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A Pragmatist’s Guide to Social Media

By Julie Chapman, President and CEO of 501cTech

At 501cTECH, we understand the unique needs that nonprofit organizations face with regard to technology-from hardware to software, social media and cloud technology, we know that harnessing the right tools make achieving your organizational mission that much easier.

Recently, we revamped our own marketing plan in an effort to reach more supporters, volunteers, donors and client partners. As a nonprofit organization, we understand the importance of social media as a tool in a marketing toolkit. By itself, Facebook will not bring you more donations and Twitter will not recruit you more volunteers; but as part of your overall strategy, social media is an important element. There’s no one “silver bullet” strategy in terms of social media — what works for one organization may not work for another. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” strategy to meet all of your needs.

At 501cTECH, we have few practical rules we like to remember as far as our social media strategy goes; social media is SEXY and FUN, but you need the right technology infrastructure to make it work:
- Understand your audience
- Drink the Kool-Aid-selectively
- Build on what you already have
- Understand the risks
- Learn from others

Joining a social media network-like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, etc is FREE — that is, it is free to join. It is important to consider that monitoring, posting and responding to comments and questions on these networks will require a time investment — and a reliable computer, smart phone or tablet connection to maintain. Sites like Twitter are great if your social media manager is commuting — it’s easy to read and respond to 140-characters while riding the Metro or train.

Before you dive headfirst into social media, you should understand your audience. The Pew Research Center has a wealth of research on Internet usage in the United States. If you know that the majority of your donors are a certain age, then they may not necessarily be scouring Google+ for information about renewing their donation. If, however, you’re recruiting volunteers for an upcoming event and you know that your potential volunteers are between 18-24, you’d probably like to know that this demographic doesn’t read email.

Pick one-or a select few-social networks and do them well. Respond to questions, comments and photos. Post pictures from organizational events, run contests, and really engage your audience. Social media is about connecting with people, so make sure you’re actually connecting. It’s okay if you only connect with your audience on one network-as long as you do it well.

Reinventing the wheel can be time-consuming and unnecessary. Perhaps your organization ran a training session a few years ago, can you update and shorten your PowerPoint presentation to make it a compelling blog post? Do you have pictures from old events to add to your organization’s Facebook timeline? You certainly don’t want to rely solely on old information in your new social media presence, but you can certainly repurpose and re-imagine some of your old materials in new ways.

Social media gives everyone a voice, whether or not you like what they’re saying. By opening yourself up on the Internet, you need to recognize that people will say what they want about your organization or individuals within your organization. It’s a good idea to establish a strategy to address these potential issues through a social media use plan.

There are a TON of great resources available to your organization. Check out:
- Your Nonprofit Technology Community
- Idealware
- Network for Good

Social Media alone will not be the silver bullet for your organization’s marketing strategy — you’ll likely need to continue to send out mass mailings and emails and continue to make phone calls, but it’s important to remember that we live in a world of diverse communications, and everyone likes to be reached in a different way. Use social media as part of your strategy, but not as the only part of your communications strategy.

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