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4 posts from May 2009

May 19, 2009

What kind of wine is your non-profit bringing to the picnic?


Social media requires rethinking communication with supporters.

When approaching online communities, make sure your organization brings something to the table.


Photo Courtesy theparadignshifter
via Flickr

A couple days ago I chatted with a good friend of mine who has worked in politics for years.  As a political communications guy, he lives and operates in a world of spin and command and control messaging.  He had a new client and asked me about how to do "the social networking thing" (aka, setting up a Facebook page and Twitter account).  My first three questions were - who is your audience, why will they care, and what is it exactly you want to accomplish?  As per the usual, the first two questions didn't get answered, but the third was obvious - to spread the message about what his client was doing.  Ahh!  Of course.  The old "social-media-as-just-another-one-way-communications-vehicle" model.

My friend isn't alone in his old-media approach to social media.  Creating conversations and empowering supporters is difficult and requires most organizations to rethink their communication strategies.   Unfortunately, it's the social equivalent of being "that guy" at a dinner party who won't shut up about how great he is (thanks to Chris Brogan for the example).  When you step into a social medium, organizations must never forget the social aspect of what they are doing.  People who connect to your organization on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or your house social network aren't joining to get a repackaged newsletter.  They want to interact with your organization and with other supporters of your organization.

Chris Brogan also suggests approaching social media according to Yahoo's Conn Fishburn's principle:  "Bring Wine to the Picnic."

If you show up and try to market [at a picnic], people will be frustrated and will shut you out. Instead, if you bring something of value to people, they’ll be more likely to accept you.

So what kind of wine will you be bringing to the picnic?  Personally, I'm bringing baked beans because after talking to my friends, I realized that's what they need. ; )

May 12, 2009

09NTC Recap: Keynote Address by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody) was the Monday keynote at the NTC conference.

Shirky started off with the concept from his book that "Group action just got easier." Many nonprofits are organizers of group action, and we've been thinking through the impacts of this shift as a sector.

As he continued, I asked myself now that the value of creating knowledge is changing, how is it impacting each nonprofit? What does it mean for the sector that we're all global publishers? He explained that the "absolute value of expertise has not changed, [but the] relative value has." It's still useful to have and to build expertise, but the roles of experts are shifting.

Then, telling the story of the museum whose worst fear was loss of control of it's content, Shirky laid out this zinger: "The loss of control you fear is already in the past." Wild applause erupted from NTC attendees, and the statement was widely repeated on Twitter. Apparently the sentiment resonated. I think NTC attendees were feeling frustration with organizational cultures slow to adapt to the shift we're experiencing.

Shirky walked us gently though a lesson in how to fail informatively. I liked his idea about trying multiple solutions simultaneously, but not too many at a time: "Don't let 100 flowers bloom. Let, like, 7 flowers bloom."

Holly Ross, the Executive Director of NTEN, did a wonderful job of grounding the conversation with questions. She asked why nonprofits are important at all, when group action is easier now. Shirky responded that our convening power is important, as is our staying power. Tools on the Internet are now good at short, sharp shots, but will these platforms exist next year? Will they be around for the next action the group needs to take together?

He advised that nonprofits strive to listen to the conversation about them by doing an Internet search for their organization. Disregard the content your organization created, and you will get to listen in on the real conversation and sentiment about your group.

Finally, Ross asked Shirky "Is Facebook forever?" His surprising response: "My guess is that the high water mark of Facebook's universality has passed." I see the beginnings of fractures to Facebook's dominance forming with Twitter and house social networks, so maybe Shirky is correct.

NTEN chose a great keynote speaker, and Ross made sure that Shirky shared useful and implementable knowledge with nonprofits, which made for a great NTC this year.

New Webinars: Social Networks for Nonprofits

Top 5 Secrets for Fundraising on Social Networks
TODAY Wednesday, 5/13 11:30am PST

Social networks have an alluring newness, and we now know the majority of nonprofits are using them to build communities online. Is your board asking why you're not on Facebook? Did you set up a Twitter account and tweet twice? Are you considering building your own house social network (on your web site)? Wondering how to integrate all of that with your fundraising goals?

Participants will gain up-to date benchmark information from the 2009 Nonprofit Social Network Survey, released on April 27, on who is using social networks, get a clear idea of what's involved in creating your own social network, and obtain several ideas for integrating fundraising into your organization's social networking plans. We'll feature several case studies of organizations using Facebook, house social networks, Twitter and other social media outlets to fundraise. Sign up now. This webinar has updated, actionable content from the Social Networks for Fundraisers webinars we offered in March and April.

