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Five Must-Have Skills for Nonprofit Social Media Managers

March 24, 2011

[tweetmeme] Your nonprofit’s social media campaigns are only as good as the social media manager running them. Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare are not miracle-producers. They are simply tools that can result in high ROI for your nonprofit, but only if the person sharing Status Updates, Twittering, and Checking-in on behalf of your nonprofit has the right skills, experience and training to make social media produce results. These are just some of the required skills necessary for a successful social media manager:

1) The ability and desire to blog.

Fresh content drives the Social Web. Old news does not get shared on Facebook or retweeted on Twitter. Your social media manager needs to be willing to create content on a somewhat regular basis in order to tap into the 24/7 breaking news cycle. Blogging allows your social media manager to easily do that and if the blog is well-designed, then the ROI from blogging can transform your social media campaigns. For many nonprofits, blogging is the missing piece of their social media strategy, and consequently their social media ROI is lackluster at best.

2) Is mobile.

The Mobile Web is here. It’s not some abstract concept of the Next Big Thing. The Internet has gone mobile. That said, the best nonprofit social media managers are sharing and tweeting from location. Some are experimenting with mobile photo and video-sharing and if they aren’t yet, then it’s high on their to-do list, as is experimenting with Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places. Half the battle of social media success is being an early adopter, and now is the time for early adoption of mobile technology.

3) Is passionate about social media.

A good social media manager must like social media. You can not force staff that have no interest in social media to use it. Their lack of interest will shine through in their tone and personality, or lack their of. That’s the last thing your nonprofit wants.

4) Has experience in Web 1.0 communications i.e., website, e-newsletter and “Donate Now” campaigns.

No offense to the interns (really), but one of the biggest mistakes nonprofits have made is assuming that because someone is 21 and has been using Facebook since they were 17, then they of course they must also know how to use Facebook for marketing. Wrong. So wrong. The best social media managers have at least one or two years experience in crafting Web content, managing an e-newsletter, and launching “Donate Now” campaigns. Those skills and background are absolutely necessary to get the bigger picture of successful online communications and development in the era of the Social, and now also Mobile Web.

That said, if your nonprofit can not afford a social media manager with experience in Web 1.0, then please at the very least make sure your interns are properly trained. Trust me, as someone who monitors hundreds of nonprofits on social media daily, many are in desperate need of training. Whether you take my webinars, or those offered by TechSoup or Idealware, the vast majority social media volunteers and interns with no professional experience in online communications and fundraising absolutely need professional training.

5) Is friendly, patient and responsive.

Over the years I have experienced all kinds of personalities on social media, and the one’s that stand out and have enticed me to become more interested in their nonprofit are those that are friendly and readily available to respond to comments and questions. The collective nonprofit online personality is one of courtesy, generosity, and humility. A good social media manager keeps their ego in check and approaches their communities from the prospective of providing service and fostering social good.

Related Links:
Social Media for Nonprofit Organizations LinkedIn Group
Webinar Special :: Eight Social Media and Mobile Technology Webinars for $250

26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2011 7:28 am

    Great post. Simple, but true.

  2. Athena Buchanan permalink
    March 24, 2011 9:12 am

    Heather is right on. It’s about the talent.

    Social Media is a Business Development activity. Hiring people who have successful track records in online fundraising is key in managing the Social Marketing/Social Giving “touch-point”. Many nonprofits hire writers not brand marketers, and doing so will not take their online fundraising channel to the next level. Revenue will not increase substantially year over year. There is a difference, there is Online Communications and there is Online Brand Marketing which involves engaging constituents through content AND converting to donors long-term.

  3. March 25, 2011 2:02 am

    Thanks so much for the post! In Jonah’s line, it was concise and effective. I’ll make sure to share it across the NGO’s I currently work with. (@NorthstarAfrica; @ArtforAIDSInt).

  4. March 25, 2011 2:13 am

    Totally agree and wonderful to see it in words 🙂

  5. March 25, 2011 3:17 am

    A very true post! But you left out one key aspect- they must have the TIME to really dedicate to it. I’m currently trying to get my organization’s Facebook and Twitter page off the ground, but I simply don’t have the time to do so. I can usually spare about maybe an hour a workday on social media. (Sure I could update Twitter and Facebook when I’m home, but our target audience isn’t really on those channels during that time.)

