Top 10 tips for infecting your non-profit with the Social Media bug


You’ve got witty, interesting people with passion, expertise, and the ability to talk the bark off a tree. You wouldn’t expect it to be hard to get EVERYONE in your organisation using Social Media, right? Except sometimes it is.

It’s so hard, in fact, that several dozen Social Media Managers turned up to a workshop at SXSW to discuss nothing but.

Panel organiser Beth Kanter, author of The Networked Non-Profit, makes a compelling case that the most effective non-profits are those in which EVERYBODY in the organisation does social media promotion of the cause, from the Executive Director all the way up to the receptionist.

Amy Sample Ward did a nice write up of the panel presentations here, and there’s a Storify treatment from Beth here. But the really best ideas came bubbling up from the collected experience in the room, and I keep circling back on juicy tips and tweets that came to the surface in this highly interactive panel, and thinking I should gather them up. So here they are as a cheat sheet. Add your own in the comments!

1. Make sure everyone knows they have permission to help through their personal accounts. It can be surprising how many just don’t realise that when you’re trying to get a message out or a conversation going, all hands on deck can be welcome. One thing that can help: Draw up a set of Social Media Guidelines which ENCOURAGE people to tweet, share, amplify, respond, engage. Nobody but a sect would require staff to use their personal channels, but make sure everyone’s clear that every bit helps. And while you want to make sure you’re clear about the rules and disclaimers and no-go zones, don’t make that the focus: they’re working for a cause because they’re passionate about your mission. They’re better informed than anyone you’re sending press releases to. They’re social media gold. Let them know they’re permitted and encouraged to fan whatever flames you’re flaming. Here are Greenpeace International’s Social Media Guidelines — we derived them from a creative commons work that Cecilia Scalaro put together for TNT.

2. Find your champions. Start with the most passionate and articulate folks in your office. Get them trained, get them active. If you need to convince them, show them that the same journalists, decision makers, and policy experts whose attention they’re trying to catch with press releases are watching social media. Show them the twitter lists of their key contacts. Teach them to make a twitter list of their own. Remind them that their friends on Facebook have friends who have friends in the right places. Give them the stats on how much farther a well crafted infographic will go on Pinterest compared to a 14 page report with the same information. Or how an image macro with a kitten can speak louder these days than the wittiest soundbite you can concoct. Make them examples to others, tell their stories around the coffee machine. “Did you hear that Robin got retweeted by the Guardian last week?”

3. Get Senior Management involved. Really involved. Don’t let them do the robot, but get them to bring personality and charisma and questions and genuine engagement to their social media interactions. Make sure they listen. Make sure they care. One participant wouldn’t take no for an answer, and to ensure the muscles got exercised told their ED they’d only get communications from them via Direct Message on twitter for the next month.

4. Use abundance as your frame. Every NGO is understaffed, and anyone will perk up to the idea that “Your Comms Department/Budget/Social Media engine” is the ENTIRE INTERNET! Feed that beast right, and it will run your message as far or as focussed as you want.

5. Share your secrets. You’ll need to train for two kinds of people: the kids who colour within the lines (see Guidelines above) and the ones who run with scissors. You may want to keep them separate. Aside from regular trainings, consider “Office hours” — a time (Facebook Friday! Twitter Tuesday! Weibo Wednesday! Instagram… er..) when you open your door for questions from anyone in the organisation who wants some extra help or has questions. Offer to look at their Social Media streams with your analytic tools, help them identify key influencers to follow or reach out to in their topic areas.

6. Get Social Media into the office air, the water. How do you create the buzz and omnipresence? Get case studies in front of management. Put twitter tips up around the office. (Greenpeace Netherlands put little speech bubbles up with tiny bits of advice, explaining hashtags, Follow Friday, etc… even in the bathrooms). Post the day’s trending hashtag at the water cooler. Print out clever Facebook posts and slap them up on the bulletin boards.

7. Be useful. Open up a Yammer or Skype channel where anyone can check a tweet or facebook post with you — either to test suitability or for tweeks and improvements. (“Be Useful” was also suggested as a viable two-word Organisational Social Media Strategy)

8. Circulate Social Media success stories. There are legends that deserve to be retold again and again, like the successful campaign against Nestle’s use of palm oil, to Facebook’s bow to pressure to power their servers with cleaner energy, to Amanda Palmer’s Million Dollar Kickstarter to how Oreo got more impressions and earned media than brands that spent millions on Superbowl ads, when one of the 12 interns they hired to tweet during the game put out an image macro during an unexpected power outage at the stadium: You can still dunk in the dark. If it can work for a cookie, it can work for a cause.

9. Retweet, repost, and broadcast good content. You can use your institutional account to bring bigger followings to your niche experts, to encourage and highlight clever uses of the medium to other staff. Throw #FollowFridays their way. Boast about them to your followers.

10. And finally: Break the rules. Any innovation is disruptive across multiple layers of norms and regulations, and if you try to make Social Media fit to your existing structure and channels, you’ll fail. If you try to go it alone, you’ll fail. And when those failures happen, celebrate them: they’re the sure sign that you’re innovating. Then learn from them.

And remember, it’s called “Social Media” for a reason. Don’t let it stay at your desk.

5 thoughts on “Top 10 tips for infecting your non-profit with the Social Media bug”

  1. Give prizes for the most popular accounts held by your staff, the ones who gained the most followers each month, most improved etc, for example here in the Greenpeace climate team its surprising who has the biggest twitter following (hint, not me @tominams with a feeble 145) and how many campaigners have no/inactive twitter accounts.

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