Dissecting Social Media Workshops at The Chronicle of Philanthropy

AngerI enjoy the “live” discussions at The Chronicle of Philanthropy although I must admit I’m a bit surprised that they don’t do their live chats with a live chat client but instead rely on an auto-refreshing page. Still, they are touching on some of the key issues surrounding nonprofits using social media sites like Digg, Facebook and Twitter so that’s a great service to anyone in the nonprofit world who is struggling to make sense out of these new tools.

I do, however, have some bones to pick about their discussions.

First, they don’t seem to vary their experts. What I found from the initial discussion on the topic of social media that I attended in November was that their guests – Chris Garrett, author of ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income, and John Haydon, a sales consultant and author of Twitter Jump Start: The Complete Guide for Small Nonprofits – don’t seem to have well-rounded backgrounds in social media. I took issue with much of their advice the first time around although they also did provide some good advice intermittently.

So I was surprised that they brought on the same experts for a second round rather than bringing in some fresh voices and perspectives. Maybe they thought they were offering continuity to their readers, however, what really concerns me is that the nonprofit world could and should be benefiting from advice from the top minds of social media – all of whom are willing to participate and provide their expertise – and yet through The Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofits are limited to two perspectives, both of which are more narrow in scope.

To be more specific, here are some things that were said in their February discussion that I think provide limiting – or insufficient – information to nonprofits:

Question from Kevin Johnson, NCC:
How does a small non-profit effectively use FB, etc. without spending all day on those sites?

Chris Garrett:
I advise to set aside a number of hours in the week and stick to it. For example I only check in on FB once or twice a week for a maximum of 10mins a time because I just don’t get as much value from it, whereas being in my home office rather than surrounded by colleagues, I will be on Twitter several times a day, mainly during my coffee breaks (which can be numerous!) as a kind of water cooler replacement.

If you limit your time and know what you want to achieve, while monitoring results, then you can stop the time suck quite effectively.

MY ISSUE: First, I’d never call monitoring the interactivity and results of your Facebook or social media initiatives a “time suck” – yes, it takes time, however, as we begin to realize the exponential power of social media to augment our nonprofit campaigns, it is more of a time commitment that must be made on a regular basis to maintain this valuable tool. Do we call composing and sending out press releases time sucks? Or crafting our newsletters? I just think it diminishes the value of social media by referring to its maintenance in this way.

MY ADVICE: I think that it is unrealistic to tell a nonprofit that 10 minutes once or twice a week on Facebook is sufficient or advisable. If a nonprofit organization is just getting started, their monitoring load will be small, but they should check in daily. Set aside 5 minutes a day to review your social media assets. If you only have Facebook, that five minutes may be much shorter or can be put to good use posting something of value to your Facebook Page after accepting suitable friend requests and responding to any Facebook messages. This is not wasted time. Just be strategic about the time you spend by knowing what it is you want or need to achieve before starting.

Question from Liz Ogutu, ILRI:
I work for a livestock research institute where I find it pretty difficult to package our products in way that can be used to raise funds online. The research work takes years and some of the work is yet to produce results. We rely on government funding but this is insufficient and we are constantly looking for funds. I wonder if you can advise us to use these online tools to raise small sums of money – which has worked for some non-profits. How can we package research to fit into Twitter and Facebook?

John Haydon:
Liz – thanks for attending the chat session.

I’d need to know a bit more about what you’re looking for, but here’s a great article to read as a starting point: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/if-i-started-today/ Hope that helps.

MY ISSUE: Why didn’t John say something about blogs here? He does link to the ever-prolific and savvy Chris Brogan to provide that “getting started” advice – and Chris does advice using a blog – however, rather than sending readers away having to dig for this key piece of advice, it seems like a natural to put it up front in the discussion.

MY ADVICE: While many people might argue with me about this, I do believe that right now blogs tend to be the ideal hub for our social media activity. As we establish social media assets, nothing brings them all together and acts as a gateway to them as well as blogs or blog-engine-driven web sites that allow RSS and widgets to be embedded into their templates.

If your nonprofit has loads of research that is part of the work you do, you can link to the documents from your blog as separate blog posts with summaries of each one. Then by connecting your blog to Twitter using a tool like Twitterfeed, links to those posts and that research is automatically tweeted to your Twitter page with a link back to you blog. You can also import your blog posts directly into your Facebook page so your Facebook fans can access them easily.

Question from Cecil Stell:
I need to know how do you put a fundrasing page on facebook

John Haydon:
Cecil – there is a “pages” tool in Facebook. I’ll post a video tutorial on the topic next week. Promise.

MY ISSUE: Again, the answer to this isn’t too hard to explain briefly and then mention oa video tutorial at the end of some sound – and accurate – advice. If this discussion series is going to be ongoing, sure it is nice to point to new assets that will appear “next week,” but I’m a firm believer in providing value – and direct answers – from the get-go rather than promoting something that isn’t here yet.

MY ADVICE: On Facebook, there is a useful application called Causes. You can create a Facebook Cause for your nonprofit organization or for a campaign your organization is running to solicit support as well as to accept donations. You can find out more about Facebook Causes at http://apps.facebook.com/causes/about. You do need a Facebook account to set up a Cause and you can link to it from your personal profile as well as from your Facebook Page.

Question from Cheryl, small arts nonprofit:
All right–we’re blogging, Tweeting, and have created a Facebook page to supplement our website. We figured out how to link the blog to Facebook (hurray!). Now, what’s the best way for us to catch the public’s eye and gain more followers?

John Haydon:
Cheryl – yay! Sounds like you’re right on track!

