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What We Can Learn from 3 Social Media Successful Nonprofits

Successfully using social media to promote an organization isn’t easy. As we all know, social media requires time, commitment, resources, and a well-developed plan. Sometimes, even all of this isn’t enough for an organization to achieve social media success. Therefore, it’s important to study how other organizations use social media in order to learn what to do (and what not to do). Here are three nonprofits that do social media well.

1. American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is actively engaged on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. The organization also has its own blog. But it’s not the number of social accounts that make the American Red Cross successful in social media. It’s the organization’s ability to create an active and open social community. The American Red Cross Facebook page is an open forum where fans can engage and share. The organization encourages conversation by asking questions, highlighting volunteers, posting disaster relief updates, and providing useful disaster preparedness information. What can we learn from American Red Cross? Your online community is more likely to respond to and share information that interests them. Content should have personality and new content should be posted frequently.

2. charity: water

Only six years old, the organization charity: water has used social media to help spread awareness about its mission to bring clean water to communities in developing nations. The organization has used Facebook, Twitter, and its blog to show completed water projects and encourage other to join the cause. The photos and videos posted focus on the impact charity: water projects have on the people living in these areas. What can we learn from charity: water? Story telling is an important part of social media. Posting photos and videos of projects related to your cause can help tell your organization’s story. Photos and videos can also help your audience emotionally connect to your cause. You’ll be more likely to receive a volunteer’s time, advocacy, or a donation when you need it.

3. Livestrong

Livestrong knows how to build relationships with its supporters through social media. The organization is heavily involved in its social community – promptly responding to nearly every post and comment on its Facebook and Twitter pages. The best part is that the responses are human, not automated. What can we learn from Livestrong?  Responding to all posts and comments on social platforms (and responding with a human voice) can help build a connection with your audience. Also, it lets them know they’re appreciated.

Do you have any other social media successful nonprofits to add to the list? Please leave your comments below.


Talking Social Media with Author Rory O’Connor

The Internet and social media are powerful communication tools. In his new book, Friends,Followers and the Future: How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands, and Killing Traditional Media, author Rory O’Connor discusses how digital media  is drastically impacting the way we communicate and receive information. We asked Rory some questions about how nonprofits can best take part in this digital revolution.
CM: Digital media is redefining the way we think about brands. What do you think nonprofits need to do in order to keep their brand and content trustworthy in this digital age?
ROC: Non-profits will need to find a way to stand out in an increasingly cluttered brand environment. One way to do so is to ensure that you are providing highly reliable and credible information about your topic area in new ways that audiences are migrating to – such as mobile, for example, which is exploding in importance, and of course social media. But the main things groups and individuals alike need to keep in mind is to be authentic, use a human voice, don't oversell , and concentrate on providing news and information people can trust about things important to their lives.
CM: In 2011, social networks such as Twitter and Facebook were used by the masses as catalysts for social change. How do you feel nonprofits can best take advantage of these communication weapons to promote their cause?
ROC: I would highly recommend being specific. Pick one issue, make sure it has an actionable component and is at least potentially successful. Then try to move your members, friends and followers to take some easily understood action. That action should ideally be easy and quick, such as a one-click donation, request to sign a petition, etc. As you become known to an expanding group of people seeking good information, ask them to multiply your influence by friending, tweeting, linking, liking and in general redistributing the informational media you have been creating, aggregating and curating.  Let the network work for you. And don't use social media just to push forward news of your organization and its events – that's more like advertising than conversing!
A few other essentials: photos, infographics and especially video are far more effective in communicating and persuading online than, say, just words. Remember that people seem to have a shorter attention span than ever, so be punchy with your tweets and use links to drive interested parties deeper into the issues. Also, no size fits all on the Web. Facebook might be right for one project but YouTube better for the next, and Twitter for the one after. Social media (like all media) are simply tools, which can be sharp or dull depending on who is using and maintaining them.
CM: What advice do you have for nonprofits who haven’t yet adapted to the digital revolution?
ROC: Drop everything and get started ASAP!
Interested in reading Friends, Followers and the Future? Pre-order your copy. Has your nonprofit fully adapted to the digital revolution? Please leave your comments and questions below.


