Social Media: The Every-Department Job in Nonprofit Organizations


So, this “Internet” thing? It’s here to stay. It’s perhaps a hefty statement, but in this age of increased transparency and digital communication, your marketing team may well be the single most valuable department in your organization. (I’ll explain…)

Marketers aren’t increasingly important because they are necessarily smarter or have more talent than do the valuable resources in your organization’s other departments. It’s because the job of the communications, marketing and public relations professional has evolved from being a single funnel to media outlets streamlining promotional messages on behalf of an organization, to serving as several funnels to different, targeted demographics based on content from several different departments in a manner that achieves an organization’s long-term goals. Today, great marketers in visitor-serving organizations show the world how every other department shines. (And when they do it well, they shine, too)

It’s no secret: As I’ve said before, social media does not belong to the marketing department. It’s critical to open up communications between your marketing department and other departments. Your organization will need all of these connections in order to succeed in attracting visitors, building affinity for your brand, connecting people to your cause, and securing donors. Consider this. Here are six critical keys to social media success, and all six rely on cooperation with other departments:

 

1. Killer content (Marketing needs Education)

Engaging content is the key to success in social media. Content is currency. Engaging content keeps organizations top-of-mind and increases reputation – a key driver of visitation. It keeps your nonprofit in folks’ Facebook newsfeeds and gets you re-tweeted, shared and liked. It increases your reach and online audience. Content drives interaction, which drives affinity, which drives support. Arguably the best place to find this engaging mission-related content is from your organization’s scientists, educators, and interpreters. They are natural suppliers of fun-facts – they can uniquely tell you when behind-the-scenes activities take place, and they generally provide the “wow factor” for education-based content.  Moreover, because many members of this department are public-facing, they already know what visitors consider interesting. Without the Education Department, marketers would have nothing to share except updates on their morning meeting about media ad buys… and, fortunately, they know better than to tweet about that!

 

2. Community management (Marketing needs Visitor Services)

Did you know that 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to the questions that they ask online within one hour? This is often made difficult because many nonprofit organizations (and shockingly, several museums) still “go dark” on the weekends (typically, the busiest times for museums)! Social media is increasingly a platform for customer service – and timeliness counts. Marketers must rely on an organization’s Visitor Service team in order to provide important information regarding pressing customer service questions.  We call this “social care” and it is critical online. Nielsen has released their 2012 Social Media Report . Take a look at some of their findings:

 

3. Cultivation of evangelists and supporters (Marketing needs Fundraising)

I just lied for consistency purposes. In reality, Fundraising needs Marketing. Online giving continues to grow by 13.1% year over year, and online giving currently accounts for 6.3% of total giving. BUT organizations do a disservice when they assume that online giving is the only type of giving strongly connected to marketing. Web platforms and social media are the single most powerful marketing channels used for obtaining information – including gaining information for making visitation or giving decisions. Even if someone gives in-person, over the phone, or by mail, chances are that the connection was strengthened by digital communications. Marketing and Fundraising Departments can (and should!) work together to make lists of potential evangelists who are likely to spread the organization’s message, and social media can help identify folks with an existing affinity for the organization with the inclination and/or propensity to become members or donors. I’ll be so bold as to highlight an increasingly-relevant truism: Marketers don’t need fundraisers to be successful at marketing, but fundraisers need marketers to be successful at fundraising. In my experience, “old-fashioned” fundraisers hate this…but, generally, when you take stock of the current condition, “old-fashioned” fundraisers aren’t succeeding right now.

 

4. Unique initiatives (Marketing needs Exhibits)

This ties back to killer content. Exhibits teams have access to important, exclusive information that can pique online interest. They know when there’s a big, wrapped mystery being delivered on the loading dock, which animals are giving birth, why exhibits are placed where they are, and (like their colleagues in the Education Department) they know a nice bit about how people learn. Most importantly, they can facilitate unique initiatives like online animal-baby naming contests and help arrange special programs/experiences that can be value-adds as prizes for online engagement (Related note: Please don’t offer discounts over social media. The short-term, “subsidized” bump in engagement has significant, long-term, negative consequences for nonprofit organizations.) Exhibits teams can help allow for open authority opportunities that increase reputation, open conversation and “make everyone a curator.”

 

5. Ability to experiment (Marketing needs Executive Leadership)

Social media and online engagement best practices and measurements evolve, so goals need to evolve, too. For instance, most of the museums that I work with don’t have a real budget for Facebook aside from human capital or full-time equivalents (read: someone’s time). However, Facebook’s recent changes to Edgerank (Facebook’s status-delivering algorithm) have made the platform more pay-to-play with promoted posts and sponsored stories. Now, organizations would be wise to consider that maximizing engagement on Facebook may require a sustained monetary investment. It also makes compelling content from various departments even more important.  In sum, social media isn’t about evolution…it’s about revolution.  Changes are nonstop, big and fast. Leaders need to embrace the inevitability of change.

 

Also – and much more importantly – executive leadership buy-in is a key element to creative engagement. The best, most-famous examples of online engagement in museums (think Museum of Science and Industry’s Month at the Museum, or Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Online Dashboard, or museum directors betting artwork on the superbowl) required not only permission, but a willingness on leadership’s part to take on these initiatives.  To take engagement to the next level, marketers need to understand that yesterday’s “how-to” manual is already obsolete. To have permission to innovate better practices in this rapidly evolving space, marketers need to be talking to leadership.

 

6. Human Tone (Marketing needs Human Resources)

Social media policies are best practices in organizations. In the digital era, folks want to know the people behind the computer screens. This also means that audiences can be drawn to staff members with their own online brands. These brands and real-life experts can be very helpful for organizations seeking to increase their respective reputations. Here are some famous ones in the museum world.  However, organizations also risk having folks say inappropriate things online, share private information about an organization, and occasionally display less-than-awesome online behavior. The Human Resources Department plays a critical role in managing staff members’ online behaviors – they are a marketer’s “safe harbor.”

 

We do our organizations a grave disservice when we shrug and call communications – and especially social media – “Marketing’s job.” Increasingly, social media is everyone’s job (at least parts of it).  Successful organizations understand the need for everyone to participate in the overall communications effort. Marketers don’t merely communicate, they collaborate.  We aren’t solely about content, we’re about connection.  And, the best amongst us understand that we can’t do it alone.  Our success – indeed, the success of our organization – is a product of giving EVERYONE in the organization the most important job.  We’re all marketers.

 

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Photo edit based on meme by KSB

Posted on by colleendilen in Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Education, Exhibits, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media Leave a comment

About the author

colleendilen

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

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