Here's a provocative question from James on the Social Actions community blogs: What if they don't know about social media? What is the point of a social media strategy if most of your nonprofit's constituents and supporters aren't aware of or interested in new media?
So, what is a progressive, hot-for-social-media non-profit supposed to do? Just use email (said with teenage sarcasm)?

The answer is - yes and no. If you only want to reach a small portion of people in the world (at this point), then yes, just use your Facebook Page to communicate with people. If you want to reach their brothers and sisters, then use email too. If you want to reach their mothers and fathers, then use direct mail too. It's called multi-channel.

But still, what if I really just want to use social media (said in 5 year old tantrum voice)?
Good question, and that mindset often threatens to rear its head when media-savvy people start talking about communications strategies. The possibilities of social media are exciting, but (and I think we all need to remind ourselves of this from time to time) so are the possibilities of traditional communication. I get excited by nonprofits adopting new, unusual, and even controversial social media campaigns, but I also get excited by a well-written quarterly newsletter or an unusual donor event. It's always tempting to build a campaign around a certain tool, but it takes an expert communicator to build a campaign around the audience. Meeting the audience where they are might mean a Twitter marathon and it might mean knocking on doors.

On a tangential note, I'm certainly not excusing myself from the allure-of-the-new approach to nonprofit technology. Compare the topic that brings the most people to TechSoup (software donations) with the one most often discussed on this blog (social media).

On her blog Creating the Future, Hildy has been questioning the use of social media in fundraising (Part 1, Part 2). I might question some of her arguments, but I wholeheartedly agree with her conclusion:
I've seen some terrific campaigns that use social media to (for example) encourage several bloggers to all blog about the same issue, changing up issues monthly for a year. Isn’t that a terrific use of social media? [Its] primary use is not fundraising (although money is indeed raised) but raising awareness and generating engaged dialogue. Instead of focusing on fast money, these campaigns focus on building solid, strong support for their vision of what is possible in the world.
Our efforts in social media must be geared toward building stronger relationships with our supporters. If we're using social networking only for one-day fundraising blitzes, the returns will diminish with each successive campaign as we miss out on much greater relationship-building opportunities. And all the while, don't forget about James' siblings, who might be aware of social networking but would really rather communicate with you through other venues. They're important too.

For more thoughts on effective use of social media, check out Beth Kanter's article Eight Secrets of Effective Online Networking and then head over to her excellent We Are Media project.

Photo: Derek Farr

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