Generating Impact Through Social Media as a Nonprofit

Social media is not a passing fad. It has changed and continues to change the way companies and nonprofit organizations make decisions on how they operate both internally and externally. While working on social media development and strategy for Living Cities, a philanthropic collaborative made up of 22 nonprofit organizations, one of the major themes that emerged was the importance of collaboration and innovation in the nonprofit world. With social media becoming more prominent in our everyday lives as a way to communicate, consume one’s daily news or to find new products, it is impossible for organizations to ignore its growing role in modern society. If we look at the news and information industry, social media and technology has been democratized, making it possible for anyone with a computer and an Internet connection able to break a news story of any size.

For nonprofit organizations that harness the power of people in numbers and measure success through impact and ability to solve social problems, social media is a huge piece of the puzzle. Organizations that wish to remain relevant and influential in the 21st century need to embrace social media, starting with top down senior leadership implementing a comprehensive social media strategy.


How Is Your Organization Using (or not using) Social and Digital Media?

For most nonprofit organizations, the end goal is to create meaningful impact. Through the power of social media, a single blog post can be seen by millions of eyes with no real limit on how far information can travel in the digital world. In the nonprofit world, an example of this could be a report issued by an organization in the public health world highlighting new findings on the relationship between health and location. By electrifying their networks with a digital version of this report, the organization has sparked a cross platform digital sharing frenzy! As large influencers within an organization’s problem solving network (explained below) begin to share the report in their networks, the multiplier effect comes into play.

This video from Living Cities done in coordination with a webinar hosted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) entitled “Leading in a #HyperConnected World: Driving Innovation and Impact with Digital Media,” clearly illustrates Living Cities’ approach to social media and how they see social and digital media fitting into the larger world. The webinar generated nearly 2 million Twitter impressions (tweets appearing with #HyperConnect in people’s news feeds) and was a nationally trending topic on Twitter’s homepage.

The impact and opportunities of this webinar for Living Cities are ongoing. Through a question submission feature on the webinar interface, registered participants submitted hundreds of questions to the webinar’s presenters that not only helped inform the direction of the webinar, but also sparked future events and topics. In terms of the real world impact of the webinar, a large percentage of the participants held senior level positions at their organizations and could therefore implement the ideas put forth during the webinar. Additionally, the excitement and size of the audience was an indication of the appetite for the webinar topic and set a high watermark for Living Cities’ in the social media space.

Problem Solving Networks

For nonprofit organizations or “problem solvers,” the first thing that needs to be understood is the enormity and complexity of any given issue. All of the big issues facing society like poverty, obesity, homelessness or disease, are interconnected with other issues. Poverty is connected with homelessness and education. Disease in some cases can be correlated to obesity. Organizations that combat these issues need to recognize those doing similar work and the overlap across their respective fields and by communicating, sharing data, knowledge and information that improves their collective ability to affect meaningful change. This is what we call the problem solving network.

An example of this would be a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is to combat poverty with an endowment of $10 Million. Working independently, this organization will have a tough time trying to have a lasting or significant impact on the issue. This is because when we examine poverty more closely, we realize that it is a part of a larger more complex set of issues like housing and education. We soon come to the conclusion that without a coordinated effort across various organizations in the fight against poverty, housing and education, that success will be limited and compartmentalized.

What many organizations are awakening to is the power that social media has to serve as a conduit for communication, knowledge sharing and much more within the same sector and across sectors.

Social and Digital Media Has Changed the World

Many organizations are awakening to the power that social media holds as a tool for organizations to work together and to create powerful networks to tackle complex problems. Whether it’s a blog post or a tweet, sharing information between organizations makes each entity more intelligent as a result and strengthens the overall network. The more powerful and informed a problem solving network is, the more effective it becomes.

Organizations that do not adopt a social and digital media strategy will be left behind in their ability to be an influential presence in today’s increasingly social media oriented world. Those forward thinking organizations that adopt a social media strategy early will rise to the top and become influencers and leaders in the digital world. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a 40 year old nonprofit organization in the public health space, completely restructured their efforts to become a Web 2.0 philanthropy in light of the power of social media and technology more broadly. RWJF is an outspoken leader in the importance of social media for nonprofits and are innovators when it comes to trying to measure an organization’s impact through social media. Check out this presentation to learn more about their transformation.

Three Takeaways for Nonprofits

Here are three key points that nonprofits should consider for their social media strategy:

  1. Sharing information and ideas: Whether it’s a tweet, a facebook post, a blog article or a YouTube video, social media is the best way to share information quickly, inexpensively and with a limitless audience. Whether its a huge revelation that your organization has discovered or a small insight in a research project, sending and receiving information in your problem-solving network is a great way to stay on top of things.
  1. Receiving customer feedback and input: Your customers or active followers listen closely to what you are sharing. Whether its a concerned citizen, volunteer or otherwise, social media allows anyone to communicate directly with your organization. Receiving timely feedback, criticism or new information is extremely valuable.
  1. Broadcasting knowledge: Similar to the first item, broadcasting knowledge through your network increases the intelligence and strength of the network. The larger and more influential your network becomes, the more impact your broadcast will have. This is particularly important for nonprofit organizations that measure their success through impact.

Ideas Can Go Viral

We have all seen a funny video or an interesting article go viral in our own personal networks and more largely in global networks. The end result or impact in real world terms is that a lot of people either laughed while watching the video or modified their behavior as the result of new information. For purpose-driven organizations, the ability for information or ideas to go viral is a powerful tool that can cause high impact and influence. Knowing this, it is important for nonprofits to build networks across a range of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, a company blog, YouTube or LinkedIn to disseminate new discoveries and findings.

Takeaway Questions

  1. If you work at a nonprofit or are just interested in the topic, how does your organization use social and digital media if at all?
  2. What ways would you like to see your organization improve their current strategy?
  3. Is your organization open to new ideas when it comes to a social media strategy and is your voice being heard?
Posted in Online Strategy, Social Media