Twitter 101: How to Properly Use #Hashtags

The concept of hashtags can be very confusing for Twitter amateurs and professionals alike (many experienced Twitter users don’t use hashtags properly). To put it simply, hashtags are keywords that organize real-time conversations. The # symbol is used to identify these keywords. Hashtags not only make tweets easier to find in a Twitter search, but also help connect people tweeting about the same topic. For example, if you search for #socialgood on Twitter, you can find tweets from other Twitter users about social causes.
Here are some hashtag basics:
  • The # symbol has to be in the beginning of the keyword or phrase and have no spaces in order to be a hashtag (#socialgood = hashtag, social good = not a hashtag)
  • A hashtag is counted in a tweet’s  140 character limit (so leave room)
  • Hashtags can occur anywhere in a tweet
  • Any Twitter user can create or follow a hashtag (however not all hashtags become trending topics)
Also, make sure you follow these hashtag best practices:
Do your research. Before creating your own hashtag, figure out if the topic you’re tweeting about already has one established. Using an established and relevant hashtag can help create more visibility for your tweet. Websites such as Hashtags and Trendsmap allow you to search for popular hashtags on Twitter (Trendsmap allows you to search for current topics by location). Popular hashtags that are meaningful to your message is best. Here’s a great list of 45 hashtags for social change that your nonprofit can utilize.
Use hashtags in good taste. Hashtags are best when they’re related to your message. Don’t try to use a popular hashtag that has nothing to do with the topic of your tweet. For example, fashion designer Kenneth Cole was in hot water last year after he used the popular hashtag #Cairo during the uprising in Egypt to promote his spring collection. Using popular hashtags unrelated to your message can potentially upset your followers, make your organization look bad, and lessen the importance of your tweets (no one likes reading spam). Also, you aren’t reaching your target audience.
Resist the urge to abuse hashtags. Nothing is more annoying than reading a tweet with too many hashtags. Only use hashtags that add value to your tweet. If you misuse them, your followers will start to unfollow you (or just as bad, tune out your tweets). 
If used properly, hashtags can be a valuable communication tool. Hashtags can increase the visibility of your tweets – helping to raise awareness for your cause, reach your target audience, and stimulate conversation. How does your organization use hashtags? Please leave your comments below.  


Everyone Has a Story: Timeline for Pages

It’s official. After months of speculation, Facebook Timeline is now available for Pages. So what does this mean for your organization? Although it may be a pain to figure out another Facebook layout, Timeline can be a breath of fresh air for your organization's Facebook Page. Timeline's visually-engaging layout allows organizations to tell their story through compelling images and a colorful history.

Here are three things to keep in mind when setting up Timeline for your organization's Page.

The cover photo is the new landing page. With the old Facebook Page layout, organizations created landing pages to enhance the user experience. With Timeline, the cover photo is the landing page. A visually powerful cover photo makes a great first impression and can tell your organization's story.

Tell your story. Highlight important historic events and milestones for your organization. Telling your story can help create a deeper emotional connection between you and your fans. Livestrong does a great job of using Timeline to share their story. Also, take some time to review past posts and photos in your Timeline to make sure everything fits into your story (delete anything that doesn't).

Update your strategy. Timeline for Pages offers features that weren't available in the old layout. For example, with Timeline you can now highlight important posts by starring them (this makes the image twice as large as regular posts). You can also select a post to appear on the top left spot of the Timeline feed for seven days. Figure out how your organization can leverage these new features.

Not ready for the layout change? Don’t worry; you have until March 30 to prepare your Timeline. What do you think of Timeline for Pages? Have you already implemented your organizations Timeline? Please leave your comments below.


