13 September 2011- “Social media is not the “˜next big thing’, it’s right now’s big thing. But, NPOs, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should be doing it. At the risk of sounding like a social media cynic, Gina de Villiers, Tshikululu’s senior communications specialist, explains.
Social networking has been received by non-profit organisations with much excitement – as we are regularly reminded, signup is free, they allow for a simple or complex web presence, and open up a world of communication with fellow NPOs, potential donors, and like-minded citizens.
Yes, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the many alternative social media sites have indeed altered the way in which NPOs network with the people that matter to them. For several organisations and causes, this new, immediate, global interaction has been fundamental to the way they now conduct fundraising and awareness campaigns.
But for most NPOs, setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter feed does not mean that your very worthy organisation will achieve international reach, policy-changing levels of conversation, or the funding that one would assume naturally follows.
I’ll go as far as to say that for some idea-rich but resource-poor organisations, social networking should not be a priority at all. If you’re answering “˜no’ to these questions, I’m talking to you:
Have you invested in an appropriate anti-virus product, is your hardware in good repair, your software updated, and your data regularly backed-up? Protection of your digital information is vitally important for maintaining the historical record of your organisation, the privacy of sensitive documents, and the integrity of your computer systems. In addition, it’s more efficient to use machines that work as they should.
Is your database as clean as it can be? If your networking and fundraising contact lists are riddled with outdated and inaccurate entries, your communication efforts will not yield results, no matter what medium you use.
Are your staff members computer literate? Anyone responsible for using a computer for any task, let alone communicating outside your organisation, should receive proper training. Not only does this prevent inappropriate communiquÃ©s – be they letters, emails or tweets – reaching important contacts, developing your staff in this way is good for your organisation and their careers.
Do your contacts use social networks? There is obviously value in using social networking tools in an attempt to grow your list of contacts, but if your already-established network is best reached via email or telephone, consider carefully whether your organisation’s time is not better spent developing the relationships you have, rather than those you do not. If you answered “˜I don’t know’ to this question, find out!
Does your organisation have a skilled, passionate resource to dedicate to your social network? It may be free to sign up to Facebook, Twitter, or whichever site you prefer, but after that comes a cost in (possibly) training, and (definitely) time. Social networks take lots of time to establish, grow, maintain and direct. As exciting as social networking really is, it is in your organisation’s best interest to question whether your resource’s time may not be better spent on another task.
If you answered “˜yes’ to these questions, I have both good and bad news. The good news is that social networking may well be a communication tool that starts a conversation between your organisation and new supporters. The bad news is that right now is not the right time to leap on to Facebook. Not just yet. There is still work to be done – a purpose for your communication to identify, and a social networking strategy to develop. We’ll talk about that in a future article.”