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10 Insights Gained from Spending 7,280 Hours on Social Media Websites

September 1, 2009

This week marks my 3 and half year anniversary of launching the Nonprofit Organizations MySpace. That decision changed the course of my life and my career. Today, I now also run “Nonprofit Organizations” profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, FriendFeed, and LinkedIn, and my business has done well enough that I can from home full-time.

I spend an average 40 hours a week utilizing social networking sites (2,080 hours a year!) and during that time have gained numerous insights, but the following 10 are what I consider the most timely for utilizing social media today:

1. Early adopters get the most glory and tend to be the best a social media.

Early adopters like The Humane Society of the United States and the National Wildlife Federation had epiphanies about social media and its potential long before the blogosphere caught on. That “A-ha!” moment fueled their passion to get past early blocks to their success, like convincing fearful executives and staff that these sites were not dangerous, that these sites were not just for narcissistic teens that want to be famous, and that indeed utilizing these sites was not a colossal waste of time, rather essential because social media was the future of the Web.

Early adopters began utilizing MySpace and Facebook mostly in 2006 and 2007 respectively, and now more than three years later, these nonprofits are recognized leaders in the field. They have received countless mentions by adoring bloggers and reporters and been the focus of numerous case studies which over time has translated to significant Web buzz and increased numbers of supporters and new donors. Being pioneers and risk-takers paid off. This is a lesson every nonprofit, business, or college or university should keep in mind. Reward your forward thinkers, empower them, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

2. Approaching social media with fear and trepidation can harm your brand.

It’s so obvious when a nonprofit has been given permission to tip-toe into social media, but with instructions to be cautious and careful. Their Tweets or Status Updates are a little too uptight, more akin to Marketing 1.0, and do very little to inspire conversation. They close off their wall or put their profiles on private. They miss the big picture and do exactly what they are not supposed to do… try to control social media. Social media is all about letting go of control and being open, provoking conversations, and building community through vibrant and sometimes controversial opinions. Calculated exercising of caution actually works against your nonprofit on social media sites.

Nonprofits that are fearful of social media, or being open, but engage in it anyway because everyone else is doing it can actually do harm to their brand because they come off as boring and/or old-fashioned. People expect you to be open on social media sites. They expect more than the traditional glossy, perfectly crafted Web content. They want personality. The want to be inspired. They want to be impressed. They don’t want rules and they don’t want to be told how they can participate on your profiles. Any attempt to do so, and they just won’t participate.

3. People who are mean and grumpy online are likely mean and grumpy in real life too.

The fear that cripples so many nonprofits even still today usually comes from the fear that someone will post a negative comment on their wall, or blog, or in the Twitterverse. Well, after spending over 7,280 hours on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Change.org, and more recently Twitter, I have received more than 20,000 wall comments and @mentions, and have had to delete less than 10 of them because they were rude and derogatory.

Most people who use social networking sites are very friendly, especially in the nonprofit sector. Those few that do post something grumpy or downright rude and inappropriate tend be that way in real life too. Nothing you say or do can please them. They are just difficult, mean and grumpy people in general. So, don’t worry so much about these folks. They are tiny in number and can easily be blocked from participating in your profiles. Don’t give them a second thought or that much power! I learned that the hard way. At first, I tried to engage them, but over time, I realized indulging in their negativity was a big waste of my time and mentally draining. I now ignore them completely and delete or block them without a second thought. They are exceptionally rare.

Of course, some nonprofits that work on controversial issues are more likely to have to deal with naysayers or extremists that are not respectful of others opinions in the online commons. In these cases, let them post. It’s nothing your nonprofit hasn’t heard before. They are going to say it anyway someplace else on the Web, and 9 times out of 10 your supporters are going to to come to your defense. That’s social media at its best. Over time, you’ll get a sense of when to let it ride and when to delete and block.

4. Some schmoozing is required.

I am terrible at schmoozing, but those that are good it can transform your nonprofit’s online brand in a matter of months. Building friendships with complete strangers online, chatting up bloggers and flattering their work, and doing cold calls/emails/friend requests to nonprofit experts is essential to getting mass exposure for your nonprofit in the era of Web 2.0.

There is a fine line though. Come on too strong and these folks can get annoyed and lose respect, so be subtle about it. But yes, some schmoozing is required in your social media strategy. One of the easiest ways to effectively schmooze is to Retweet their articles, blogs, etc. just make sure they are mentioned in the Tweet so they know you did it!

