Absolutely not. There are costs associated with these social media tools.
That’s the message of social media strategist Allen Mireles, keynote speaker at a recent gathering of more than 100 professionals and volunteers from nonprofit groups in the Chicago area. The event served as a reminder of the need for sound planning–even in the heady world of social media.
Before embarking on a social media campaign, a nonprofit organization (or any other entity) should ask six critical questions. By answering these questions, an organization can calculate costs of social media and more effectively target audiences.
Mireles believes that nonprofits need education about all things digital, starting with the very real costs of utilizing social media. “Consider that an organization needs people to set up the social media sites, to help populate the accounts, and to perform research to understand what content to share,” Mireles said. “People need training to appropriately use these tools.”
Mireles’ point is echoed in a recent post by news veteran and entrepreneur Alan Mutter who writes the Reflections of a Newsosaur blog. Mutter put it this way: “Successful social marketing programs require constant attention to building audience, creating content and curating connections.”
Despite tight budgets and small staffs, a savvy organization will develop a strategy to meet social media goals, Mireles said. “Social media is changing the way we do business.”
Mireles was the kick-off presenter for Chicago Counts 2012: Conference Uniting Nonprofits and Technology, a daylong event that offered advice and information to nonprofits about social media and digital technology. The meeting was held on the South Loop campus of Columbia College Chicago. It was organized by Heidi Massey, founder of Community Connective, a firm that assists nonprofit groups.
“Our ultimate aim is to connect nonprofits to their volunteers, their donors and their base,” said Massey. “Social media and technology tools are ways to help us do that.”
Besides social media, the conference featured speakers on email marketing, web analytics, visual storytelling, event planning, and other topics.
According to Mireles, the six critical questions every organization should ask before starting a social media campaign are:
- “Who does your organization support? Who are you trying to talk to? Who are they talking to? Who do they know?
- “What are you trying to accomplish? What is your strategy? What are your resources? What support do you have within your organization?
- “Where do you find supporters? Where can you make the most impact?
- “Why do they support your organization? Why will they talk about you? Why will they take action on your behalf?
- “When is the best time to reach them (your audience)? When will you stop—or will you?
- “How will you monitor your social media initiatives? How will you measure success? How will you define a social media crisis? How will you respond to a social media crisis?”
Other speakers hammered issues of credibility and authenticity. “What nonprofits bring to the Internet conversation are credibility and experience in a field,” said Sally Duros, who led a session on starting digital newsrooms for nonprofit groups. “It’s about getting the truth out about your organization.”
Participants, such as Norma Sanders of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation on Chicago’s South Side, underscored these conference objectives.
“We recognize the importance of telling our stories through social media and other ways,” said Sanders, pointing to her group’s online site featuring stories about a health initiative, an organic market, and a community biking event. “We’ve learned that we must tell our own stories. We have online community portals filled with news about our neighborhoods.”
Conference participant Laura Cathey, Web communications coordinator for the Presbytery of Chicago, agreed. “We care about a sense of community. We encourage connections between people. We believe that type of connectedness comes through effective storytelling.”
Among the Web-based resources Mireles suggested for nonprofits are The 2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report; Community Connective.net; PamelaGrow.com; Socialfish.org; Social.Razoo.com; and JohnHaydon.com. She also recommended a book, The Nimble Nonprofit, by Jacob Smith and Trey Beck.
It’s your turn. What Web-based resources about social media would you recommend for nonprofits?