Crisis Management: Surviving a Social Media Disaster

Sometimes your social media efforts can backfire. An errant tweet, neglected profile, ignored comment, or negatively received campaign, can all lead to ill feelings toward your organization. Just recently, nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure faced a serious social media backlash after deciding to pull funding from Planned Parenthood (Komen reversed its decision as a result of the public backlash). Online conversations are hard to control – especially negative buzz. You can, however, control how you handle negative press about your nonprofit. Handling a crisis can be stressful, but proper planning and management will ensure that your organization (and your organization’s social media presence) lives on. Here are four tips for surviving a social media disaster.  
1. Turn to your social media crisis communications plan
Planning for the worst is the best way to ensure that you’re prepared. Every organization should have a crisis communication plan specifically for social media. This plan should cover who’s responsible for posting and responding to online comments on behalf of the organization during a crisis. All other staff members should be advised to avoid discussing crisis situations on their personal social profiles, as staff can sometimes become unofficial spokespeople for an organization.
2. Confront the issue head-on and right away (if there’s actually an issue)
Ignoring negative comments and deleting posts will only escalate the issue and make your organization look guilty. Respond quickly, directly, and publicly. If you made a mistake, be honest and admit it. Apologize and let your followers and the public know what you’re doing to correct the mistake. Don’t argue or participate in personal attacks – it will only further damage your organization’s reputation.  
3. Monitor real-time conversations about your organization
Regularly monitor real-time conversations so that you can quickly identify and resolve potential issues. Three useful tools to track user-generated content are Google Alerts, Social Mention, and Trackur.
4. Learn from your mistakes and move on
Mistakes happen. Once you've addressed the issue, apologized and learned from your mistakes, move on. Don't let a negative incident distract you from building advocacy for your cause. Remain an active participant in your social community and continue to build a loyal following.
Social media is a powerful communication tool – you can’t control what information is spread about your organization online. Surviving a social media disaster is possible, but will take time and a large amount of effort on your part. Has your organization experienced a social media disaster? How did you deal with it?


Are Your Social Media Efforts Working?

Many for-profit and nonprofit organizations are blindly engaged in social media – unaware of whether their activities are actually helping meet their goals. There is no standard way to measure social media performance. However, not tracking your efforts can lead to wasted time and resources. So how do you determine if your organization is using its time and resources wisely?
First, define your objectives. What are your organization’s overall goals (non-financial and financial)? Your objectives should be specific. For example, does your organization want to generate campaign awareness? Raise money for your cause? Recruit volunteers? Sell tickets to an event? Your social media efforts must have purpose.
Once you’ve defined your objectives, identify what data you can use to measure your performance. Performance data should be actionable, relevant, and practical. How you define success may change along the way depending on your results. Here are some common ways to tell if your social media efforts are working.
  • Comments, shares, tweets/retweets
  • Influence and sentiment
  • Positive/negative mentions
  • Press mentions
  • Website traffic
  • Page views and bounce rates
  • Click-throughs
  • Email newsletter opt-ins
  • Volunteer registration
  • Donations
  • Subscribers, likes, followers, fans
Whatever data you decide to track, make sure you start small. Also, don’t waste time analyzing data that doesn’t measure your social media performance as it relates to your overall objectives. For example, if your goal is to sell tickets to your annual gala, the number of Twitter followers you’ve gained in the past week is irrelevant if none of these followers purchased a ticket.
As we all know, social media isn’t free – it requires time and resources to do well. If you’re like many nonprofits, you have limited resources and time to devote to social networking. That’s why it’s important to make sure that your efforts are working. If you’re not seeing results, don’t keep doing the same thing. Revise your strategy. Keep in mind that you may not see results right away.
How do you measure your organization’s social media efforts? Please share your methods below.


5 Tips for Avoiding Social Media Burnout

We live in a digital world. If you're like many Americans, you spend hours online – sharing, tweeting, retweeting, checking-in, posting, commenting, pinning, poking, friending, liking, and following, to the point where social networking consumes your life. And that's just for personal use. What if you’re also responsible for your organization's social media efforts?
The pressure to stay interesting, relevant, and active on social networks can wear down even the most experienced social media enthusiast. We can’t ignore the impact social media has on the way we communicate and do business, but we can manage our usage. Here are five tips to help you avoid social media burnout and keep your sanity.
  1. Don't get caught up in the hype.  Keeping up with the fast-paced world of social media can be stressful - especially when there are hundred of social networks for you to keep track of.  Remember why your organization is using social media.  Only join networks that meet your organization's goals.  Ask yourself- where's my audience?
  2. Focus on what works.  Figure out where you see results and focus on those platforms.  It's better to have a thriving presence on Twitter and Facebook than to have a mediocre presence on six different networks.  If you aren't seeing results, re-evaluate your strategy.
  3. Use a social media management tool.  Monitoring multiple social networks can be overwhelming. Free and low-cost monitoring tools such as HootSuite, TweetDeck,, and SproutSocial make social media less time-consuming by allowing you to monitor and manage multiple social networks from one dashboard. Some tools (like HootSuite) also allow you to analyze your social media efforts.
  4. Schedule time for social media.  Set limits on how much time you can spend on each social network and stick to them.
  5. Spend some time offline.  I know it’s hard to do – I am guilty of checking my Facebook and Twitter updates on my smartphone before I even get out of bed in the morning. However, spending time away from social media and participating in other activities can give you a fresh perspective.
Social media burnout can cause you to neglect social networks, which can be harmful to your organization’s social media presence. Have you ever suffered from social media burnout? Do you have any tips for avoiding social fatigue? Please post your comments below.