5. Good community builders are optimistic, friendly, and obviously enjoy using social media.

Nothing is worse than whiny Twitterer, a cranky MySpacer, or an ungrateful Facebook Admin. Again, most nonprofit folks are pretty friendly and just all around good people, but still to this day, I am sometimes just astounded that the person running a nonprofit’s social media profiles got the job. They are negative, consistently post bummer content, never responded to questions posted on walls or blogs, and just give the all around impression that they completely resent having social media added to their job description.

Good community builders are optimistic about even the most depressing of realities. They understand their mission is to empower folks to create change on social media sites, not to overwhelm them into apathy with depressing stats and information. They are friendly. They provide good customer service. They have a good grasp of emoticons and exclamation points. They don’t ignore their friends, followers, and fans. They engage them, and most importantly, they thank them for their support.

Good community builders love social media. They don’t need to be real tech saavy, but they do need to enjoy being on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Change.org, and MySpace. Otherwise, your social media strategy won’t work. It’s not the profiles or sites themselves that are powerful, it’s the human being behind your organization’s social networking profiles that will make or break your social media success.

Your communications director with 20 years of experience who doesn’t get social media may not be the person to run these profiles. It may be your new office manager who loves to Tweet on their iPhone on their lunch break. Find the person or people at your organization who enjoy social media, and give them the green light to embrace and experiment… and find their voice on social networking sites.

6. Race and class divisions are played out on social networking sites and must be considered in your social media strategy.

I must confess, I think the nonprofit sector has been very slow to acknowledge, accept, or even realize how race and class play a role in social media. I don’t know of any nonprofits that have a group on BlackPlanet.com and very few utilize Hi5.com which is increasingly becoming popular here in the United States with some Asian American communities.

Most nonprofits live in Facebook/Twitter bubble. While these sites are becoming more diverse as they grow larger, it’s clear to anyone who uses MySpace regularly that there is much more diversity in age, race, and class on MySpace than Facebook or Twitter, yet the nonprofit blogosphere is pretty much silent, or even antagonistic towards MySpace, despite its popularity. The Facebook vs. MySpace War runs deep and permeates throughout the primarily white, middle-class blogosphere.

It’s a complicated subject. It’s hard to quantify. It can be inflammatory. Nothing is absolute when it comes to discussing race and class, but I do think the nonprofit sector has failed terribly in understanding how race and class play a role in social media. If you are an organization trying to reach low-income youth in Houston or a labor union trying to organize busboys and dishwashers in Los Angeles County, then my first advice to your organization would be to get on MySpace. That’s advice that’s rare and hard to find, and still sadly, mostly ignored.

One of my heroines is Danah Boyd, one of the lone voices out there speaking about and studying how class and race divisions are played out on social networking sites. Please become familiar with her work and plan your social media strategy accordingly!

7. You have to be persistent and give your social media strategy time to produce results.

Most nonprofits are disappointed with their initial results from utilizing social media sites. There is a lot of hype out there that pretty much gives the impression that if you have a Facebook Page and a Twitter profile you’ll have a million new fans and followers within a few months. The reality is your lucky if your nonprofit breaks 1,000 fans/followers within three months (especially if you are small organization) and fundraising on social networking sites has produced mediocre results at best. A lot of nonprofits at this point abandon their social media campaigns as failed strategies.

Don’t do that! It’s going to take you 6 months just to find your voice. Developing the skill set of a good community builder and social networker is learned through trial and error. You know you are doing well if your wall is getting “Thumbs Up” and comments, or that your getting Retweeted, or in many folks’ Top friends on MySpace. Most nonprofits aren’t getting this kind of action at all. They approach social media from a marketing point of view, or just to engage in fundraising. That’s not where the power is. It’s in storytelling and community building around your organization’s mission and programs. If you can learn how to do that well, the ROI from marketing and fundraising will follow… later.

Personally, I don’t even think we have begun to see the potential of social media. In terms of fundraising and utilizing social media on mobile devices, the best it yet to be. That’s why you need to be persistent and continue to slowly build your profiles and social media skills set. Your organization’s investment in social media today is laying a foundation for, dare I say… Web 3.0 tomorrow.

8. Training is essential to a successful social media strategy.

Knowing how to use Facebook to stay in touch with friends is quite different from using it as marketing tool for your nonprofit. Tweeting for fun is not the same as Tweeting for work. MySpace is huge and complicated and requires basic HTML knowledge. A common mistake that nonprofits make is that they think because they know how to use these sites in their personal lives, then they also now know to use them professionally. Wrong. Get training!

