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Social Media Expert Gives Nonprofits Advice

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Beth Kanter, co-author of The Networked Nonprofit and Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, was interviewed by nonprofit specialist Anne Sommers.

Q. You are a rock star in the nonprofit social media world. You have more than 400,000 Twitter followers and follow 4,000 other Tweeters. How much time do you spend on Twitter daily and how do you choose who to follow?

A. I don’t lead a Twitter army. My real work is in-the-field training. I train nonprofit leaders, do train the trainer conferences and host webinars. My daily routine doesn’t leave much time for Twitter. When I’m on Twitter, I’m using the time to feed and fine tune my network. When I’m reading material on Twitter, I’m curating. I’m looking for information of value to my audience. I’m also scanning Twitter to collect curriculum information for my training work. My goal is to seek new insights, get a sense of trends and share what I believe to be good and bad. I create lists, view nonprofit data measurements, look at who is tweeting and filter out the unnecessary.mtm0314a

Q. To stay current, which sites, publications, blogs, etc., do you think social media managers should read?

A. I read a great deal of industry social media that is outside the nonprofit sector: Mashables, tactical how to’s and Hub spots. For Facebook, I read Mari Smith who is a Facebook marketing and social media expert. For nonprofit sources for campaigns, marketing, branding and fundraising, there’s John Haydon, Big Duck, Deborah Lee on HuffPost, and Tech Soup. Scoop It teaches groups to engage audiences by curating information and publishing it. I read many blog feeds and listen a lot through Facebook, which changed its algorithms making it more difficult for groups to reach people organically (without paid ads).

Q. Nonprofits sometimes spend thousands of dollars on writing grant proposals that are unsuccessful. Do you think that a well-constructed, social media fundraising strategy offers better return on investment?

A. The answer is sometimes. In both instances you have to craft a compelling story, which takes time. There has to be something specific an organization needs to address. If you do the work for a traditional grant proposal, you can pretty much tailor the information for all future proposals. With social media fundraising, you must first craft a persuasive message, then take the time necessary to create a network of engaged visitors. You can’t have your first exchange be a request for money; visitors are not ATM machines. Keep it simple.

Q. Is it possible to briefly describe the difference between data driven and data informed?

A. Organizational culture cannot be driven by data. If it is, it’s being driven in the wrong direction. But using data to measure outcomes that enable you to make better decisions on how to use your resources is validated learning. Organizations should stop making decisions that look good in PowerPoint presentations. They should learn what metrics matter and launch experiments that determine what will work and what people want. Learn and pivot.

Q. Explain why measurement is powerful?

A. These findings, these measurements, get me closer to my goal. The next time I post, I’m better at it. Measurement pays me back. I compare it to my Fit Bits bracelet, which measures how much I move and what kinds of movement achieve most. When I use the feedback, I’m motivated, I’m measuring against goals.

Q. Small nonprofits with small budgets and staffs may question whether they need both Facebook and a website. What do you think?

A. Your website is media you own. What would happen if Facebook closed its doors (it won’t)? Facebook should be used to reach out to and engage your audience and then encourage people to visit your website, which is where you can best educate, engage, seek donations and prompt action.

Q. In your book, you showed a Facebook post by the Humane Society of the United States that featured a humorous picture of a dog wearing a party hat. How strongly do you encourage nonprofits to keep their social media channels amusing?

A. Organizational goals are what should be driving content. Facebook and Twitter, for example, are on ramps to your main content, and they can be funny. But the secret to connecting with your audience is really good content. Concentrate on what your audience cares about, be consistent and build trust.

Q. As almost all nonprofits now dabble in social media, what advice can you offer on maintaining a strong presence?

A. The best way to accomplish sustained presence is to know your audience. What specifically motivates them? What pushes their buttons, draws comments, promotes donations and leads to action? Don’t try to be everything and everywhere. Once you’ve got all that under your belt, go forward, but don’t be distracted from your mission.


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The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)