7 Questions Regarding Nonprofit “Social Media” Presence

Many nonprofit organizations are beginning to participate in social media.

There’s some anecdotal evidence that it’s a good way to communicate with large groups of people but an organization has to expend considerable resources to make connections. There’s no real evidence that there’s a benefit to participation in social media. It’s simply another way to communicate. 

Before your organization takes the plunge into the social media pool I would ask these seven questions.

1. Exactly how does this presence benefit the organization? Explain how participation in social media enhances the mission or benefits the people you serve. Will participation address a problem? What are the goals of this effort?  Is this the best use (or even a good use) of resources?  Is there another, better way to achieve these same goals?

2. Is your organization fully aware of the terms of service of these sites?  How secure is private data on these sites?  Do you give up some (or all) of the control of the information you post? Does the data posted to these sites become the property of the sites?

3. Are you prepared to defend these sites? In light of the recent economic downturn, many non-profits are tightening their belts.  Other organizations or individuals may want to know how you can afford to pay someone to update your Facebook page.   Does it pass the “front page of the newspaper” test?  There are a lot of myths surrounding social media.  For example, some people think Facebook and MySpace are the same, filled with pedophiles.  Remember the first lesson of good public relations: An organization has to not only be pure but also has to appear pure.

4. Are safeguards in place, like a reviewer or editor, to ensure that messages posted/sent are the proper ones, consider all stakeholders and always reflect positively on your organization?

5. Is there a social media plan? Has your management/board approved (either verbally or in writing) of this social media presence campaign?  Who is responsible for the execution of the plan/presence?

6. What are the most effective social media vehicles? If social media is free, do you get what you pay for?

7. Is social media a trend or a fad?  Fads tend to be short acting events while trends are longer lasting with more society-wide impact.  Two years ago MySpace was the hot thing and today it’s a social media ghetto.  Eight years ago blogs were the hot thing.  Is your organization hitching its wagon to a star or a train wreck?

Currently communications companies like Newsweek, CNN and MSNBC are experimenting with social media to see if it works.  Communications companies need to be on the cutting edge to stay ahead of the competition. Otherwise, smaller organizations, particularly those with limited resources should wait to see how the social media landscape plays out. 

Just because “everyone is doing it” is not a well thought out reason.  It’s too early to objectively assess the benefits of this new form of communication and it’s easy to forget that most people don’t read Twitter, Facebook or 20 blogs a day. Social media may be the hot thing right now but what is the real benefit compared to the costs?