Why Nonprofit Communicators Need Social Media

By Melissa Underwood

A three-person team of twentysomethings spend all day networking on Facebook, MySpace, and other social media outlets to do their part to save helpless animals. They’re not just animal welfare advocates; social networking is their job.

The Humane Society, the nation’s largest animal protection organization, jumped on the social media bandwagon in 2006 with a MySpace page to draw attention to animal welfare issues.

Two years later, three nonprofit communicators work in evolving full-time positions using multiple social media networks to build an online community around the organization’s mission, recruit supporters, fundraise, create e-newsletter lists and promote e-advocacy campaigns.

Nonprofit communicators might be wary of taking the plunge into social media. How am I going to persuade my old-timer boss? Why should I waste my time? What is Facebook?

Heather Mansfield, owner of DIOSA Communications, answered those questions in June at the Making Media Connections Conference in Chicago. Hosted by the Community Media Workshop, about 250 nonprofit communicators learned how to get past management fears by “doing the grunt work,” dedicating 10 hours per week to updating the sites and building an online network.

Getting started

Carie Lewis loves animals and the Web, but she’s also a social networking addict.

“We want to channel people’s anger and frustration into taking action,” Lewis said. “Social networks—that’s what they are there for.”

The Humane Society hired Lewis two years ago to “dig into social networks” and find out how they could help the organization.

Lewis, the Humane Society’s Internet marketing manager, runs the Web 2.0 and online advertising campaigns. The two other recent hires on her team run paid advertising and social media outreach.

If you’re ready to dig into social networks, you need to know about four social media sites: MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Change.org.

1. MySpace is the third-most visited Web site by Internet users in the United States. You can create your own MySpace page with photos, videos, favorite nonprofit groups, activist of the month and other features. The nonprofit organizations page, with more than 33,000 friends, serves as a portal to other nonprofits on MySpace. It’s a good starting point to learn how to use MySpace and build a community of supporters.

Tips from Mansfield: Reserve a MySpace URL that matches your Web site’s URL, use your organization’s logo for the MySpace profile image, use your blog to inspire action, promote your MySpace blog using RSS and link to your organization’s Web site.

2. Facebook has 90 million active users and grows by 250,000 new users each day. It’s easy to start by making a profile, adding a photo and some details. The Humane Society’s Facebook page, with more than 15,000 fans, features the organization’s logo, photos from campaigns and videos from celebrities. But it didn’t start here. It tested the waters with MySpace first.

Tips from Mansfield: Use your Facebook page to drive traffic to your Web site, build e-newsletter lists, promote e-advocacy campaigns and create a cause that generates donations. Here are some business features from Facebook.

3. YouTube is the fourth-most visited Web site by Internet users in the United States, and any qualifying nonprofit can apply to the YouTube Nonprofit channel program. It allows a nonprofit to build its own channel to connect with supporters, volunteers and donors for free. “Video is a powerful way to show your organization’s impact and needs, and with a designated nonprofit channel on YouTube, you can deliver your message to the world’s largest online video community,” according to YouTube.

Tips from Mansfield: Apply for the YouTube nonprofit channel program, promote your Web site and use your organization’s logo.

4. Change.org is the only social networking site specifically built for nonprofits. More than 1,000 nonprofits have signed up with 100,000 active members. Nonprofits can build fundraising pages with widgets, create virtual organizations around social issues and fundraise for projects.

Tips from Mansfield: Write testimonials about your work, post photos and video, and post fundraising projects.

Bypassing management hurdles

So now that you know about the four big sites, what do you do with an old curmudgeon of a boss blocking your entry into social media? Mansfield advises nonprofit communicators to embrace the chaos, (it’s not going away), let go of their fear and control, and hand over measurement tools.

Lewis did her homework before running to the boss for approval.

“We dove into these social network projects under the radar to first see what worked and what didn’t,” Lewis said.

After a year of experimenting, Lewis went to the executives and revealed the results. Donations, new members and the overall success of the social media experiment persuaded management to hire two more staffers.

Republished with permission from ragan.com