After the most lovely August-off, I’m back to the social media world. I wanted to share my thoughts published in a recent edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy on where we are regarding social media and nonprofits. The article is behind the pay wall at the Chronicle, so here’s the full text:
It’s Time to Get Serious About Using Social Media
It’s official – we’re all social now.Nine in ten nonprofits use Facebook, smaller but significant numbers have Twitter accounts and their own blogs, and the amount charities raise through social networks is the fastest piece of the overall giving pie.
But now that nonprofits are pinging and poking, friending and following, liking and tweeting, it’s time for them to take the next step.
Nonprofits must stop simply experimenting with social media as if it were a pair of shimmering, five-inch Manolo Blahnik high heels and integrate the tools throughout their organizations like a pair of sturdy Timberland walking shoes.
As the media-pundit Clay Shirkey wrote in Here Comes Everybody, “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”
Social media as tools have reached the boring stage. It is time to cut off the tags and acknowledge that the warranty for social media tools is up. What changes is what we do with them.
As Beth Kanter and I wrote in The Networked Nonprofit, organizations immersed in social media look and behave more like social networks than traditional stand-alone organizations. These organizations look outside and see a world filled with networks of individuals and organizations ready and able to help them, an abundance of smart people of good will ready to be activated for a cause.
Within these organizations social media tools aren’t a department, a function, one staff member’s job or a hammer for every nail. The tools are integrated into every department and every function of the organization.
Social media plans or departments don’t live separate and distinct from the rest of an organization is a mistake. Every functional area of the organization, communications, development, programs, even administration and finance, has use for the power of conversation that comes from social media. Staff dedicated to social media spend as much time coaching their colleagues in other departments as manning the social media channels themselves.
One such example is Atlas Service Corps, a very small nonprofit organization that has social media built into its DNA. Social media makes it possible to expand the reach of the organization, which brings nonprofit leaders from developing countries to the United States for one-year fellowships.
By using social networks, it is able to recruit fellows from abroad, raise money, share their success stories, identify host organizations and stay connected to its alumni with a staff of just nine people. What would have taken thirty or forty staff members to accomplish in an analog world, says Atlas’ founder and CEO, Scott Beale, can be done with a small, agile staff leveraging their networks to share, learn, and enlarge their efforts.
But even organizations that were created long before blogs were part of the lexicon can still transform their operations with social media. The National Wildlife Federation learned how to take advantage of social networks under the leadership of its social-media manager, Danielle Brigida. Now more than 90 of the organization’s staff members have been trained to use Twitter to share their work with the world, in their own voice, using their own identities.
The default setting of many organizations is to think of social media as a new box on the organizational chart. However, that is too narrow a definition for social media. It isn’t a thing for a small group of people to do, it is a way of being for an entire organization. It would be like restricting the telephone just to the telephone department.
Social change happens through conversations between real people. Not between logos and people, but through authentic conversations between supporters of causes. Encouraging these conversations and participating in them has to be a top priority for all nonprofit organizations. And the best ambassadors are the people already hired to carry out the organization’s mission. Of course, this means giving up some control of both the message and the messengers.
When nonprofits embed social media throughout organizations, they will allow the best ambassadors for their causes, staff members and key volunteers, to talk about the work they know best, ask for help and advice, and make new friends and supporters across networks. If those networks help all nonprofits stretch their resources, think about how much more good organizations could do for the world.