Social media vehicles such as Facebook and Twitter can serve as highly effective and affordable marketing tools for nonprofits, but the strategies need to be implemented properly. This week we invited Erin Bury, social media expert, Community Manager of Sprouter to talk about how nonprofits can start seeing results from their social media programs even with a limited budget. Read on for Erin’s answers to some common questions and concerns about social media and nonprofits.
Erin Bury, Community Manager, Sprouter
Q: What are some of the trends you're seeing in the way organizations use social media?
A trend I have noticed is the use of social media across the entire organization. Instead of having one person in charge of social media, organizations have learned that the collective power of everyone at the organization is a lot more significant than one person's network. It is important to encourage everyone within your charitable organization or nonprofit to use Twitter on behalf of the company and to really be out there and raising support online. This is important because everyone at your organization that's online is a touch point for your supporters and for your audience. Empowering them to carry your message through will be a lot more effective than just having one person designated to do social media.
Q: What is driving this trend? Are more people getting comfortable using social media or is it because organizations have created more sophisticated strategies around the use social media in their organizations?
I think it's a mix of both. I think that people are getting smarter. In the early days people would tweet anything which did not matter as they only had forty followers. But as your following grows you realize that everything you say should be vetted for whether it's appropriate for your audience and whether it reflects positively on you and your personal brand. That just means things like no swearing or criticizing your competitors online. Companies have definitely stepped up their policies and started to implement social media guidelines, which in many cases are short and simple. Zappos, the online shoe retailer, has a social media policy that says "just use common sense." The company relies on its employees to be smart and to understand that anything they say can reflect poorly on the brand. For the most part this strategy has been highly successful for Zappos. Other companies that might not be as lenient or accepting of social media definitely have more extensive policies that touch on issues such as whether you need to put a disclaimer in your Twitter account, or if you're allowed to use it during the day, and what kind of verbiage you can use around the company. Organizations have definitely gotten a lot more sophisticated and along with that, Twitter users and employees have also become aware of what is appropriate and what's not with social media.
Q: Do you need an extensive budget to have a relevant and continued presence in social media?
In terms of actual money spent, no you don't. You can sign up for a Twitter account or Facebook fan page for free. You can get a nice looking WordPress blog theme for free. However, for anything on top of that you will need a little bit of a budget. For example, a custom newsletter, blog theme, website or logo will all cost extra. However, social media is largely inexpensive and you can decide how much you want invest into all the customizations. The biggest resource that social media requires is time, which definitely has a big impact on smaller organizations. For example, there are only 4 people working at Sprouter and I am the only person doing marketing communications, PR, events, and customer service, so social media is only a small piece of what I do every day. The time that I'm devoting to it is the biggest social media resource that we have to account for and the money that is put into my salary for these hours is coming out of the social media budget. So I think you can definitely implement social media programs on a budget, but you just have to understand that money is not the only factor that goes into it. Time, people, and resources are almost more important than how much it actually costs.
Q: Is it helpful to set specific strategy and metrics for measuring the impact of social media rather than treating it as a brand building and engagement tool?
Yes, I think you definitely need to have a strategy in mind when you use social media. Using social media for the sake of using social media is not effective. Using social media because you have specific objectives to achieve and specific metrics that you're reporting on every week is effective. For example, if your goal on Twitter is to get 100 people to come to an event and you only publicize on Twitter and you get 100 people then you've just hit your objective. You've solely promoted via Twitter and you got those 100 attendees, so you can clearly see that Twitter was an effective tool. When you organize your next event you would most likely be sure to use Twitter. If for example nobody signs up for your event, you're going to know that a) your audience isn't big enough, b) you're audience isn't made up of the right people or c) Twitter is not a great place for you to promote your event. It's a matter of testing and measuring everything you do, tying it back to objectives and adjusting your strategy as necessary. If Twitter is not working for you, don't keep beating a dead horse and find a different way to build your brand.
How can nonprofits integrate social media into their global communication strategy?
It's important for large organizations with multiple offices to have a high level cohesive communications plan. This means taking policies from the CEO and then implementing them on a local level, but also having enough leeway to let the different regions do their own thing. For example, if you are a charity with a presence in Vancouver or Boston you obviously want to get involved in the Stanley Cup celebrations, or if you were in Vancouver during the Olympics you would want to find a way to get involved. Basically, it's all about having goals set up at a global level but giving people the ability to run with local campaigns that capitalize on local trends and current events.