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Suki Lee 7 min read

Online Communications Planning for Nonprofits

Is building your nonprofit's online community a priority for your organization in 2010? What about expanding your outreach? Here are my top seven ideas to consider implementing this coming year.

1. Blogs: Building Your Online Community
If your organization doesn’t have a blog, you should consider launching one in 2010. Search engines, Facebook and Twitter reward valuable blog content with expert status and donor support. As your organization’s communicator, you may want to appoint yourself the Editor-in-chief of your blog. Take Frogloop’s Editor, Allyson Kapin, as your muse and build a community of bloggers. Start with your nonprofit's team. Having a venue from which your organization can share its knowledge will expand your audiences, and build a robust internal culture. If writing doesn’t appeal to everyone, you may want to enlist your colleagues to publish photos, audio or video.

2. Building Your Nonprofit’s Community on Twitter
One of the most important roles of a communicator is to build community around your nonprofit. A
good place to focus your efforts is search.twitter.com, where you can see what people are chatting
about, trending topics and join in on the conversation. Developing relationships should involve talking about the great campaigns that other nonprofits are working on as well and responding to @replies. That will make it more likely that others will want to spread the word about what you’re working on, and collaborate with you.

3. The Perfect Match: Social Media Relations and Traditional PR
Success will come to those communicators who engage in both new and traditional communications
channels. Consider building a Social Media Release (SMR) in which you consolidate photos, embedded
video and presentations. You can build SMR’s on your own website or through a service like PitchEngine, a Web app that hosts your release and allows you to share it via Facebook, Twitter and other social Web sites. Now that traditional journalism has changed, your online journalism strategy should too. Follow the blogs and Twitter feeds of key journalists, and pitch stories to their blogs. If you have a blog or other online presence, interact with them. And don’t forget to transmit your releases through traditional newswires. Engaging in traditional media and social media in tandem is the most powerful means of reaching your audiences.

4. YouTube: Advertising for Free
YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the United States after Google. Storytelling via video has become one of the best ways to spread your message and have it reach millions. There’s no need for a massive budget. What you need is a narrative that will get your message across and build your brand. For inspiration, start by searching YouTube for the leaders in your nonprofit industry. Then, write a treatment for your video that you can do yourself, or get others to produce.

5. Surveys, Polls, Contests and Giveaways
Instead of analyzing the effectiveness of your communications campaigns, find out what worked and what didn’t by getting direct feedback from your community. You can even run a contest to get feedback before a campaign is launched. Giving your stakeholders input will generate support and advanced buzz for your campaigns.

6. Messaging: Your Audience is Larger than You Know
Knowing your audience is impossible when millions of people are connected and chatting in an online
media landscape that is constantly shifting. Facebook, the fourth largest “country” in the world after
the United States, now has more users over the age of 55 than high school students. When crafting
messages, think about both your community and your larger (global) audience.

7. Creativity: The Key to Great Campaigns
Creative people and their big ideas always rise to the top—and empowered people ensure that their
work gets noticed. Being a leader involves taking creative risks. Follow best practices by all means, but
always ensure that your campaigns have something new and unique to say. If you’re the kind of person
that doesn’t like taking creative risks, find a creative person on staff who will (project management
can be an equally creative endeavour). Dream first, then dream big.

Finally, the one essential element that you should include in your communications planning is passion—
passion for making a difference, passion for changing the world. Be passionate when reaching out to
your audiences, and your message will always be remembered.

*Suki Lee is the founder of the consulting firm Inbox Communications.

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