Developing Social Media Know-how

There is certainly a lot of “buzz” about social media within the nonprofit sector, and according to a report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, nonprofits are adopting these tools more widely than their corporate counterparts. More and more, nonprofits are seeking to use these tools to increase the impact of their organization. So where’s a nonprofit professional to begin?

I would suggest you get involved for yourself, before you start representing your organization. This gives you a little more room for mistakes. Don’t sign up for everything at once; you’ll never be able to keep up with it all. Just start with one, and add another as you feel comfortable. Here’s how I’ve gone about it.

I started with facebook, not because I wanted to increase my social media savvy, but because I was starting my Master’s program and this was a great way to stay connected with people. Once you have an account, you can check out nonprofit groups, fan pages and causes, which will give you a lot of insight into what tools are available and how they can best be used. (Of course, you should immediately become a fan YNPN Detroit! You never know what good stuff you’ll find on our fan page.)

LinkedIn is another site I joined because of graduate school. This is a great way to connect with people you know professionally, as it makes it easy to stay in touch with people as they move around and gives you an opportunity to peek into their work experience. This becomes particularly helpful as you conduct a job search and/or look to make a new connection with an organization or business. Through this platform, you are able to search not only the profiles of the people in your network but also their colleagues (depending on privacy settings), which can be very helpful when you’re trying to get connected to a specific company or organization. Additionally, individuals can find a lot of value in LinkedIn by subscribing to groups, where they can connect and share news/ideas with like-minded people. Just check out YNPN Detroit’s LinkedIn group to see how this works.

Last but not least, I joined Twitter. Yes, the national media makes endless fun of Twitter, but it can actually be a a tremendous resource. Through Twitter, you can follow news media, national thought-leaders, area nonprofits, friends and colleagues, and others who share similar passions and interests.  Plus, with Twitter’s search tool, it is easy to see what is being said about your organization or issue area. Be sure to check out the lists function – it makes it easy for you to sort information, and is a great way to find new people to follow.

Not excited about visiting multiple social media sites?  Then I’d suggest you check out programs like TweetDeck and Hootsuite. You can use these to post updates to Twitter, LinkedIn and facebook, which might make it easier for you to navigate the multiple platforms.

This highlights only three of the social media platforms out there, but I think these are great places to start. The key learnings from my experience so far have been:

  • You have to set your own boundaries. I personally keep my Twitter profile public, but restrict my facebook to my friends. I also maintain my tweets separately from my facebook updates. My Twitter and LinkedIn definitely have more of a professional feel than my facebook, but I make sure that there is nothing posted on my facebook that would stand out in a negative light should a prospective employer run across it.
  • Maintain your social networks. Visit them daily – if only for a few minutes at a time – but don’t allow them to become a time-suck.  And please don’t feel obligated to read every post; you’ll never keep up with it all.
  • You have to learn by doing. The more you engage in social media, the more natural it becomes. And when it comes time for you to represent your organization online, learn from others! Keep an eye on how your peer organizations are using social media. Adopt the practices you like, avoid those you don’t.

That’s my experience. For those of you who are newer to social media, let us know how it goes. For those of you who have been at it for a while, please add your insights to the comments.


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