  6. March 25, 2011 4:07 am

    Good points here. Additionally, it’s important to think about the future when hiring staff and interns, or when consulting with clients. The social media landscape changes so rapidly that today’s hot platform is next year’s also-ran. A good social media manager should also know what’s going on in the entrepreneurial, startup, and web programming scenes. This will help ready your organization or client for the next generation of tools and platforms, and keep you connected to your audience.

  7. March 27, 2011 8:37 am

    Jeremy makes a great point – social media is time consuming, which is why you need someone with a real passion for it, who is focussed on the role.

    The right person will be really engaging, inspiring younger fans and the interns to be advocates of the charity. It’s a lot to ask and it takes a special kind of skill to get it right!

  8. March 28, 2011 6:53 am

    Great post and so true! Even though it is hard sometimes to explain this topic to people 😉

    Thanks a lot!

  9. March 28, 2011 7:55 am

    It’s true that a social media manager needs all these skills, but it is more complicated when you add in a NPO that maintains programs overseas but fund raises globally. In my case, time to do the job to the best of your ability is a luxury in a nonprofit world. I manage all digital assets and the team not just social media but making the constituents and the donors a priority is a must in order to be engaging and not just another organization but a full vested friend building a relationship.

    Intuition and being willing to sometimes think outside of the box is a huge asset as well.

  10. March 29, 2011 3:00 am

    Well written, so true. A logical addition to point 3 and 5:
    Passion for Social Media – check!
    Good personality, social skills – check!


    Totally agree not to put “unexperienced” interns in the position of SMM.
    But also no SMM nerd with no knowledge / passion for the topic.

  11. March 29, 2011 10:14 pm

    All excellent points. I would add one more to your list. The social media manager must have a sound understanding of the organization’s brand and be able to convey it with every post.

  12. Richard Cobden permalink
    March 29, 2011 11:34 pm

    Great concise blog. I will recommend my @sussexwildlife co-workers read this.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      March 30, 2011 7:03 am

      Thanks. You all have been doing great on social media… for years. An early adopter, for sure. 🙂

  13. Jon B permalink
    April 7, 2011 5:39 am

    Very good points.

    Realistically, a good PLAN for Social Media really needs to be mapped out, discussed, adopted and monitored by the directors. (even if they are tepid/slightly disinclined toward social media). No top-end buy-in== no results/frustration (like any other technology project).

    Its likely that the SM ‘person’ will also need to bring current members/staff/directors, kicking and fighting all the way, up to speed and into the ‘brave not-so-new workl’. Yet another task for a position that may be undervalued and/or underfunded (as others have pointed out NOT for inexperienced interns)

    another great post, thanks

  14. tamiko permalink
    April 7, 2011 10:41 am

    Excellent post; thank you!

    I especially agree with your point #4. An organization’s social media strategy should be seamlessly integrated with the rest of its communications and branding strategy. It’s essential that the person heading up the effort understand both Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 communications – as well as having an firm understanding of the organization’s brand, as other commentators have pointed out.

  15. April 7, 2011 3:09 pm

    Love that you covered mobile. It gets overlooked all the time, people use mobile devices more and more to make donations, make sure you can handle mobile!

  16. May 31, 2011 9:58 am

    I recently joined a non-profit for cancer after working for some years in social media/ online marketing. It took awhile for the medical director and I to explain to them the benefits of blogging and social networking (terms that were alien to them). It’s still early yet but they’re are slowly coming around.
    I love this article and will definitely share this with them as they still seem to think it’s a hobby for teenagers.

  17. Erin permalink
    June 23, 2011 11:55 am

    I’m an intern for a nonprofit. I’m also 21 and have been using Facebook since I was 17. You got me spot on! But no offense taken here. I understand the need for experience; however, my nonprofit is small and still emerging in its community. It can’t afford to pay an expert, let alone me! Plus, the leaders are not familiar with social media and haven’t looked into its possibilities. Therefore, I’m doing my research and trying to help them navigate the world of social media. You have great resources and information. In fact, I’m referencing you multiple times in a strategic plan that I’m putting together for the board of directors.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      June 25, 2011 7:09 am

      Thanks. And good luck in your career. Don’t work for free for too long! 🙂

  18. October 24, 2011 9:26 pm

    Great post. Really helpful. Agree that too often nonprofits ignore the fact that their social media campaigns are only as good as the people leading/executing them. Have incorporated this, and this site by reference, into a recent blog post of my own. Keep up the good work!


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