The 3.5 Questions To Answer To Make Social Media Work For You

Kathleen Pequeño

Everyone who is organizing hears about social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and how they can transform organizing. There are many vibrant social media communities out there (in fact, thousands if you count organic online communities like NetSquared Local). And new massive social media sites like Pinterest seem to pop out of nowhere with millions of people on them!

Rather than choosing to invest time in these sites based on their sheer size and global popularity, start with these questions instead: 

1. Which social media communities are my key audiences using and what are they doing when they are there?
(This is more than one question, but not quite two, so we'll call it 1.5)

2.5 How can we offer our key audiences interesting interactions where they already are?

3.5 Why are we going to participate in a particular online community?

These questions are a lot like the ones I wrote about in my recent post on thinking about your key audiences. Similarly, they are designed to save you time, money and effort.

Which social media communities are my key audiences using and what are they doing when they are there?

There can be a hundred million people on a particular social media site, but if they are not the people you are organizing, nor the people who are decisionmakers on your issue, it doesn't make sense to spend your time organizing there.

First, how can you find out which sites your key audiences are using?

Easiest method: Ask them. Send an online survey about which sites they use and how often. Would you rather ask at your in-person events? Have someone work the crowd with the survey on a clipboard. Or, include columns on your mailing list sign-up sheet to ask people about their presence on the two most likely social media outlets. (One column for each). 

More effective method: Take a "list enhancement" approach. List enhancement refers to making your existing list of supporters work better by getting more information about the people on it from another database. (Your group may already enhance your list with voter file information, for example.) But there are also online tools to get data about your subscribers and their use of social media outlets (note: like voter files, this is not private information).

The least expensive way I know of to do a social media list enhancement is Mailchimp. They offer a "Social Pro" add-on that will show who on your subscriber list is on the most popular social networks (and how active they are) for $6 to $15 per month for paying accounts with lists of fewer than 10,000 subscribers. 

Your CRM may also offer a social media list enhancement similar to that. Before you buy the service, see if the data you get will include a ranking, so that you're not just finding out that your list members are on a social network, but you're learning who on your list are the most active users. These services can be pricey, but for larger lists, it can be worth it to get this information.

Second, finding out that people on your list are on social media sites and how active they are is not enough. You have to know what they are doing there. Think of your own social media use, or the use of people you know: having an account is not the same as using it. At a minimum, you'll need to get a social media ranking with your data, but you'll also need to spend research time looking at your community to see what people -- especially the most active people -- are doing. When are they sharing/commenting/reposting content related to social justice? How many of them are only posting humorous animal videos? Will the most popular people notice or share your content? How often are people sharing photos and images? (Hint: very often).

Which brings us to the next question...

How can we offer our key audiences interesting interactions where they already are?

Once you start to get a sense of what people are doing, think about what you have to offer in this medium. Could it be timely information about your issue? Photos from your events? Breaking news about political actions? Here are two examples of MRG grantees who are using social media sites well:

OPAL's Facebook page 

Portland Jobs with Justice's Twitter account and Facebook page

This comes back to a basic premise of knowing your audience -- think about what your key audiences want and use this medium to connect with them. As much as you can, be like George Takei. (He's using Facebook to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues as well as the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two.)

Why are we going to participate in a particular online community?

Be clear internally about what your measures of success will be before you start doing more social media communications. Do you want to be recruiting 100 new people to your prospect list a year? Or ten more more paying members? Do you want to be having weekly contact with your 25 most active supporters? If you want to be raising money, remember: social media is not that lucrative for nonprofits.

Read more about how to use social media effectively

Once you figure out where your key audiences are and what they're doing, there's a whole world of social media nonprofit support out there. Here are two websites to get your started with how-tos and strategy tips:

Nonprofit 2.0 has a bunch of great "best practice" pages on difference sites, and a great email list.

Beth Kanter is one of the most in-demand resources on nonprofits and social media. She's a treasure trove of information.

If you want to compare yourself to the most active nonprofits in social media, there's always the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report that NTEN puts out each year. (If you're an all-volunteer organization, it might be a bit daunting to compare yourself to the groups in that report. Keep in mind what your measure of success will be as you look at that report, where many of the groups invest significant resources in social media).

Don't worry about making a splash everywhere. Start with where your key audiences already are, focus on quality interactions with them and why you're there. That will pay off for you and for the people you are organizing.

Image courtesy of Nonprofit Tech 2.0