Getting Started, listening

Using Social Media in Your Nonprofit: Overcoming Objections

52 Comments 14 June 2009

Image by p_champie

Image by p_champie

Last week I gave an “introduction to social media” presentation to the Board of Directors of a multinational nonprofit organization.  This was the normal “what is social media” overview, a review and overview of the popular platforms (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, blogs, etc.) and summary of how to get started in social media.  By the time I was 10 minutes into the presentation, I had heard three objections to using social media, and these objections kept coming at me throughout the entire time I presented. It has been a long time since I was in a room of people scared of social media. I’m going to take this opportunity to address their objections one at a time. At the end of this blog post, please tell me if you think I’ve satisfactorily addressed the concerns, and how you might add to these responses.

1. It’s not safe! What about the BU Craigslist killer? (someone REALLY asked this question in the presentation)

The”BU Craigslist killer” was actually Philip Markoff, a Boston University medical student who looked for massage ads on Craigslist and then attacked the women giving massages. In essence, how is this any different than if Mr. Markoff had responded to a newspaper print ad?  Did social media promote the massage ads? NO. Craigslist is not social media, but an online classified advertising site. In this instance, for massages. Is one of your nonprofit’s core services providing massages in hotel rooms? If yes, then you might have to worry. But if your core mission is about helping save the whales, or feed the homeless, or provide rehab services to veterans, then you really don’t need to worry.

When I asked my Twitter followers for their responses to this question, my personal favorite was from Teresa Boze, who wrote: “I’d tell them most household accidents happen in the bathroom… watch out for the toilet bowl monster.”

On a more serious note, if your organization promotes conversation on sites geared to teens, then you do have a responsibility to ensure that the conversation includes safeguards against teen predators. Just as in real life, if you bring teenagers together, there should always be a responsible adult present.

2. What if our biggest rival pretends to be us online?

Sheena T. Abraham responded (via Twitter) to this objection with “that’s why you have to build your own online credibility as much as you can, build trust with the online audience.” This is one great answer to the question! If an organization builds its own relationship online with its stakeholders, then this is what will likely happen when a rival impersonates the organization:

  • the real organization’s stakeholders will notice and alert the real organization of the problem
  • the phony organization will not have the ability to create a phony online profile because the real organization has already claimed its online profiles at KnowEm. The truth is that “it’s almost impossible to get your brand name or username back once it’s been taken” on a social media site, unlike buying back a website domain name, according to the KnowEm blog.

Secondly, listening for mentions of your organization online will alert you to this phenomenon, and your organization can quickly address the issue of the “phony brand name.” I cover this topic further in depth below.

Go get your social media online profile and begin to engage!

3. Social media means a lot of work and we don’t have the staff time to do that.

I hear that. I’ve worked at nonprofit organizations with two staff people, with 20, and everything in-between. No matter how many staff people your organization employs, they will always be overtaxed, overworked, with no time to do social media. This will never change. It is the nature of not-for-profit organizations. A good social media strategy takes into account how social media will help your organization better fulfill its mission (engage with stakeholders) and create real benefits to the organization  (listen to members, engage with stakeholders, vet new program ideas, measure responses, etc.) With that in mind, how do you not have the time? Amy Sample Ward writes on Twitter that “organizations want a person or department to “own” the task/responsibility instead of seeing it as a tool to aid all departments’ work.”

Carie Lewis from the Humane Society of the US (she’s their Brand Ambassador) holds a 9-minute staff meeting every day to inform each and every one of the HSUS employees about “what’s going on that day – PR, what people are talking about on Twitter, etc.”

Wendy Harman, of the American Red Cross, writes that “We distribute a daily social media update email that contains a sampling of most relevant mentions.” Everyone must be involved. No more silos.

If social media activities let your organization to grow, soar, and be more efficient, then determine your staff time and resources and create a social media strategy that will accommodate organizational limitations.

