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social networks

Audiences Are Changing on Social Networks. Is Your Nonprofit Ready?

social media party

Here’s help to make sure that your social strategy can hold up to inevitable change.

This article is part of a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

While many professionals conceptually understand that audiences and behaviors on specific social media platforms shift over time, there seems to be a disproportionate concern among organizations about how to react to these types of changes. This concern may indicate a need for a broader, more integrated online strategy to best communicate your unique brand attributes to your audiences.

There seems to be a general sense of worry among organizations about Facebook’s evolving demographics in particular (younger audiences may be spending less time on Facebook in favor of other networks) and what this means for an organization’s engagement strategy. Facebook, with over 1.23 billion active monthly users as of January 2014, remains the most utilized social media platform – and, yet, somewhat shockingly, I’ve overheard leaders at multiple organizations frustratingly say things along the lines of, “This whole shift means we need to really reassess our strategy and reconsider if we should be on Facebook.”

Really?!  Did organizations think that all audience segments were only on one platform and would forever only be on one platform? Organizations should be prepared for both changes in the number of platforms that audiences use, and shifts in the ways that audiences actually use them.

Here’s how smart organizations approach these (and other inevitable) demographic shifts and social media evolution that we are sure to see in the very near future:

 

1) Make change a constant in your digital communications strategy and adjust accordingly (and accept that this approach may contrast a more traditional, slow-moving nonprofit mentality)

 

Shifts in platform usage are entirely expected, and if your organization finds itself surprised by evolving usage patterns, then that surprise – in and of itself – is cause for concern. Organizations should anticipate changes in who is using specific social media sites and how they are using them.

Social media platforms are constantly changing (which are utilized and how). This understanding is a cornerstone of an effective social strategy. The rapidity of social media evolution is the genesis of many organizational tensions, including: difficulties in measuring true key performance indicators related to social media; ever-increasing staff needs related to digital engagement; and the perils of “writing in stone” an engagement plan that becomes functionally irrelevant weeks after its publication. Digital engagement simply doesn’t work this way. To be effective, tactics must evolve to best meet audience needs while serving your organization’s broader strategies.

If your organization is paralyzed by the concept of shifting demographics and the evolving uses of specific social media networks, then it may indicate that your organization’s social media strategy is too focused on tactics and not sufficiently thoughtful of overarching marketing goals and strategies. For instance, a strategy may be to utilize content to improve your reputational equities as an expert on mission-related topics with a goal of increasing financial support. Posting a specific status on Facebook that is related to your mission (but also relevant to your audience on that platform) is a tactic. If you need to change that specific status to best serve a different audience than that which may have been on Facebook a year ago, then that specific tactic has evolved. When considered this way, can you see how extreme preoccupation (rather than acceptance) of the need to evolve tactics may be indicative of a lacking or unclear overarching strategy?

In short, updating your strategy may be difficult but updating your tactics should be expected. If it’s too hard to update your tactics, then you may have tactics standing in for your strategy…and that’s no strategy at all.

 

2) Keep tabs on where your market and supporters are/are going as social media networks evolve (and they will). Be present at those parties.


Remember: you need your community of supporters more than they need you. Act accordingly by making it easy and by providing compelling reasons for your audiences to connect and engage with you…or they won’t.

Stick with me here (because I love bad metaphors): Let’s say that your potential supporters hang out at a reoccurring, weekly party. Things are going great! You totally hit it off with the early adopters drinking a microbrew on the lawn, you spend time talking long-term goals with the preppy, high-achievers on the porch, and you also make time to bond with folks who are already your good friends in the kitchen. You’re building and maintaining relationships. This party seriously rocks!

…Until the early adopters decide to start spending time at another party…and the preppy folks from the porch attend a different party yet. You’re torn (and, because you’re a nonprofit, your resources are limited, which makes this even more frustrating).  Suddenly, your potential reach has lessend because you are no longer building relationships with key market segments who may profile as important influencers and supporters.

Because the market is the arbiter of your organization’s success, it’s generally best for you to keep on top of where your audience is and what they are doing and go to them.  As we head into the madness of March, at IMPACTS we offer a quick tip familiar to any basketball junkie: “Beat the market to the spot.”  In basketball and business alike, it’s the difference between shooting free throws and fouling out of the game.

