By John Kenyon
"Social media is content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies.
At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It's a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers.
Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal and business use."
Nonprofits are all about relationships and can use all of the supporters they can find. As the above definition says, social media helps organizations form and strengthen relationships online. Social media facilitates engaging new audiences and provides an opportunity to know what people are saying about an organization or issue. If you are not listening via social media, you are missing out on potential donors, valuable resources and important insights into how your organization is both viewed and run.
To utilize social media successfully, nonprofits have to change the way they communicate. There is a communication paradigm shift with social media, moving from the one-to-many monologue to a many-to-many dialogue. With social media, nonprofits need to shift from blasting their messages to engaging in conversations and building relationships.
In order to have a conversation, organizations must not only talk, they must listen. I like the line about “You were given two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk” – this is especially true with social media. Listening involves not only monitoring social media sources, but looking at your website and email metrics to understand what content resonates with your audiences.
First Things First
While social media provides exciting opportunities, the foundation of an organization’s online presence is its website and email communications. A website is the world’s window into an organization and email is how organizations keep in touch with stakeholders online. It makes little sense to engage in social media activities if an organization doesn’t have an effective website.
Tools (such as Google Analytics) that help an organization monitor website traffic and tracking tools integrated into bulk email software (such as Constant Contact) are where an organization must start. If an organization does not know its top five website pages or its three most popular email topics, its has some work to do before going down the social media road.
Listening via Social Media
The primary tactics of social media (as gathered by Beth Kanter, myself and others for the We Are Media workshop series) are: Listening, Engaging, Social Content, Generating Buzz and Multi-Channel Movement Building. As an organization goes up this ladder of activities, the time and resources required also increase as shown here:
Listening is the first step an organization should take towards getting involved in social media. There are several tools that can help an organization listen to social media activity: Google Alerts, Technorati, RSS readers, Twitter search and aggregators/dashboards.
Google Alerts allows monitoring of words and phrases relevant to an organization, such as the org name, names of its leaders, names of authorities and/or thought leaders in its field and keywords that cover its area of focus. With these alerts, organizations are notified when the words or phrases they choose are mentioned on the internet. Tip: Put phrases and names in quotes, such as “Cynthia Leonard” – without the quotes you would get every mention of anyone named Cynthia on the web. See alerts.google.com.
Technorati is the Google of blogs. It not only tracks blogs, but assigns them an “authority” rating based on a variety of criteria including number of readers, inbound links to its content, etc. It is important that organizations “listen” to blogs that cover their focus area. Go to Technorati and enter in words or phrases that cover the area(s) of the org’s work, (i.e., “youth arts Pittsburgh”). Technorati will then return a list of blogs that cover or mention the words/phrases. A user may then sort the listing by authority number and review the top 30 or so that come up and see which ones might be useful or important for him or her to follow. See www.technorati.com.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a way for websites and blogs to push out or syndicate their content. An RSS feed provides the content which viewers access via an RSS reader. Once an organization identifies the blogs and websites it wants to follow, it can then add them to (subscribe to them via) an RSS reader. Rather than a person visiting his or her 15 favorite blogs/sites individually to see new content, an RSS reader automatically gathers that content. People subscribe to a website’s RSS feed which then sends out (syndicates) new content when it is added. As shown below with Google Reader, an RSS reader shows the headline and part of the post or story, allowing users to scan for content that interests them. See www.whatisrss.com.
Search.twitter.com is used to search for organization’s name and important related terms to see what people are talking about. For example, the American Heart Association recently conducted a search on twitter for “stroke”. It gave the organization valuable insight into what people are saying and helped it refine its program and messages. Searching for keywords on a regular basis is a great way to keep abreast of the conversations people are having. (Beyond listening on Twitter, having a presence on Twitter allows organizations to connect to others who are interested in their missions and to hear about resources they might otherwise not know about). www.twitter.com
Social Media Aggregators/Dashboards are tools that give you one place to go to see all of your social media channels. These include (but are not limited to) Seesmic, HootSuite, Tweetdeck and NetVibes. They allow you to monitor and update Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and other channels as well as monitor mentions of keywords or phrases. These tools give you one place to go without having to visit each site individually. They vary in their functionality and the channels they support. Below I list some articles that discuss these services.
I encourage all organizations to use these tools to begin listening. Below are a few additional resources for more information about nonprofits and social media. If you can devote an hour or two a week, that’s great, but even a few minutes a week can provide valuable insights and new connections. I wish you all the best in your online endeavors!
Social Media Resources:
www.wearemedia.org (social media curriculum for nonprofits)
www.bethkanter.org Beth Kanter’s blog
www.nten.org (nonprofit tech webinars, reports, discussions and annual conference)
www.idealware.org (“Consumer Reports” for nonprofit software)
www.techsoup.org (nonprofit tech articles, community discussions)
10 Apps for Monitoring Social Media
Difference Between TweetDeck, Hootsuite and Seesmic
TweetDeck v. Seesmic v. Hootsuite
JOHN KENYON is a technology educator and strategist who’s worked with nonprofits for over 20 years providing advice, teaching seminars and writing articles about technology. He authored the Effective Online Communications chapter in the new book Managing Technology to Meet your Mission (Wiley, 2009). In 2009 he helped build and deliver the We Are Media workshops on social media for nonprofits. He has been a featured speaker across the US, England, Australia and online. www.johnkenyon.org, Twitter @jakenyon
Hear and meet John at his TechNow 2010 breakout session “Creating Online Evangelists: How to Excite and Motivate Your Supporters Online“ this Thursday, October 28. Learn more and register for the conference at http://technow2010.wordpress.com.