4. There is no place in our organization for social media.

Organizations are used to placing departments in silos. The organizing department…organizes the community. The fundraising department… raises money. The research department…researches. Where is the “social media department?” The organizations that implement social media most effectively include everyone in social media, whether it is merely apprising them of the latest activities or including them in the strategy sessions. Social media is the entire organization’s “new website”…its composite brand identity. Every department must be involved in some way.

Amy Sample Ward again writes (via Twitter) to those that argue “there is no ‘home’ for social media in any of the organization’s departments, obviously I would argue there is home in ALL of the departments for it.”

5. People will attack us online with negative critique.

I have news for you: if you are worried about this, then they are already attacking you online. If your organization is worried about negative critique, then the best thing that you can do is to be where your critics are…online. The dissatisfied clients/customers of your nonprofit organization will find a way to critique your organization no matter what – via Twitter, blog posts, commenting on forums and discussion boards, and many other places. The very best action your nonprofit organization can do is create a social media presence, listen for any and all organizational mentions online, and develop an online presence. By developing a loyal brand following online, your organization is positioned to respond quickly to all negative remarks, and leverage the loyalty of your followers to pass along your online responses. For more detailed suggestions on how to engage in proactive reputation management, see a prior post on this subject.

The final thought comes from Danielle Lanyard via Twitter: “nonprofits were built on an old corporate model where nonprofits are defined by differences from competition vs. a collaborative model which is social media.” Social media leverages the collaborative experience, knowledge and information of everyone online to fulfill the organization’s goals. The knowledge gained, productive collaborations, extended organizational reach, and increased stakeholder (and donor!) engagement should far outweigh fears about using social media.

Thanks for reading! Do you have other suggestions for overcoming objections to social media? Have you heard these objections before? Are there other objections that you want to add, and how you have addressed them? I welcome your participation in this conversation!

Please also visit Amy Sample Ward’s blog,  who continues this conversation by inviting her readers to contribute their own Comeback Lines to Social Media Objectors.

»
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  • http://sueanne123.blogspot.com/ Sue Anne

    Debra,

    Don’t know if you followed the #blogpotomac hashtag at all (it’s so hard to keep up with all the different conferences going on), but in regards to a couple of your points here, one of the main things that were mentioned is how important it is for social media to be spread across the organization and not just siloed into one department. Scott Monty from Ford Motor Co. talked and one of the biggest things he’s trying to do is turn 1% of Ford’s 200K employees into social media ambassadors.

    Sue Anne

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Sue Anne – I hadn’t heard of the hashtag, and thank you for giving me this great twitter stream! The conversation looks to be really informative.
    I love the example that you give about Ford motor company trying to turn 1% of its employees into social media ambassadors. It reminds me of another company that does this even better, Zappos. If I remember correctly, Zappos opens a Twitter account for each one of them. Thanks for stopping by, and keep the ideas coming!

    [Reply]

  • http://sueanne123.blogspot.com/ Sue Anne

    Debra,

    Don’t know if you followed the #blogpotomac hashtag at all (it’s so hard to keep up with all the different conferences going on), but in regards to a couple of your points here, one of the main things that were mentioned is how important it is for social media to be spread across the organization and not just siloed into one department. Scott Monty from Ford Motor Co. talked and one of the biggest things he’s trying to do is turn 1% of Ford’s 200K employees into social media ambassadors.

    Sue Anne

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Sue Anne – I hadn’t heard of the hashtag, and thank you for giving me this great twitter stream! The conversation looks to be really informative.
    I love the example that you give about Ford motor company trying to turn 1% of its employees into social media ambassadors. It reminds me of another company that does this even better, Zappos. If I remember correctly, Zappos opens a Twitter account for each one of them. Thanks for stopping by, and keep the ideas coming!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.rochellerobinson.com/ Rochelle Robinson