The best way to catch the public’s eye actually has nothing to do with these tools, though. You have to be remarkable, as Seth Godin says. What can your organization do that will really get people talking?

And don’t play safe. Playing safe is in the middle. You need to go to the edge. Be the most colorful or be the only one without colors.

Pimp your non-profit itself – that will light up the social networks.

MY ISSUE: While I love Seth Godin, using his advice “Be Remarkable” without any followup advice on that topic isn’t really answering the question of “how can my nonprofit catch the public’s eye and gain more followers.” The next piece of advice “don’t play safe” and “you need to go to the edge” – what kind of advice is that for the nonprofit reader who is looking for some specifics. This is frustrating advice. And the last advice “Pimp your nonprofit itself” – what is that?!?

MY ADVICE: Setting up social media outlets or channels is the easy part – the tough but also rewarding part is to translate those accounts into active, interactive and valuable resources where you can engage your audience but more importantly encourage them to engage their social networking friends to join your Page or Cause on Facebook or follow you on Twitter. You need to continuously add valuable information on your blog that isn’t just telling people about something but asking them – starting a dialogue.

You need to be using Twitter for more than just linking to your blog posts but tweet live from events you attend, tweet summaries of meetings you’ve held, tweet updates of fundraising efforts, tweet questions to your followers to gauge their attitudes, interests and needs.

And in terms of Facebook, there’s an incredibly affordable, opowerful and targeted tool built right into Facebook called Social Ads. You can purchase an add for as little as $10 per day for a 5 day run to effectively reach a highly targeted audience with an ad that can lead people to your Facebook Page or Cause or even your blog or web site. Wherever you lead them with an ad, make sure you have a mechanism to engage them and “capture” their information such as a way to Fan or Follow or a quiz to take or something they can subscribe to. The last thing you want to do is invest in an ad on Facebook and then let those who click on that ad disappear into the ether.

As you can see, I am pretty darn opinionated about what constitutes solid advice to nonprofit organizations. Maybe I’m so reactive because I’ve been working with nonprofit organizations to bring the onto the Internet in meaningful and fruitful ways since 1995, and it is hard for me to see some of the advice that is being put out there for nonprofits to consume that truly doesn’t serve them well.

There are so many fantastic experts out there including Beth Kanter and Beth Harte and even Allison Fine (who does the monthly podcast about social media for nonprofits for The Chronicle) and even Tom Watson (who they’ve had on talking about his book but who has a wealth of experience) who get this stuff and provide sound, thoughtful advice that it is a shame The Chronicle is sticking with the same two guys.

Am I over-reacting? Am I being nit-picky? Would love to hear what you think about all of this. And please recommend other great nonprofit social media experts out there!

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5 responses to “Dissecting Social Media Workshops at The Chronicle of Philanthropy

  1. Thank you for taking the time to offer a critique of our live discussions series. As the editor who oversees these discussions and arranges the guests, I am always looking for new experts and topics.

    I do want to point out that we have had hundreds of experts take part in the discussions over the past year. Our topics range from social media, to careers, to fund raising, to managing, and more, and we are always looking for new voices to take questions from readers.

    On the social media front, we have actually included many of the experts you suggest at the end of your piece.

    Beth Kanter (one of the unqualified experts in social media for nonprofit groups) took questions from readers along with Jonathan Colman of the Nature Conservancy last sumer: http://philanthropy.com/live/2008/07/tight_budget/

    Tom Watson fielded questions in December:
    http://philanthropy.com/live/2008/12/online_tools/index.shtml

    Allison Fine, in addition to offering a monthly Chronicle podcast on social media, has also been a guest — and she and I are working to coordinate her participation in an upcoming discussion.

    Seth Godin was guest expert for a session last spring:
    http://philanthropy.com/live/2008/05/marketing/

    We invited John Haydon and Chris Garrett to participate in two discussions based on feedback from some of the thousands of people who took part in their initial live discussion. We received tremendous feedback from our audience and decided Chris and John were worthy of a return engagement. We had so many extra questions during their first visit that we believed that a second session was a smart idea.

    Having said all of that, I want to invite participants in this forum to suggest potential topics and guests for future discussions. We believe the discussions offer valuable free information to the nonprofit world. But we can always make them better.

    I welcome folks to contact me at any time with questions, comments, or suggestions. And I invite you to explore our archive of free discussions at http://philanthropy.com/live.

    Thank you,

    Peter Panepento
    Web Editor
    The Chronicle of Philanthropy

  2. No, I don’t think you are being to ornery. I think you are offering constructive suggestions, which are needed. No use in providing an answer that is not useful to the individual or organization.

  3. social media = playing on the internet

  4. Hi Peter – I think you missed the point of my rant/post. I was taking issue with the way your 2 experts handled the questions – being cheeky, evasive, unclear, incomplete.

    I think the topic of social media for social good and how nonprofits can use social media well is an awesome and very in-demand topic.

    My suggestion was to have more experts – including the ones you have had in the past – give THEIR take on that particular topic rather than bring back the same 2 experts whose advice was good in a few areas but lacking in others.

  5. Hi Aliza,

    Good response from Peter and you – great dialogue.

    I participated in a chat – and it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed answering the questions. One of the issues with providing quick technical assistance over chat – is that there are so many questions coming – and you don’t know the full context – so it is hard to give in-depth, comprehensive, capacity building advice.

    I’m a fast typist – so I could give long answers quickly – but for many of the questions, I think I remember having to point people to about 2-3 additional urls of blog posts (not just mine) for more information.

    I guess what I’m saying, is that a one-hour chat with hordes of participants – it’s hard to give in-depth, meaningful, feedback or than quick tips.

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