Guest Post: Mitch Hurst, MH Group
As social media becomes more ubiquitous organizations need to better understand how their issues are being influenced in online conversations. There’s a lot of talk about “listening” to discussions taking place online and, particularly for organizations that serve broad constituencies, monitoring social media to gain a better understanding of how issues are playing out.
Before Twitter and Facebook and other social networks launched, it took organizations considerable effort to gain an understanding of where their audiences or communities stood on their issues, or to understand what issues they deemed important. Whether through polling, focus groups, community meetings, or other feedback loops, organizations had to spend considerable time and energy to understand the landscape on which they were operating.
Without applying too much magic to the often messy and increasingly complex world of social networking, and understanding that offline influence doesn’t map directly to online activity, there are new opportunities for organizations to mine the online space to better understand sentiments about their issues and to identify strategies for constructive online participation.
Tools to monitor the online space – social networks, blogs, mainstream media – are becoming increasingly sophisticated and can provide sharp pictures of the content and interactions taking place about specific issues and organizations. These can be used for initial scans to gain an understanding of the current landscape and also for ongoing monitoring to track the direction of conversations.
Grantmaking foundations, for instance, can gain an understanding of how they may or may not be influencing the issues on which they are focused, or how active their grantees are in participating in online discussions. Community foundations can gain a deeper understanding of the key influencers in their communities and how community problems and solutions to those problems are being discussed.
Opportunities exist for program staff, in particular, to deepen their understanding of how their grantmaking issues are being captured, who the key influencers are, and how they might shape online communications initiatives that help further their programmatic goals.
Grantmaking foundations have traditionally lagged behind other sectors when it comes to utilizing shiny new technology tools for communications and public outreach. This has hurt their ability to monitor issues and develop strategies to react in ways that ensure their voices are being heard. Sophisticated new online monitoring tools, and the expertise to interpret the data and develop strategies for online participation and outreach, go a long way toward leveling the playing field for foundations and their grantees and increasing their impact on the issues they care about.