2013: The Year Nonprofit Social Media Grew Up

shiftThis is the month when we all reflect upon 2013, and I am no holdout. Thinking about what I repeatedly encountered as a digital engagement strategy consultant, I realized that this was big story: 2013 was the year that social media grew up. 2013 was the year that communications and social media finally melded into one, social became visual, results were measured, and organizational culture began to shift in order to absorb these changes. Not every organization encountered these changes, or asked for them. More than ever before, organizations were interested shifting: from broadcast to conversational communications (finally!), from doing to doing and measuring, from controlling to opening up (just a bit at some, more at others), from transitional social media activities to permanent frameworks.

In my consulting practice this year, the shifts I observed weren’t earth-shattering, but they were significant. The communication disruption that began six or seven years ago has now been recognized, and becoming part of organizational practice.

1. Socializing the organization.

Don’t silo social media” in one part of the organization has been a complaint of consultants for years; 2013 was the year executive directors and executive staff realized the impact of siloing on communications. This was the year that mission-driven organizations with a social media component began conscientiously considering: How do I become a Networked Nonprofit? What knowledge-sharing systems should we have in place in order to support our social media activities? Who coordinates social media information gathering and dispensing, and to whom? What is our policy on encouraging staff to reach out individually to our stakeholders online and connect with them personally?

I predict in 2014 that the employee who isn’t fully on board with digital will continue to become marginalized within the organization.

2. Measurement.

No more “social isn’t measurable”- which was “so 2011.” 2013 was the year that mission-driven organizations clamored to figure out how to measure the success of their social activities. Resources abounded: from Measuring The Networked Nonprofit to the many social media measurement sessions at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, webinars galore, and nonprofit benchmarks reports. Every organization I worked with prioritized developing and tracking social media metrics.

This will surely continue into 2014 as social media practice continues to mature, organizations analyze their historical social data, and the field continues to develop social measurement benchmarks.

3. Online funding and crowdfunding.

This is the year that crowdfunding exploded onto the nonprofit scene and online fundraising finally saw real gains. Everyone wanted to explore a crowdfunding campaign, and many of my clients put it on their docket to try in 2014. 2013 was the year that IndieGoGo offered features for nonprofits, online revenue grew by 21%, Giving Tuesday came into its own, and a study of the next generation of giving in Canada and US giving found that online donations are only going to rise.

4. Visual, visual, visual.

From data visualization, to infosnaps, to moving gifs, to the prominence of graphic images across the social web, this was the year visual use exploded. This ties into the storytelling trend from last year, and the data supporting the viral shareability of visual images. There are some wonderful curated collections and resources showing what nonprofits produced in 2013: Noland Hoshino’s Infosnaps, Amanda Dahlquist’s Scoop.it resource for Nonprofit Data Visualization, Kerri Karvetski’s Nonprofit Infographics Pinterest Board, and my own resource of digital storytelling tools. 2013 was the year mission-driven organizations dedicated time and budget to developing visual storytelling imagery.

2014 will be the year that nonprofit communications staff define storytelling as a critical job skill.

5. Personnel/Personal.

At the 2012 SXSW Interactive, I was part of a panel of nonprofit staff and consultants discussing the personal/personnel divide in social media. During that session, we primarily heard concerns about merging personal use of social media with professional use (read more in the Storify recap here). In 2013, the same panel (plus Maddie Grant) offered a similar session at the NTC, and the 2013 questions were entirely different: instead of how to divide oneself, attendees asked: How can we manage the merge?

Organizations I worked with struggled with the question of personal social media use as they crafted or modified existing social media policies. However, none asked me how to prevent employees from using Facebook, or how to stop them from speaking about the organization. One even feels strongly that employees are its best assets, and gave me permission to speak about this with Allison Fine during a Chronicle of Philanthropy podcast.

If 2013 was the year personnel and personal began to merge, 2014 will hopefully be the year of the employee champion.

6. Budgeting for social.

2013 was the year mission-driven organizations began to budget for social media, finally. The 2013 NTEN IT Staffing Report indicates that organizations are paying for digital and social communications staff, and generally .25 FTE towards social media. While almost 50% of nonprofits surveyed do not allocate any money towards maintaining a social media presence, almost 43% are budgeting for it.

If 2013 was the year that nonprofits began to budget in earnest for social media, I predict that 2014 will be the year that even the smallest organizations will set aside money to support a social media presence. Medium-sized organizations will begin to pay for more sophisticated tools that measure effectiveness, listen for mentions, and source social data.

Of course, I have to add a few more predictions for social and digital nonprofit communications in 2014:

Wider adoption of mobile-only social apps (What’s App, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.), the importance of the chief storyteller, the domination of online giving days, and the inclusion of millennials within organizations – who will be critical in defining communication strategy.

What did you experience in 2013 and what are your predictions for 2014?

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for nonprofit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at communityorganizer20.com and regularly provides advice and commentary to our eJewish Philanthropy community.

cross-posted at CommunityOrganizer20.com