Build a Big Brand Online Using Social Networks: Marketing & Communications Strategies
Wednesday, 5/20 11:30am PST

Nonprofit social networks are most often owned by the marketing and communications departments, according to the 2009 Nonprofit Social Network Survey. This survey also indicates that the biggest role for social networks at nonprofits is for marketing the organization.

Wondering how your organization can benefit from social networks? How you might meaningfully integrate social networks and social media into your communications and marketing plans? How you can assemble a large, active, social networking community?

Participants will gain up-to-date benchmark information, and we feature real-life examples from nonprofit case studies. Sign up now.

Social Networks for Health Nonprofits
Wednesday, 5/27 10:30am PST

This session is designed specifically for nonprofit health and healthcare organizations including community and private hospitals and their foundations, and voluntary health agencies.

Specifically designed for fundraising, marketing and communications professionals - Manager, Director, Vice President and C-Level roles - this webinar will help you understand how social networking and social media fit into your work at health sector nonprofits. Sign up now.

Twitter for Nonprofits
Wednesday, 6/3 10:30am PST

Twitter is the fastest growing social media platform in the world. The latest statistics indicate that more than 10 million people are using this service for communication, collaboration, marketing, customer service, advocacy, market research, and fundraising. Can't believe it? Join us for this real world look at Twitter and how it is revolutionizing online communications for commercial and nonprofit groups. Sign up now.

Using real-world case studies drawn from the nonprofit and commercial sectors, we'll answer the following questions:

  • What is Twitter and where did it come from?
  • How big is the Twitter base?
  • How does Twitter work?
  • What are nonprofits and commercial groups using Twitter for?
  • Is Twitter really valuable?
  • Does it really work for online community building, advocacy, and fundraising?
  • What's the future of Twitter?

May 07, 2009

You Don't Know "Chuck"


Your most vocal online supporters may not be representative of your supporter base

Always have a online community plan when it's time to make changes

Focus attention on desired community actions and providing the tools to empower your supporters


I know what you're thinking.  Will the NBC series Chuck make it another year?  Perhaps that wasn't on the top of your mind, but now you're probably wondering what Chuck has to do with non profits.  Hold that thought - I'll get to it in just a minute.

Back to Chuck's survival.  Thousands of twittering fans are clamoring for its return next season.  Unfortunately for these avid fans, they don't run NBC.  That hasn't stopped them from organizing online in support of the show and its sponsors - Subway in particular.  Yup, thousands of die hard fans are demonstrating their support by buying up six inch turkey and meatball Subway sandwiches.  Despite their efforts, the show still appears to be in jeopardy.  So what does it take to keep a show on the air?  Eyeballs.

NBC isn't approaching this decision without precedent.  Competing network CBS went through something similar when it canceled the show Jericho.  Fans rallied and sent over 40,000 lbs of nuts to CBS since they were, err, nuts for the show.  CBS agreed to put the show back on the air and sent a letter to its fans to thank them and, among other things, to let them know what to do to ensure the show stayed on the air.  This excerpt was taken from that letter (which the nut distributor Nuts Online posted on its website):

A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show. But that community needs to grow. It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available.

We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.

Guess what didn't happen?  Growth.  Fans were able to organize for the show, but were not able to grow the fan base, which is what CBS needed to make the business case to keep the show.  Definitely a shame for the show's fans, but you can hardly blame CBS.  Moving forward to Chuck's current situation, it's hard to believe that NBC isn't making a similar calculation.

According to Josh Bernoff on AdAge and Groundswell there is an important lesson here:

Thousands of visible, loyal viewers does not equal millions of actual viewers. Objects in the groundswell may be smaller than they appear. People who congregate online are not a representative sample.

So what does this have to do with non-profits?  Here are a few lessons that I took from these experiences:

First, keep it in perspective.  Your most vocal supporters are extremely important and influential whether they are on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, a blog, or your own internal website, but they are only a small fraction of your overall base of supporters and/or service recipients.  Don't avoid making hard decisions or changes better for the community at large out of fear of alienating this group.

That said, have a plan.  Undoubtedly there will come a time when you may need to go against your most vocal online supporters.  If you don't have a community manager, get one!  They will keep you tapped into your online community and will know best how to navigate change.  Make sure s/he develops a solid plan for acknowledging, empowering, preparing, and communicating with your online supporters about the upcoming changes.  Your plan should be comprehensive and should encompass those channels (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) where discussions are happening about your organization, whether or not you are in control of it.  You've heard the pitfalls of not doing so (think Tropicana), but the benefits of a well thought out plan can lead to a stronger, more committed supporter base.

Lastly, online ruckus-making does not necessarily result in desired offline action.  Jericho fans were not able to recruit a sufficient number of new viewers.  For your non-profit, your metric may be petition signatures, community growth, or even service delivery.  Make sure your supporters have the tools they need to do what you want - simply asking them to take action may not be enough.