Communications for Smaller Nonprofits in the Era of Twitter

by Jo-Ann Mort

Over the last few years, the world of communications has simultaneously become both more accessible and less manageable. With the explosion of social media came the democratization of communications – one Tweet can reach more people than a press release, and a Facebook post can receive just as much attention as coverage in traditional media.

This change in how news gets out can benefit, smaller nonprofits that may not be budgeted for large communications outlays. But just because social media is accessible to all of us does not mean it should be approached without an airtight strategy.

It is true that people and organizations now have many more opportunities to get out their story than they did in a pre-digital age. Absolutely and without a doubt.

If your local newspaper or NPR affiliate doesn’t want to cover your latest press release, then you can simply post it on your organization’s website, Facebook page, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter. You can even make a video about it to post on YouTube. There are countless opportunities to bypass traditional media outreach.

Just because something is on the web, doesn’t mean that the right people will necessarily see it. The same forethought that went into promoting a news story in the pre-digital age needs to be applied today. In fact, with so much news out there and so much communicating going on non-stop, the need to carefully target your audience is even more critical.

In addition to thinking about who you are trying to reach, you also need to think about who is doing the out reach and how they are doing it. When news outreach was somewhat less democratic, and there were less options about how news was reported, it was highly unlikely that staffers in an organization would all get out there at once to speak the news. Either an executive director or communications staffer would be the person talking to the media and responsible for the public face of the organization. But that isn’t always the practice anymore.

In this new democratic era, even a simple – and seemingly innocent – Facebook post can tell a story about your organization, and not necessarily the one that your leadership intended. Though not part of any communications’ strategy, staff or even volunteer leaderships’ opinions and/or ideas about an organization can end up being expressed in public in a manner that creates an unintended narrative about an organization. At worst, internal disputes get played out online; at best, the organization gets some unplanned branding that probably won’t add to enhancing the mission in any major way. Many a director of a nonprofit can and do find themselves playing catch up, trying to tell a counter story to the one that gets out there – unplanned and even unwittingly – by staff members who emote online.

Again, communicating in the digital age requires strategic planning regarding what to say, who to say it to, and who should say it. That’s why it is so important to think ahead and have a developed policy about how your organization engages online.

In an era when talk is visible, it’s crucial that all internal decisions in an organization are made with communications in mind. Before staff changes are made or before internal decisions are made, consider how to message these to your staff and leadership. Doing so will help you control the message that inevitably gets out,. And, if someone does publicly say something contrary, your response will be ready.

Jo-Ann Mort is CEO of ChangeCommunications, a communications and resource development firm that is now offering communications boot camps for smaller non-profits. Jo-Ann is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.