Are You Swimming or Drowning in the Social Media Stream?

In an earlier post I noted that many Jewish organizations were having a difficult time deciding whether or not it was worthwhile to take the plunge into social media or if they should sit on the shoreline until this latest fad passed by. It turns out that over the past months many organizations have jumped in and are learning to swim. This is good news even if it takes some time to get really good in this new medium. Still, too many organizations have jumped in out of pressure to “do something” before fully examining the stream they were entering. Their efforts appear to be episodic rather than strategic and results are likely to be less than great.

Some nonprofits, especially those whose constituent base skews older, have been trying out social media in a “toe-in-the-water” approach. They want to be “in the game” but fear that with only limited resources, the payback on the social media investment may not yield the results they need now. So they put up a Facebook causes profile but fail to invest in its management. Or they try Twitter for a few weeks using an eager young staffer but never link the tweets to a larger strategy. The big question for nonprofits struggling with their social media plans is simply, “What do you want to achieve, with whom and how are you going to get it done?”

Social media is simply a newer set of communications channels to help you reach people you value. So, if your goal is to expand the number of your younger supporters or activists, then you probably need to invest in a sustained social media program aimed at their interests. If your top priority is to move your major donors up a notch (and they happen to be on average over the age of 65) then investing in a social media strategy aimed at them may not be your most important next marketing step.

So, yes social media is much more than a fad. It’s the present and probably some newer iteration of it will be the future. You cannot ignore it in the hope it will go away but you can think through your goals, whom you want to reach and on what topics and develop a thoughtful plan for using it before rushing to get on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

  • Step one is to get clear on what you want to achieve and secure buy-in from all the right decision-makers.
  • Step two is to make sure you are listening to all the social media outposts to learn what is being said about your organization. This is not an episodic moment. It is a decision to become a listening and learning organization. You want to learn what your target audience(s) is saying, doing and what it cares about.
  • Step three is to put a plan together that sets clear, measurable, achievable goals (not grandiose ones) and that identifies a specific target audience and the subjects around which you want to engage. Then you can choose the right social media and traditional media tools to reach them.
  • Step four is to figure out who in your organization will be responsible for your social media project. Who is going to listen and report? Who is going to create the blog, the video, the tweets, and the Facebook profile and manage the conversations that will come?
  • Step five is to figure out who and how you will track and measure performance. What are you measuring? Dollars donated? People engaged? Email addresses added?

If your organization is already swimming upstream in the social media current and struggling to make sense of your efforts, head to shore. Take a few deep breaths and regain your energy and perspective. Then take a close look at some of the nonprofits that are really doing swimmingly – like Young Judaea, American Red Cross or National Wildlife Federation. Or you can take a look at the top performing nonprofit Twitterers. These are but a few of the many organizations that are doing well with social media because they have made a plan and are following it.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.