Top 5 Social Media Mistakes We See Nonprofits Making

The Internet is rife with harrowing amounts of how-to’s and why-for’s on social media silver bullets. We should know, we just Googled it. There are experts and guides aplenty, gadgets and gizmos galore. But as people soldiering at the forefront of the War Against So-So Media™, the most egregious mistakes we see nonprofits making in the day-to-day don’t have anything to do with the minutiae. Rather they are cultural, structural and philosophical blocs from which NGOs operating in the old mode of communications have yet to break out. Here are the major symptoms of a beleaguered nonprofit:

  • The Knowledge/Know-How Disconnect. There’s a stereotype milling about that younger staff members are, by age default, best suited to do the maintenance of social media properties. And while they may be more accustomed to an online culture, social media shouldn’t be treated like the kids table. Does it make sense for the person with the least experience in your organization to take sole control of the number one public-facing entities you have? Social media needs to be treated like the family table, where everyone has a seat, and not as the backyard sandbox. As tempting as it is, relegating all responsibility to the intern or junior staff member is a surefire way to hobble your social media presence before you’ve left the starting gate.

    To bridge the disconnect between the know-how of your resident digital native and the expertise of senior members, there must be active engagement and input from the latter on a regular basis. In other words, treat those appeals to write a post on the organization’s blog as a priority. Contribute links you’ve found interesting to the Twitter account. And most importantly, whoever is running social media should be granted easy access to your organization’s leaders and major players.

  • “You Can’t Stop the Signal.” To quote a line from one of the best sci-fi movies ever, one of the biggest stumbling blocks we continually run into with clients is fear of uncontrollable variables: fear of losing control over the message, fear of others’ reactions, fear of failure. Bottle-necking “future” tweets in an approval process is just one medieval way we’ve seen nonprofits try to maintain control in what is, by nature, an uncontrollable Internet culture.

    Personalization, adaptation and responding in real-time are the bread and butter of the new media age. None of it can happen if you don’t have a nimble communications protocol. To be successful is to loosen (not necessarily lose) control and have the public turn your message into its own. The content you create needs to facilitate reactions and be conducive to remixing. The Internet will ultimately buoy your campaign or ground it, but if you never let go of it, you won’t be able to see how far it can fly.

  • Broadcasting Not Conversating. This is oft-repeated advice, but I’ve seen nonprofits make this mistake so much that it bears reiterating. Social media is a two-way form of communication, right? So why are many nonprofit’s Twitter accounts not conversing with their followers, not reciprocating retweets, not tweeting about relevant articles for fear of giving publicity to a “competing” nonprofit?

    If you wish to be a thought leader in a certain issue area, you have to develop relationships and banter with the current influencers in that space, even if it’s with someone you directly compete with for funding. Using social media solely as a broadcasting tool means you’re not tapping into social media at all. “Social” is in the term for a reason; no one wants to talk to the person at the party who only talks about themselves, why should a Facebook page be any different? You might as well just push out a press release.

  • Spreading Yourself Too Thin: Just because there’s a new platform doesn’t mean you need to be on it. Having boring content or an outdated presence makes an organization look worse than not having any presence at all. Before setting up an account on the next big fad, ask serious questions about the purpose of expanding and consider your capacity: What will joining Twitter accomplish that we can’t accomplish with the tools we have so far? Do we have the staffing to maintain the presence beyond this one campaign? Do we have enough compelling content to justify a YouTube account? For example, if the majority of photos in your Flickr account are “grip and grin” shots from the latest gala, I would think twice about making that account public-facing. Because after all…
  • Would you click on that? We are all Internet denizens, here. By simply clicking on a link, you are part of determining what goes viral, what is interesting online. Personal user experience is often the best way to inform your social media engagement tactics. Take a look at the types of links you click on throughout the day. Was it something about the headline that caught your eye? If so, can you use the same tone or sentence structure in the organization’s tweets? What made you look at this tweet instead of another? Alternatively, subject your organization’s content to the same litmus test. It can be as simple as taking a step back, looking at a tweet and asking, would I click on this if I had no prior investment in the NGO? You may be surprised by how many times that answer is “no.”