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As Social Media Landscape Gets More Crowded, Strategy Matters More Than Ever (VIDEO)

According to the Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) third annual Social Network Benchmarking Survey, 90 percent of nonprofits are using at least one commercial social network like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. While adoption of such platforms by the broader nonprofit sector dwarfs that of foundations (our 2011 survey shows use Twitter at 29% and Facebook at 27%), it illuminates the extent to everyone must now compete in a public square jam-packed with virtual soapboxes.

To Holly Ross, executive director of NTEN, these numbers suggest that both nonprofits and foundations have entered a new phase in which being a part of the social media universe is no longer enough. If you want your message to be heard, it must be driven by strategy that informs every aspect of how you participate, including making sure the specific social media platforms you pick to carry your messages are the right ones for the goals you want to achieve.

As a case in point, in the accompanying video, Holly talks about how NTEN’s use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has evolved over the past three years. In the early days, each post that NTEN created was automatically distributed through all three channels. Over time, staff began to understand the nuances of each platform and the ways in which each could be used to advance different elements of the organization’s overarching strategies.

Strategy Matters More Than Ever in Crowded Social Media Landscape from The Communications Network on Vimeo.

As a result, Facebook is now used primarily to promote the organization’s efforts to “connect” with members and constituents. Given this goal, NTEN isn’t particularly concerned about what visitors to its Facebook page are talking about — just as long as they are talking with NTEN and with each other.

Staff finds Linkedin a much more conducive virtual space for going deep with work-related questions, which fuel the organization’s “learn” strategy. In that space, natives can be goaded to submit pages of comments about their use of cloud computing or how they plan to allocate next year’s tech budget.

While the right strategy is key, Holly also believes another essential element to social media success is an organizational culture that both supports and is comfortable with the kind of give and take that comes with engaging with people outside your organization online. As she puts it, “If you don’t have that culture at your organization you can have the best strategy in the world but you won’t be able to make these tools work for you.”

Just a few short years ago we were suggesting it was ok just to get your feet wet with social media. Today, you have to willing to take a deeper dive. But at least there’s a lot more good guidance available — like tips and suggestions Holly offers in the video — to help decide whether social media is right and how to make it work for you.

For more, click the image above to watch the video.

Susan Herr, a regular Communications Network contributor, is president of PhilanthroMedia.


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