Pinterest: A Pin’s Worth a Thousand Words

Just when you thought you were up-to-date on all things social, there's a new network in the social media landscape. If you haven't heard of Pinterest yet, you will. Traffic to the invitation-only site has increased drastically in the past six months, making the site a top ten social network.
So, what exactly is Pinterest?  Pinterest is a visually-engaging social bookmarking site that connects people with similar tastes and interests. Social bookmarking isn’t new, but what makes this site different from other bookmarking sites is its visual aspect. On Pinterest, users (referred to as Pinners) “pin” images and videos on categorized themed boards (pinboards). Pins are beautiful, eye-catching, and organized. The site’s features allow content to be easily shared from the Internet. Pins can also be shared on Facebook and Twitter.
Popular themes include weddings & events, home decorating, fashion, do-it-yourself projects, and food recipes (the majority of users are women between the ages of 25 and 44). However, there are many different themes to choose from. Pinterest is a good social platform for nonprofits because every cause has a compelling story. Emotionally powerful pins can help paint a picture of your organization and inspire Pinners to become advocates for your cause. Some nonprofit organizations are already using Pinterest including, National Wildlife Federation and Amnesty International. Amnesty International uses the site to share inspiring quotes, reading lists, and facts related to human rights.
Thinking about signing up for Pinterest?  Here are some tips:
  1. Don't join Pinterest just because it’s the hottest social network right now. Think about how Pinterest would fit into your organization’s overall goals and social media strategy.
  2. Make sure your target audience is on Pinterest.
  3. Ensure you have interesting visuals to post that are inspiring.
  4. Pinterest is a secondary social network. Your organization’s Twitter and Facebook presence should be established (and thriving) first.
If you still think your nonprofit is ready to join Pinterest, pin away. Like any social network, Pinterest has its own community guidelines so read them before participating. One final word of advice – ask someone you know for an invite. There’s now a waiting list to join. Good luck and happy pinning!  
What are your thoughts on Pinterest? Do you think the site would be useful for your nonprofit’s cause?


How to Protect Your Nonprofit's Social Media Identity

Who owns your social media identity? A recent lawsuit between a mobile phone company and a former employee over Twitter followers brings this question to light. The line between personal and professional social media usage has become blurred. A social media policy is the clear solution to this problem. Simple steps can be taken to protect your nonprofit's social identity.

1. Create a clear social media policy for staff

A policy will set expectations and avoid lawsuits. Clear and consistent policies will be remembered and followed. You may want to include the following:
•  Who can post on the organization's official accounts
•  Topics and information that may be disseminated about the company and its products
•  Guidelines when mentioning the organization on personal accounts
•  Who can change the names of official accounts
•  Consequences if policies are violated
Figure out how your organization uses social media before setting a policy. Also, encourage staff to properly promote your organization on social networks. Passionate staff make the best advocates. There are many sample social media policies online that will help get you started or you can consult an attorney who specializes in this area.
2.  Establish ownership before an account is created
If a staff member manages your nonprofit's official social accounts, make sure a written agreement is in place. Many organizations encourage their staff to create unofficial accounts to extend their network. Make sure ownership is clear.
3. Have multiple account administrators (admins)
Having multiple admins prevents a disruption in your social media management in the event that someone leaves the organization. All account information should be kept in a centralized location and changed often.
Does your organization have a social media policy in place? Have you encountered any challenges in implementing your policy? We want to hear from you.