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Allyson Kapin 8 min read

10 Things Every Nonprofit Should Know About Social Media and Online Communications

Last week I spoke on a couple of great panels at the Politics Online Conference about technology, social media and how Congress is trying to adapt to the ever-changing world wide web aka the “series of tubes” as former Senator Ted Stevens so hilariously described it. From grassroots advocacy staffers to Hill staffers and PR folks, the same questions arose during each panel session – what are the top social media tools to use to spread an organizations message and how does an organization effectively use online communications tools. All great questions! Let’s get down to my top 10 list of things every nonprofit should know about social media and online communications.

1. Google Analytics:
Google Analytics, a free and powerful website stats software, lets you dig into your website data so you can find out all sorts of useful info such as who your audience is and what keywords they are searching for to find your website. Katie Harbath of DCI who joined me on the panel “Every Question I Was too Embarrassed to Ask about Technology” said that this is one of the best resources of data when you begin to search for people to build your social media community. Agreed!

2. Enewsletters Still Work
Enewsletters are still a valuable form of communications for most organizations. During the panel “What Effect Will the New Administration’s Use of Tech Have on Congress?”, Rob Pierson, Online Communications Director for Congressman Mike Honda and soon to be New Media Director for the House Democratic Caucus, said that sending enewsletters to your online list is the best bang for your buck when you have limited time and resources. Enewsletters can easily generate a lot more clicks then social media outlets such as posting a video to YouTube. Furthermore, according to the latest benchmarks study by Convio, enewsletters are one of the most “cost-effective ways to build relationships with new constituents, increase engagement, and educate supporters about your organization’s mission.”

3. Twitter

Twitter, oh such a trendsetter these days between Oprah, Ashton Kutcher and CNN. The entire world seems to be fixated on Twitter and for good reason. Twitter is a great way to spread your message and brand your campaign, while building a community. As I have mentioned in prior posts, you need to be where your target audiences are. Consider it like an interactive 24-hour news cycle. It’s where people go to gather news, resources and discuss issues. But remember don’t treat it as a one way communication tool to just blast out your latest press releases and action alerts. The Twitter community likes to be engaged.

4. Facebook
As the fifth-most trafficked site in the United States, Facebook is a great social network for nonprofits to build a community and brand their campaigns. Nonprofits can start a Facebook Group, Cause Page to raise a bit of money, or Fan Page to post recent news, videos, photos, events, launch contests, and talk to your members via discussion boards.

5. Build Your Community
At the end of the day raising money, motivating people to take action and social networking is about building up your community – a base of friends. For example, you can search for “friends” that share similar interests to your organizations mission through Summize.com on Twitter or on Facebook by clicking on your own interests and viewing the list of recommendations who come up in your search. Friend Feed is another option.

6. Engagement is Key

Ask your "members/friends" to share their opinions and have them post their responses online. Respond to their comments so they know someone is reading their posts. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) recently said that “Online tools help me stay connected and get feedback from the people I work for.”

7. Freshen Up Profiles
Update user profiles every couple of days with new stories, interesting facts, new videos, blog entries, photos, etc.

8. Transparency Counts Big Time
If you are tweeting or blogging on behalf of an organization sign your name at the end of the post so your community makes a connection to the different people blogging or tweeting. Don’t pretend you’re somebody else like the Executive Director. People can see right through it and will call you out on it which can be embarrassing. For example, when Joe Trippi is not able to be on Twitter, he asks his staff to tweet timely news on his behalf and sign their own name at the end of the tweet.

9. Make It Interesting
Don’t bore your community with wonky status updates or tweets. You are competing with thousands and thousands of messages. According to Ben Pershing, who writes for the Capitol Briefing blog of the Washington Post, reporters are always looking for good stories and hooks, so your blog should be filled with interesting and compelling news not boring press releases.

10. Integrate Social Media Across Your Communications
Times have changed. Remember when all you needed to do was send out a press release, follow up with your rolodex of reporters or buy an ad in the New York Times? In today’s communications world, social media should be a part of your overall communications plans and strategies. Don’t ditch your traditional communications tools though – just expand your channels and use all of the tools at your disposal. Social media is a good thing (not a chore) and gives you more ammunition to brand your organization, spread your message and cultivate supporters.

Do you have more tips to add to my top 10 list? Comment below!




Allyson Kapin

Allyson has been named one of "Top Tech Titans" by the Washingtonian, one of the Most Influential Women In Tech by Fast Company, and one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes for her leadership role in technology and social media. As Founding Partner of Rad Campaign, she leads the firm's client and online strategic services. For over a decade Allyson has helped non-profit organizations and political campaigns create dynamic and award-winning websites and online marketing and recruitment campaigns. She works side-by-side with her clients to meet their web needs and maximize their online effectiveness to create real world impact.