Thoughts on Nonprofit Land’s “Social Media Pitching”

About a week ago I decided to do a Twitter search for “nonprofit” and found people tweeting “Nonprofit Land >> Social Media Pitching“.  With the number of people tweeting the link, I thought I would see what was there.

Adrienne Royer discusses the usefulness of social media to effectively fundraise and build relationships.  She brings up how Twitter can be particularly useful in establishing and building relationships with the local media.  However, she oversimplifies the strategic use of Twitter and other social media tools, thereby lending support for her argument against the usefulness of social media consultants.  This is a troubling considering that most of the people I know who work for nonprofits are a bit more old school—still heavily relying on stuffing envelopes and print press releases!

A few disagreements:

  1. Royer isn’t sure if nonprofits will ever be able to connect tweets with the bottom line.  This is already happening with for-profit businesses using Twitter.  While one tweet isn’t likely to snag the big fish, the building of a relationship over time may yield a positive response to an ask.  This can all be tracked through Google analytics or another web analytics program.
  2. Twitter is good for building relationships, but it shouldn’t be thought of as exclusively for reaching the local media for two reasons.  First, not all of the local media is on Twitter and also (I’m speculating here), that someone on Twitter is more likely to reach non-traditional media makers like bloggers, podcasters, and videographers.  Those who read my entry earlier this week on the Boston Globe may know my bias: nonprofits need to effectively use online channels because it is the way the world communicates and it will be more cost-effective.   Building relationships with the media, while important (and traditional), isn’t the be-all, end-all of success.  Building relationships directly with the people who care and believe in what you do is more direct and more effective.  Nonprofits are usually very savvy and creative when building communities; and building a following on Twitter or on another network online should be a natural progression.
  3. Yes, Adrienne Royer is correct that there are a lot of social media consultants out there selling their services, but I disagree with her that they don’t serve a purpose and their services are “pointless.”  While nonprofits are veterans at building communities, they aren’t always the most internet savvy.  Their work serves the public need and they have experience building social movements in their specific disciplines.  However, most of this has been done at cocktail parties, fundraisers, speeches made on soapboxes, and a few connections from graduate school.  The internet and the various social outlets are populist, but strategic planning with the help of an “expert” may spare the amateur efforts notably seen when established organizations begin their first foray into more non-traditional outlets.  I discussed this previously when talking an article in the November 2008 issue of Fast Company.
  4. Royer oversells how easy it is to do. “Social media is no different from real conversations. You don’t need to create elaborate new strategies on how to reach social media users. Just think of social media as a very large townhall or church. Information spreads on the interwebs the same way that it does in real life. In fact watching a message get retweeted is a lot like playing the playground game of telephone.”  While tools like Twitter and social networks like Facebook are free, the time it takes to develop compelling content and build the network is substantial.  Everything is measurable.  Through click-paths, an organization will know how many people are coming from Twitter and completing some kind of online transaction.  Web analytics can tell an organization how many people came from a specific link and if that traffic is yielding results.  A consultant who is worth the money will work with the organization to establish metrics and to define success.

Royer linked to Bulldog Reporter’s “Superior Social Media Pitches” which mentions two suggestions “Dive in and engage—test different social media tools” and “Admit ignorance—ask before committing social media snafus.”  Since nonprofits are traditionally understaffed and under resourced, and prioritization and maximization of time are essential, there simply may not be a staff member who has the time.  The people I know who are working for nonprofits, like baseball players, are creatures of habit.  If something isn’t broken, they don’t fix it.  If something has worked, they are reluctant to change, especially if the resources are not easily available.  The old guard of nonprofit management executives that have built the organizational structures around the United States that encourage charitable giving are be visionaries; they should not pass up opportunities to innovate.

If someone on the staff of a nonprofit—particularly the marketing, communications, and public relationship staff members—doesn’t know the tools, strategies for communication, or time hasn’t been allocated to do this, it’s already too late.  The time was yesterday and it’s time to catch up and integrate social media into the overall marketing and communications plan.

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