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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