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Dive In! Research Shows Nonprofit Social Media Programs Lack Adequate Investment

Resource Center - Foundation

(May 25, 2010) New research into social media use by nonprofits shows that the best success has come to nonprofits that invest more staff to the job--and solicit outside advice and training. Organizations with merely their toes in the water, haphazardly tweeting and posting from the shoreline, are having much less luck.

If you have considered beefing up your social media presence, you are in good company. Nonprofit organizations' use of Facebook and Twitter has jumped drastically from 2009 to 2010 and other platforms of the kind are holding steady with activity, according to a report issued in April 2010 by NTEN, Common Knowledge and ThePort Network. This reflects the booming activity of people on these sites, especially Facebook, which has more than 400 million members worldwide.

Facebook, which is the most popular of all commercial social networks, saw a 16 percent increase in use by nonprofits since 2009. A whopping 86 percent of nonprofits have a Facebook presence of some kind. Twitter grew year-over-year by 38 percent. Sixty percent of nonprofits are on Twitter.

As the fish move, so do the fishers. But not all organizations are having the same results or level of satisfaction with these sites. In other words, quality has not caught up with quantity. If you have a social media presence, you should seek concrete objectives and have a cohesive plan across the various commercial sites out there, experts say. You obviously need to get a return on your investment, so if you invest more staff and resources--do so with a plan that will get you results.

Nurturing Your Networks

Nonprofit social media expert Beth Kanter wrote recently on her blog that community building is an exercise that takes a substantial investment of staff time and "heavy lifting" to be successful. She explains there are different stages of involvement, from simply listening to the conversation on social media happening among participants, to actively generating buzz and telling your story, to the most time-intensive step: building a vibrant social network community.

She points out that building a community online is not just about allocating staff time, but having the right aim in mind.

"The work flow is about relationship building," Kanter says. "It isn't necessarily a function of how much staff time is allocated, although I believe 20 hours [per week] is probably the minimum.  It's how that time is being spent. Is it spent deploying ‘traditional marketing tactics' or the hard work of community building one relationship at a time?  If not the latter, chances are the effort won't be as successful."

Fundraising consultant Nicci Noble, CFRE, president of Noble Services LLC in San Francisco, says that your goal should be to gradually build a group of followers who become acquaintances, who then become friends. Don't expect donations to roll in automatically. "Social media is about casting a wide net and reaching new people" says Noble. "Build an email list that you can then begin to cultivate."

Making the Investment

More and more, organizations are realizing that having a successful presence in an online social network takes a commitment of staffing and time.

One-half of organizations indicate that they will increase employee staffing related to commercial social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in the coming 12 months, and one in five will increase funding for external resources such as consultants, designers and programmers, according to the study.

In terms of satisfaction with their commercial social networking efforts, groups that are heavily committed--those nonprofits that commit two or more full-time employees to the management of their commercial communities--experience the highest level of satisfaction. These heavily committed organizations are more likely to measure the ROI (return on investment) of their efforts, describe their investment as "very valuable," and indicate their biggest barrier to doing even better is more staff, not training or education (as their less committed peers indicated).

Compare this to the not yet committed organizations--which have no full time staff committing time to social networks--who indicate that their biggest barrier is training. "We interpret this to mean that the heavily committed have ‘figured out' how to leverage commercial social networks, while their peers in the not yet committed group have not, and need training to help them do so," the report states.

While larger nonprofits are increasing their funding for external resources to help them with their social network efforts, the study notes that smaller organizations are holding back. Nearly three quarters (71 percent) of organizations said they will keep external resourcing budgets the same. It's true: larger organizations have more discretionary funds to test the value of social networks for their marketing and fundraising. But the research shows that the investment is paying off.

The April 2010 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report was conducted by NTEN, a nonprofit technology member organization, and social media firms Common Knowledge and ThePort Network. The study had 1,173 responses.

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