Book Review: Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits
Heather Mansfield helps answer these questions in Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits, a highly practical and useful book that details strategies, tools and case studies. I was given a review copy of the book and had a chance to ask Heather some questions.
There’s definitely a math to social media and at 5,000 fans, followers, friends, subscribers, etc. the math starts to work in your favor. Once your nonprofit’s avatar is spread throughout a community 5,000 times – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Google+ – then your community starts to grow exponentially much faster with each passing day. That’s one of the reasons why I am not big fan of social media case studies based on large, nationally or internationally well-known nonprofits (or businesses). Those nonprofits have email lists of hundreds of thousands of individuals that they can tap into and thus easily reach 5,000 in a just a few days. Small and medium-sized nonprofits can not duplicate that success. They have to work much harder and for longer, sometimes years, to reach that 5,000 benchmark. But as someone who started at zero seven years ago, I can tell you it’s worth it to invest the time in social networking. There’s a lot of hype around social media and overnight success and it’s completely false for 99.9% of brands. These tools are useful, but only as powerful as how well the human being behind the avatar understands the importance of inspiring communities through storytelling and integrating social media into their website, e-newsletters, and online fundraising campaigns.
2. Web 1.0: You emphasize the importance of getting the basics like your websites, newsletters and “donate now” buttons right so organizations can achieve an ROI on their online donation efforts. You showcase a few nonprofit examples of excellence in the book. Why do these organizations stand out for you? What are the lessons from these organizations in terms of messages, visuals and campaigns that really work?
Those nonprofits understand something very important about their donors and supporters which is that they are increasing becoming overwhelmed with tweets, status updates, texts, emails, check-ins, and breaking news on cable news. The constant barrage of messaging is changing how donors and supporters process calls to action and information on and offline. These nonprofits have designed their websites to make it easy to read. Bigger font, less text, more images, and bigger buttons for tapping on tablets, clicking on desktops and laptops, and soon, swiping on smart TVs. They are always ahead of the curve and allocate the resources necessary to their online communication budget. For example, one of those nonprofits is the Natural Resources Defense Council, also known as the NRDC, and they just launched a new website for 2012: nrdc.org. Notice the big Donate Now button that’s on every page, the e-newsletter subscribe option, and the social networking icons? That’s crucial for ROI and their site looks and works great on a tablet.
Facebook: The Humane Society of the United States facebook.com/humanesociety They always include a personal message with each Facebook Status Update, they participate in the conversations that occur on their status updates (they don’t just broadcast!), and they only post once a day. Most people don’t realize that Facebook has an algorithm that hides most status updates from your fans if you post more than once a day. There’s also a fine line between informing and inspiring and annoying. Less is more.
Twitter: The National Wildlife Federation twitter.com/nwf They have distinct voice on Twitter. They focus on telling the story of wildlife in America, not on fundraising. If nonprofits would focus more on telling their story well to inspire their supporters, then the donations will follow. There’s way too much “marketing” happening on social networking sites and people tune it out. The NWF also retweets others, posts a wide variety of useful, interesting content, and follows a large number of people. Again, there’s a math to social networking – especially on Twitter. You don’t want to follow more than follow you, but every time you follow someone, that’s another time your avatar is planted in the Twitterverse.
Blogging: The Nature Conservancy blog.nature.org The NC posts to their blog often which results in a large amount of content that they and others can then “Share” on the Social Web. They have e-newsletter and social networking icons prominently featured and the design caters to today’s Internet user – big pictures, a well-designed banner for a strong first impression, and large font for navigation.
Mobile: The World Wildlife Fund www.worldwidelife.org Most nonprofits still have a lot of work to do on their mobile campaigns. The best I have seen so far is the World Wildlife Fund (tap “worldwidelife.org” into your mobile browser). They have a mobile website with current articles and action alerts. They also send text alerts that link to their mobile website. Most nonprofits who are experimenting with texting link to their desktop site which is a worst practice. A desktop site is designed to be viewed on a 12-19 inch screen – not a two inch smartphone screen! The WWF also have a mobile page where you can tap in your mobile phone number to make a $10 donation. It’s the smartest mobile website and texting campaign I’ve seen so far.
Storytelling through good writing and video and digital photography is number one. Fundraisers and social media practitioners need to think of themselves as reporters for their cause and always be ready to write up a blog post, take some photos, or get out the smartphone and record a video when the story presents itself. Next, understanding how to integrate Web 1.0 (websites, e-newsletters, Donate Now buttons) with Web 2.0 (blogging and social networking sites) is a must. That’s when the experience and talent for marketing in the traditional sense comes in. Quite often, nonprofits keep Web 1.0 staff and Web 2.0 staff entirely separate from one another and that undermines ROI dramatically. And finally, selecting the right Donate Now vendor is one of the most important decisions a nonprofit can make in 2012. Online giving is soaring. You don’t want to send a donor to PayPal or Google Checkout. Many donors opt-out of giving at that point. It’s much better to embed the donation process in your site using a paid service like Network for Good. It may cost a little more, but it is a mandatory expense for any nonprofit that wants to remain competitive. By 2015 the number of nonprofits in the United States is expected to jump 30% to 1.7 million and only the most savvy, functional, smart nonprofits will maintain their current donors and tap into new ones.
I enjoyed reading the book and appreciate Heather’s thoughtful and thorough answers to my questions. My overall takeaway is that Heather’s approach works because she 1. Focuses on results (the ROI), 2. Offers doable and simple steps and 3. Provides an integrated approach.
The practical advice in this book is very relevant for any organization getting started in social media. The book drives home a very important point that it’s very hard to make social media deliver results if you do not have your online presence and email marketing strategy in place. Tweets, Likes and now Pins need to lead to action. You need that DONATE NOW button to work. It also offers practical help for non-profits with limited resources but compelling missions. I vote for adding it your reading list.