Social media: Well begun is half done

November 12, 2012

I came to social media somewhat reluctantly. As the youngest communications staffer at The Trust for Public Land nearly a decade ago, I was nominated to take over the Facebook page that a board member had created to nudge the organization into the 21st century. It took me a while to get the swing, but I’ve since become a believer (and, to be frank, something of an evangelist).

That doesn’t mean I think everyone should be on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and Tumblr. Quite the contrary. Our clients are busy, and so are their supporters. No one needs more friend alerts cluttering up their days. The endless proliferation of shiny new tools calls for a sober assessment of need and fit.

A couple weeks ago, Këri Bolding and I led a social media workshop at the fall retreat of Rachel’s Network, a group of women leaders dedicated to environmental stewardship. Our job was to help these busy advocates and funders think about the opportunities to grow their reach and impact without adding more work to their overflowing plates.

Our approach was the same one we take with small or large nonprofit organizations considering a new Facebook page or Pinterest account: get clear on goals, identify the allies and decision makers whose support you need, and choose the path that will lead you to them.

The members of Rachel’s Network understand social media strategy in their bones. They are expert communicators, networkers, and change agents. So for them, moving some of their advocacy and fundraising work online is simply a matter of scaling up.

And that’s the case for organizations as well. Social media carries our content further by empowering supporters to act as ambassadors within their own networks.  It gives our contacts the tools to share our news, in a low pressure way. People can wear their cause commitments proudly without having to put friends and family on the spot. Those that feel inspired to get involved can, and they will often be the people we least expect.

But back to the discipline about deciding where and how to spend your time… Here’s the key: take a close look at your current outreach efforts. Evaluate where they are falling short, and which digital tool might be able to bridge that gap.

Trying to generate media coverage, but can’t seem to break through? Consider blogging to establish the timeliness and relevance of the issue yourself. Need to share breaking news about a bill in the legislature, or a fundraising campaign nearing its goal? Twitter is a great way to provide real time commentary to stakeholders tracking that issue via hashtag. And if you want to deepen relationships with existing supporters and find new ones, Facebook is an ideal tool for building community.

We love working with social media beginners, because the late adopters have an opportunity to right size their approach and tailor it to organizational or campaign goals. And what’s well begun is half done!