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[Book Interview] Nonprofit Example of Social Media Excellence: The Humane Society of the United States

December 28, 2010

[tweetmeme] Organization: The Humane Society of the United States
Organization Size: 11 million supporters, 500+ staff
Name: Carie Lewis
Director of Emerging Media
Twitter: @HumaneSociety, @cariegrls
humane-society, carielewis


1. What was the very first social media tool your organization utilized, and when?

MySpace, back when it was cool. That was in the fall of 2006, when I was hired at The HSUS to manage their online marketing presence such as pay per click and banner ads. I identified a trend forming with social networking, and set up our very first profile.

2. What social media tools are you currently utilizing? Which tool has been surprisingly useful in getting out the word about your organization and its programs? The least?

We’re using Facebook primarily, Twitter for feedback, dabbling in Foursquare, and starting our LinkedIn presence. Twitter is the one that surprised me the most. We don’t use it like we use Facebook, for advocacy, fundraising, and relationship building. For us, Twitter is primarily a public relations/customer service tool. We started out by listening and found many people asking questions about us or our issues. Now, 30% of our posts are replies to people who ask questions or talk about us. We still use Twitter a bit to talk about our programs, we participate and create our own memes like “#felinefriday”, but we focus on listening and responding to what people are already talking about.

3. Who maintains your social media campaigns? Are they paid, full-time, part-time?

We are very fortunate to have a team of social media employees; there are  5 full time and one part time staff members who touch social media in some way and are on what we call the Emerging Media Team. We realize that this is unique among nonprofits, but have made an organizational commitment to invest in this area. Every full time staffer we have on the Emerging Media team has been paid for by raising money on social networks.

4. Are you tracking Return on Investment (ROI), and how? Please summarize your ROI.

Yes. Everything we do online (our website, email program, advertising, social) is tied to our goals of advocacy and fundraising, or some other kind of lead generation. We track amount raised, number of donors, and number of action takers from social media, as well as some other social media-esque metrics like fan base growth over time, sentiment, and user engagement (number of comments, number of likes, etc).

In terms of ROI, social media has grown our email file and we’ve raised significant money on social networks. For instance, in using our content management systems’ Facebook API for our last action alert, we garnered over 1,000 new email addresses from Facebook. To date, we’ve raised over $500,000 on social networks, both from Facebook Causes and donations sourced from Facebook. New exposure is hard to quantify, but I am confident that more people know about HSUS and what we do because of our presence on Facebook. Over 1 million people see a post on Facebook from us every day, and those are people that we may not reach otherwise, because they simply do not want to be on our email list and are not the type of person that would just visit our website out of curiosity. We accept that and cater to them on Facebook by providing them fresh, interesting, and relevant content where they are.

5. Of all the mass communications tools your organization is using (website e-newsletters, social networking sites, mobile), which is resulting in the most online dollars being raised (directly or indirectly)?

Absolutely email. But, we also recognize that open rates are falling, and we’ve got to continue to stay ahead of the curve and evolve in emerging spaces like social media and mobile, so we invest in those areas as well.

6. Did you experience resistance from higher ups in the organization initially utilizing about social media, or were they supportive?

Initially there was resistance, which is understandable. But, I knew it was important to prove social media’s worth early on so that I could get the buy in for expanding the program and continuing to be innovative in the space. I spoke their language by showing them traditional metrics like amount raised and number of email addresses acquired, and then was able to move onto the non-traditional metrics like fan growth and sentiment. I also got them involved by getting our CEO on Facebook and our COO on Twitter, so they “get it”. That was crucial to getting buy in.

7. What the best piece of advice you could offer nonprofits about social media, and online communications in general?

Listen first. It’s so tempting to just jump right in and get going, but you’ve got to find where your audience is and what they’re talking about first. Stay in tune with what other nonprofits are doing, and what social media trends are evolving, and learn.

8. Are you currently investing resources in mobile marketing i.e, a mobile website, texting, mobile Apps, text-to-give, etc.?

Yes – but it is challenging. Our current audience is just not using mobile tools on a widespread level, but then again, we want to stay ahead of the curve and be prepared for when they do start using them. Because we know they will!

9. What do you think are the most important skills necessary in a social media practitioner?

Being a social media enthusiast yourself. There is such an intense learning curve with social media. There are trends, memes, norms, and nomenclature associated with social media sites, and if you’re not already a part of it, it’s going to be obvious. If that’s not you, find someone who is, and have them help you get started. Get on the networks and become a contributing part of the community. I truly believe that you have got to be a part of Facebook and Twitter in your personal life to successfully manage an organization’s presence on those networks.

10. What is on your To Do List for 2011?

Re-evaluating our Facebook strategy. Facebook used to be the place that content that didn’t make the email or website cut went to; a dumping ground of sorts. But as Facebook changes and allows more content into the newsfeed, people are getting bombarded with branded messaging. It’s important to remember that that’s not what people joined Facebook for. We have to pay attention to what people respond to (and don’t respond to) and make our pages more engaging, or people are  just going to fall off. We’re starting by responding to every post on our “Just Others” tab, and doing more fun things like giveaways and open-ended questions for our fans. If you just beat them over the head with asks, it’s going to get old. We’ve got to lighten things up! People spend so much time on Facebook because it’s FUN.

11. Anything else?

Don’t be afraid to fail! We’ve done so many things in social media that flopped. We didn’t get discouraged; we learned from our mistakes and next time came back even stronger.

Related Links:
Book Research & Interviews
Book Tour
Book Tour Sponsors
List of Nonprofits Mentioned in the Book

8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2010 7:53 am

    Great insights, thanks for sharing!

  2. Marina Leonor permalink
    December 28, 2010 4:18 pm

    A interesting interview, with a real overview about the benefits of social media and how it helps to improve the connections in the volunteer network around the world.

  3. January 21, 2011 9:20 am

    Would you recommend building a Facebook page then using other assets like member e-mail lists, or addresses to notify them.? Or, do you recommend letting a Facebook page grow organically. In other words, what is a good way to get started on Facebook beyond setting up a page?

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      January 22, 2011 5:51 am

      That’s the only way to build a Facebook Page. By promoting it off Facebook. That’s how they reached 500 million users.


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