socialmedia smallPicture this, you're just about to wrap up a productive Board meeting when someone pipes in and asks "So whats going on with our Facebook page?' All faces turn to you, expecting a vibrant discussion on how you're developing the page, how many "likes" your page has garnered and what all of that tweeting has translated into in real time. You've just hit 1000 followers. Great! But what has this actually earned you? More money? Better collaboration? Better brand recognition?

Boards and nonprofits have been bombarded with study after study promoting to us the merits of social media and our dire need to control our "brand". To be sure, social media gives us opportunities to reach new donors at an almost limitless potential, but okay, then what? These new donors aren't like direct mail donors of old. They want content, they want quick messaging, and they want input and impact for their donation. The culture of two-day shipping and instant storefronts is the new frontier for nonprofit organizations.

But in truth, discussions about social media usually devolve into a discussion about limited capacity, content management, and concerns about exposure, privacy and identity. While big nonprofits hire big agencies or employ legions of staff to manage their digital identity, small nonprofits have to task already overburdened staff, bring in interns or utilize the personal stream of the founder as the official outlet for the agency. But each of these strategies carry potential for major setbacks. After all, the reality is that a nonprofit’s social media campaign is only as good as the person who is running them, but what is the worst that can happen when you are forced to delegate this new media?

In the case of overburdened staff, someone creates the page with the best intentions, but then falls behind when other more pressing matters emerge. The page sits mostly empty, content isn't current or relevant, and your organization looks like it doesn't have the capacity to manage itself, much less a new and engaged audience.  In the case of enthusiastic interns, a talented student provides serviceable support and experience, but then the technology and narratives are lost when the semester ends. Once again, your page sits empty, but now you've also lost the voice, the connections, and in some case the passwords, to your own communication tool.  In the case of the personal-voicer, well-meaning staffers confuse their professional audience with their personal one. In the best case this has your donors learning about your founders hobbies, and in the worst case donors are exposed to damaging information about the agency.

So now what? How are you supposed to manage an online presence without exposing your agency to risk, adding more work, or hurting your mission? Here are 5 small steps that you as a nonprofit can take to start on your social media strategy.

1. Have a Strategy.
This may seem like common sense, but figure this out first. What kind of outlets are you going to use? Who has access? What's the primary point of your postings? Fundraising? Volunteer recruitment? Advocacy? If you are an animal rescue or advocacy agency, this can be an easy answer, but define your call to action BEFORE you start creating pages, profiles and mission statements. If your goal is to raise money, for instance, identify that project ahead of time and make sure that there is an easy way for donors to follow through.

2. Don't start with outlets YOU aren't familiar with.
You like Facebook, but your new programs coordinator is a big proponent of tumblr. This goes great, until you want to add content yourself and are unfamiliar with the structure. Likewise if you are verbose, twitter may be difficult for you to navigate. Stick to mediums that YOU know well, and try to avoid embarking on outlets you would have difficulty maintaining personally.

3. It's not always just about you.
Many agencies treat their social media like their own billboard, using it only to promote themselves. But this will wear out your constituents quickly. Use your audience to share resources, ask for input, or connect people. They will appreciate it and your posts.

4. But when it is about you, create your own content.
Take snapshots of volunteers at events, cookies baked in the test kitchen, or management leading a meeting. These are reminders that your agency is hard at work. You don't have to write long newsletter posts or start a blog, just give your audience a chance to see you in action.

5. Be consistent.
If you are conducting a direct mail campaign, an email campaign and a social media campaign, the messaging should be consistent and calls to action should be clear. For this reason, its best to consolidate messaging to your development department, or, if the duties are split, to be exact about what kind of content each contributor is generating.

By sticking to these small points and setting modest goals, you can start seeing big gains through social media in a relatively short period of time.

Are you a Los Angeles area nonprofit who would benefit from Pro-Bono social media marketing services? Envision Consulting is proud to be offering a grant opportunity to qualified organizations. Learn more here.

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