Go with your key stakeholder or target audiences to the new parties and, once you’ve determined which parties are worth your energy (more on this to follow), then be ready to greet “old friends” as they arrive.

 

3) Understand that digital platforms are not mutually exclusive and multiple (thoughtful) presences often allow for more effective influence as platforms evolve


If your organization can only be in one place at one time, then consider expanding your resources because you may be missing or mishandling too many “touch points” to be effective. There may not be a single “magic pill” social media site that allows for the most efficient or effective influence on all of your audiences.

Let’s go back to my earlier party metaphor: Thanks to the web, it’s possible for an organization to have a presence at more than one party (or, on more than one platform). That said, we still need to make a decision: Knowing that having a presence on additional platforms takes resources, being on which platforms will be the most efficient use of our resources?  Nonprofits don’t need to be on every social media platform – especially if they cannot put proper energy into that platform. (If you go talk to those hip folks on the lawn, but you come off as a true outsider or barely make an effort to communicate, then you’ve done yourself more of a reputational disservice in being there then you would have been simply staying away.)

Decide which platforms are worth your time and energy based on where your market is most heavily influenced and you will have the most effective “touch-points.” But know that – increasingly – this is likely more than one platform (though 73% of adults focus on five social networks, sometimes certain platforms may be ripe for more targeted audiences). When demographics and uses change, respect the communities that you’ve already formed online. The quality of your fans is more important than simply pursuing reach, and be very cautious about abandoning one platform for another without careful consideration of how this will affect your current community. (Preempting the assumption: No! Many current users will not immediately follow you to another platform.)

The increasing fragmentation and micro-segmentation of audiences – such as young users spending less time on Facebook and more time on other platforms – may indicate that your organization should be prepared to be in more than one place at one time.  In turn, this may necessitate re-allocating resources to maintain connections and foster engagement with your online audiences.

In sum: Yes – millennials (or others market segments) may leave Facebook or other platforms, but, NO – it shouldn’t be something that strategic marketers necessarily need to worry about. Right now, Facebook remains a primary engagement tool for a majority of the market that is active on social media. That could (and likely at some point will) change. If your organization 1) has a solid strategy and identified goals, 2) thoughtfully continues to consider the value of each platform while making execution decisions, and 3) understands the possible need to cultivate extra resources to engage audiences on multiple platforms, and then your organization will not only easily adapt to changes without a hitch, but it will thrive.

 

*Photo credit: ed Social Media

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Millennials, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

How Planned Parenthood Used Social Media to Create a Win-Win Situation for their Cause

Over the weekend alone, more than 357,000 people signed Planned Parenthood’s online open letter to Congress to oppose the recent vote from the House of Representatives to bar federal funding for the organization. Planned Parenthood utilized social media to help reposition themselves from a “losing” situation (facing cuts in federal funding) to more of a win-win situation (garnering public support and raising awareness and passion for their cause).

Nonprofits rock at using social media because it supports storytelling, inspires personal connections, and heightens the transparency required to attract donors. It does these things better, and at less of a cost, than a Superbowl ad (or most any ad, for that matter). But there’s an ongoing tension between social media and its ability to have a direct, positive monetary impact for organizations. Like so many actions in the world of nonprofits, it’s hard to monetize and determine the ROI of the effort in terms of dollars.

Planned Parenthood has created a win-win situation: If Planned Parenthood succeeds in overcoming the recent vote to bar federal funding for the organization, then they will have a monetary benefit that resulted from online engagement efforts (they kept funding that might otherwise be lost). But if hundreds of thousands of social media users signing an open letter causes no change in government action, Planned Parenthood still wins. They’ve managed to create a compelling call to action that got their cause into the newsfeed of millions of people in an urgent and compelling way that folks are likely to remember. These people are potential donors with a new reason to contribute. If Planned Parenthood inspires government funding or not, it was still a huge success to summon potential donors who may give money to the organization, should the cuts go through. If your nonprofit organization is going to lose federal funding (which is almost never a “win”), it probably doesn’t hurt to capture hundreds of thousands of hearts in the process.

