting piece about the implications of all this in the New Yorker in December 08.

Meanwhile, online 24/7 news sites like MinnPost, the Minnesota Independent, and TwinCities Daily Planet now attract large readerships. Those numbers are expected to rise as print dailies decline. In a recent big move, the Knight and Minneapolis Foundations started a $100,000 challenge grant to support MinnPost’s reporting on important community issues.

Hmmm—maybe it’s time to rethink the way you cultivate relationships with the media and position yourself as an expert on your issues. (By the way, Kivi LeRoux Miller offers a great little guide to becoming a media resource.)

It used to be, you’d take reporters to coffee then keep in touch through press releases, phone calls, and emails. Today, you’ve got another choice. You can start participating in their online conversations. If you ever wanted a chance to sit down after an article was written, and talk to the reporter about it—now you can.

First, research local online news sites and popular news bloggers within and outside those sites. (Number of comments is one measure of popularity.) Track your issue—and maybe your competitors or partners as well—in those sources through live feeds and alerts to find out who’s writing about these topics. There may be only 2-3 key reporters/bloggers you need to develop relationships with.

If they’re bloggers, follow them and start commenting on posts related to your issue. If reporters allow comments about their articles on news sites, chime in usefully. If they Twitter, follow them. If they accept citizen commentaries, submit one.

Don’t send them comments every day or even every week; you don’t want to be seen as a spammer. And don’t blatantly promote yourself or your institution. Simply offer useful insights, resources, new angles, and even differing opinons (stay professional and polite). The content of your comments is all important—don’t comment if you don’t have anything meaningful to add. Tell the truth; your credibility and reputation are at stake. You will be making these comments under your own name.

Do this commenting regularly and well, and chances are reporters will start looking at you as a resource on this issue. Like any social media process, nothing happens overnight. So, keep at this over time. The bonus is that you regularly will be getting valuable viewpoints and knowledge about your issue into the online news flow. Comments can be the source of a follow-up article or even an invitation to write a commentary.

The key to doing this efficiently is to concentrate on the few reporters or bloggers who get the most exposure with the audiences you want to reach. Spend some time researching this, then make use of your expertise and experience. It’s actually fun!

CC photo credit: Joe Thorn