Most Facebook pages I see from nonprofits are a shell of what they could be. MySpace pages are a disaster. Only a fraction a YouTube functionality is utilized. Twitter is not as simple at it appears and nonprofits could be using it much better than they are. All of these sites require basic HTML knowledge, but less that 5% of nonprofit admins seem to even know the HTML code to link their organization’s website. Get training!

DIOSA Communications gives detailed, how-to webinars on social media, as well as TechSoup and Idealware. Training will transform you social media strategy. Those that have taken webinars and been properly trained are outperforming those that haven’t 10-to-1.

9. The Web evolving faster than you can imagine. To stay competitive, you have to keep up.

I have a hard time keeping up! I have been working with nonprofits with 15 years now, and a good 10 years of that time spent solely on online communications and development. I thought websites, email marketing, and Donate Now buttons and their potential were mind-boggling in 2001. That’s nothing compared to what’s happening now. The Web is opening up and evolving so quickly, in many ways truly beginning to reach it potential to democratize the global community, and there is seemingly a hundred new third-party Twitter tools and Facebook Apps launched every day. And who knows what is coming next week, next month, next year?

The fittest will survive… the early adopters will thrive… and some just won’t be able to compete. Your nonprofit is only going to be able to allocate your social media strategy to volunteers and interns for so long folks. At some point, your nonprofit is going to have to invest in a new media communications and development position if you really want to remain timely and relevant five years from now. What’s coming next will happen faster than either you or I can imagine, and you will need someone on staff who can dedicate their time and focus completely on understanding and embracing the next evolution of the Internet. Now is the time to be looking ahead. If you are just now getting on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Change.org and MySpace… I hate to break it you, but you have a lot of catching up to do!

10. Social media is going mobile.

Where is all this leading? What’s the next Big Thing? Why put all this energy into building your organization’s profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Change.org, and MySpace? The simple answer is social media is going mobile. If you would have told me 3 years ago that I would be checking my MySpace profile in airport on an iPhone, I would have thought you were some crazy SciFi conspiracy theorist. Not only that, I would have thought… “What a pain in @ss! Who wants to do that? Have their computer with them at all times? How [George Orwell’s] 1984!”

I didn’t see it coming, but now that it’s here… I love it. My iPhone is well-deserved of the honor of being named Time Magazine’s 2007 Invention of the Year. I enjoy Facebook more on my iPhone than on my laptop. And Twitter is ideal for mobile technology and advocacy. Don’t believe me? Ponder these stats for a moment:

* There are 271 million cell phone subscribers in the United States. 88.5% of the population.

* Today, 74% of all mobile phone users send/receive text messages.

* There are 4X as many mobile phones in the United States as there are PCs.

* The number of U.S. cell phone users who accessed the mobile Internet in January 2009 reached 22 million, doubled that of one year earlier.

* The number of U.S. cell phone users who access social networking sites via the mobile Internet has quadrupled in the last year.

Make no mistake about it. The mobile Web is the future, and social media sites will be the backbone of the coming mobile Web. The time for early adoption is now. If your organization was a little late adopting social media, now is your time to be an early adopter, get the glory, and be the best. Learn more at MobileActive.org and DIOSA Communications.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam permalink
    September 3, 2009 9:06 am

    Wow! I never thought of the race class issue, but it is very true! I want to use as much of these ideas as i can with my nonprofit! Thanks!

  2. September 4, 2009 8:53 am

    Where is your share button? I would love to send this around.

  3. nonprofitorgs permalink
    September 4, 2009 9:00 am

    Hi Robert… thanks much. I am still in the process of setting up this blog… hope to have “Share” buttons within a week.

  4. November 6, 2009 12:00 pm

    You and your readers should also consider the following: people who like to contribute their comments, ideas and stories, the using the phone to make voice comments is the easiest way to express themselves. With over 4 billion cell phones worldwide, “the phone is the mic”. Evoca (http://www.evoca.com/index.php) subscribers invite their followers, supporters, donors, and staff members to record and we make it easy to post and share the results online. See/hear examples: http://www.evoca.com/links/listen_to_evoca_in_action.jsp; http://www.savethechildren.org/emergencies/asia/philippines-floods/philippines-floodslp.html

Trackbacks

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  3. Social Media is Going Mobile, and So Should Your Nonprofit « Nonprofit Tech 2.0
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