For better or worse, this case illustrates some interesting ideas about how people relate to causes via social media. Here are some observations that may have led to the organization’s online success:

 

1. Planned Parenthood’s open letter made it easy to be an evangelist for a cause. Signing the letter takes less than a minute and the letter may have received a lot of attention for that very reason. It made caring about a cause easy and it let people think that they were doing something extremely significant. And they actually were, indeed, becoming evangelists for something significant. Public service and social causes are growing increasingly important to us as consumers (read: supporters and donors), which also may have aided in inspiring thousands to sign the letter. This is over-simplified, but here’s the point:  making the letter easy to sign made it easy for people to do something “good,” and because that’s cool and you are cool when you support social change, people want to share that they support it. Result? Lots and lots of easy evangelists.

 

2. The call to action wasn’t the most important one. It was the most urgent. The call to action isn’t for monetary support, though that would be more active and likely have a bigger impact than adding your name to a letter that may or may not be considered significant in the eyes of officials. Although I hope that it is, it’s not a stretch to see how this online letter might not be taken too seriously. Case in point? The Facebook group called “We Hate the New Facebook, so STOP CHANGING IT!!!” has 1.5 million fans. Not even Facebook cares to listen to the group and it’s on their own platform. Like the Planned Parenthood letter, there’s no threatening action here to make leaders think these people care all too much when it comes down to it. The letter and its support could easily be written off as something that may have more to do with exposure than passionate belief that funds formally allocated to Planned Parenthood shouldn’t go somewhere else.  Putting your name on an online letter is something, but it’s far from the most active thing that Planned Parenthood could ask their supporters to do. In fact, Planned Parenthood didn’t seem to ask for active donations at all in their I Stand with Planned Parenthood campaign. Was that the right move? Maybe. Maybe not.

 

3. Planned Parenthood has cultivated 400,000+ emotional investors just online. That’s a lot of potential passion and a lot of visibility. The above points are far from proving on any level that the social media push was not a great idea for the organization. In fact, though it likely wasn’t the primary goal, Planned Parenthood succeeded in creating a large-scale spread of the most valued kind of marketing: word of mouth. Facebook is interesting territory for marketers. It’s a great way to create conversation and spread your message. However, it is a relatively closed network compared to, say, Twitter- where statements can be searched and seen by anyone. To expand your fan-following on Facebook, you need to get other people to spread your message so that it comes up on the newsfeeds of the users’ networks. Planned Parenthood mastered this by sending a follow-up email to each person who signed up for the open letter with a prominent button asking you to make the message your Facebook status.  It was easy and it worked. It’s likely that all 400,000+ supporters knew about Planned Parenthood before coming across the letter, but now those supports have done three valuable things:

  1. learned more about the organization, assuming they read the letter they signed
  2. took action to support the cause (emotional investment)
  3. and many stated their support publicly (solidifying their emotional support and integrating it into their online identity).

 

4. What Planned Parenthood does next, counts. The organization has built incredible momentum and Planned Parenthood will likely have to do something to harness that momentum before it dwindles. If you’re a museum person, this is the same problem that the Museum of Science and Industry faced after they chose their Month at the Museum winner. How do you keep people engaged for the main event? In this case, how do you get these people to stick around to see if Planned Parenthood gets federal funding? More importantly, how can you utilize this momentum to get people to help support the organization financially if it doesn’t…. or even if it does? There’s a lot of potential here, and there’s a lot that nonprofit organizations can learn about the role of social media in advocacy through what happens next.

 

As a side for museum-focused folks out there (and others!), Planned Parenthood isn’t the only organization that risks losing funding. There are some scary anti-museum amendments being considered by Congress for FY 2011. While reading about Planned Parenthood, it’s hard not to wonder what the online museum community would do if a severe anti-museum amendment threatened the industry that we both care about fiercely, and that supplies jobs to fellow museum aficionados. Nonprofit organizations in general can learn a lot by watching and supporting Planned Parenthood’s efforts right now. Particularly with regard to the evolving tool of social media which will likely play a growing and important role in advocacy, enagement, and summoning public support to create and realize change.

Please weigh-in with comments about lessons you are taking away from the situation and interesting tidbits that may help shape how nonprofits can use social tools to cultivate political support.

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments

The Key to Modern Day Marketing: Is Your Museum Utilizing Free Agents?

It’s no surprise that business practices, and especially marketing strategies, are evolving due to current changes in the way people operate and communicate. We didn’t have Facebook ten years ago- now organizations that are not cultivating online networks are doomed to fall behind in building brand loyalty and summoning the benefits of organizational transparency.

These changes, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organization’s marketing and development departments: free agents.

Who and what are free agents? I’ll tap into The Networked Nonprofit for my favorite definition: Free agents are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents for a cause. They are generally comfortable with and adept at using social media. Bloggers are free agents, influential tweeters are free agents, and your tech-savvy and socially-connected nephew who believes in your organization is a free agent, too. They are social citizens dedicated to a cause. Though not all free agents are members of Generation Y, Millennials have grown up communicating and creating networks on the internet. They have a tribe to tap into when they want to spread an important message or highlight a cause. I’ve argued before that this is a good reason why museums and nonprofits should hire candidates with personal brands: they have a network. They can help you reach people.

Why your organization needs free agents. Free agents are connected individuals who care about your organization’s cause, and their network is likely to consist of similarly-minded people who are also likely to care about your cause. Free agents not only spread awareness of your organization, but they increase morale, and may even put together events or programs to benefit your organization. For instance, a free agent may have a party in which all proceeds go to a certain organization. Though they do not work for the museum or cultural nonprofit, free agents will champion your organizations message simply because they have a network and they believe in your cause.

  • A little example of a free agent in action. The American Association of Museums runs The Museum Assessment Program. It is a wildly affordable program for small and mid-size museums that helps strengthen operations, improve planning, and better serve communities through a process of self study and peer review. Applications are due by February 18, 2011. I do not work for AAM and nobody is paying me to let you all know about this seemingly-awesome resource (if you didn’t know about it already). I am writing about MAP because I support the program’s mission and I know that quite a few of you work for organizations that might benefit from MAP. I am playing the role of a light free agent for AAM because I, personally, think this program is really cool. But free agents can play more active roles as well. I might host a meet-up to discuss the benefits of MAP with museum professionals, or ask my blogger friends to spread the word, or run a marathon and raise funds for AAM to take another mid-sized museum into the program. It is not unusual for free agents to do these things.

How free agents work. Because free agents are internet-savvy folks who are independent of the organization, they are hard to control. In fact, an important part of utilizing free agents is understanding two key concepts:

  1. You cannot control free agents. It’s important to work with free agents, but treating free agents as if they work for you is a speedy way to lose a free agent. This is particularly bad news if the free agent you are working with has gone to great lengths to cultivate excitement around your museum or program. This also connects well to my second point.
  2. Free agents will come and go. Many free agents are members of Generation Y, and this generation is loyal to causes but feels skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization. While free agents may come and go, remember to keep the door open in case they want to return to promote your organization.

Why free agents are good for your social media mentality. Certain thought leaders in the advertising field have argued that you don’t need a social media strategy (hint: It’s about values and people, not the tool). Working with free agents requires an openness and eagerness on the part of the institution. The fact that you cannot control or plan for free agents (aside from making yourself accessible) helps put museum professionals in a good place: focusing on community and values instead of trying to make rules about using social media. And “rules” have a way of fuzzing things up when it comes to brand transparency.

In sum, keep the door open for free agents. While nothing replaces face-to-face communication, it’s easy for professionals (especially members of older generations who are particularly unfamiliar with social media) to underestimate the value of online networks in helping an organization to reach marketing and fundraising goals. It may seem particularly strange to be encouraged to devote time and energy to cultivating young, sometimes still-unproven professionals. But try ignoring young professionals who are looking to support your organization, and you may find yourself slapping your forehead and (just for laughs) relating to this scene from Pretty Woman.

*Image based on photo from tremendousnews.com

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 2 Comments