    This is a great post! Having worked with nonprofits for years, I thought I had seen and heard it all! One that I always hated was orgs that claimed they would lose control of their brand or that donors would feel they were not spending enough time working on their actual mission.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Rochelle- thanks for reminding me of that objection. In this era of immediate information and virtual conversations, I’d argue that 1.) these conversations about the organization are already happening online, and 2.) organizations should “take back control” by directing as best they can the online conversations. The time spent on respectfully addressing brand conversations is money well-spent to educate the public and speak directly with others about the organization. In fact, it may even help the organization find new stakeholders through this type of engagement. One other point: shouldn’t nonprofit organizations want to invite as much participation as possible? That is one reason why the “lose control of the brand” objection always bothered me.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.rochellerobinson.com Rochelle Robinson

    This is a great post! Having worked with nonprofits for years, I thought I had seen and heard it all! One that I always hated was orgs that claimed they would lose control of their brand or that donors would feel they were not spending enough time working on their actual mission.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Rochelle- thanks for reminding me of that objection. In this era of immediate information and virtual conversations, I’d argue that 1.) these conversations about the organization are already happening online, and 2.) organizations should “take back control” by directing as best they can the online conversations. The time spent on respectfully addressing brand conversations is money well-spent to educate the public and speak directly with others about the organization. In fact, it may even help the organization find new stakeholders through this type of engagement. One other point: shouldn’t nonprofit organizations want to invite as much participation as possible? That is one reason why the “lose control of the brand” objection always bothered me.

    [Reply]

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  • http://blog.wildapricot.com/ Rebecca Leaman

    Funny, isn’t it? There are many objections, but they all seem to come down to one of two main points: lack of resources, or loss of control.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Rebecca- you said it better than I did! Lack of resources and loss of control. Can’t wait for the day when nonprofits all understand that social media means getting into the conversation and being part of their community online!

    [Reply]

  • http://blog.wildapricot.com Rebecca Leaman

    Funny, isn’t it? There are many objections, but they all seem to come down to one of two main points: lack of resources, or loss of control.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Rebecca- you said it better than I did! Lack of resources and loss of control. Can’t wait for the day when nonprofits all understand that social media means getting into the conversation and being part of their community online!

    [Reply]

  • http://amyshropshire.weebly.com/ Amy Shropshire

    #5, #5, #5!! I hear all of these, but that’s the one I hear most often.

    I often equate social media to the internet itself. 10 years ago, it was still fairly new, people were unsure about it-how to use it effectively and the like, and it wasn’t really a bad thing if you didn’t have a presence on it.

    Could you imagine having that mentality now? Those who got on board early got through their growing pains and were able to use it as an effective communications tool. Social media is the same way!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Amy- thanks for visiting. I completely agree that companies must have a social media presence now, and they are at a liability if they lack one. Remember the days when companies didn’t need to have a website? Can you imagine a nonprofit or business that doesn’t agree that websites are a must nowadays? Thanks for reminding us all that social media involves growing pains, just like any new adventure!

    [Reply]

  • http://amyshropshire.weebly.com Amy Shropshire

    #5, #5, #5!! I hear all of these, but that’s the one I hear most often.

    I often equate social media to the internet itself. 10 years ago, it was still fairly new, people were unsure about it-how to use it effectively and the like, and it wasn’t really a bad thing if you didn’t have a presence on it.

    Could you imagine having that mentality now? Those who got on board early got through their growing pains and were able to use it as an effective communications tool. Social media is the same way!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Amy- thanks for visiting. I completely agree that companies must have a social media presence now, and they are at a liability if they lack one. Remember the days when companies didn’t need to have a website? Can you imagine a nonprofit or business that doesn’t agree that websites are a must nowadays? Thanks for reminding us all that social media involves growing pains, just like any new adventure!

    [Reply]

  • Judith Sol-Dyess

    Hi Debra, and thank you for this post. I can certainly use it. I have been reading so much about getting started in social media, all the do’s and don’ts, strategies, tips, etc, that I think what I am missing out on is about how orgs are managing social media long term. Good point, for example, about when companies didn’t think they needed websites… but how many companies do a great job of maintaining fresh and relevant content? Probably a good deal, but many more don’t. So as orgs engage into social media, how do we make sure staff is continually engaged, even through turnover, and not just trying it out because it’s that “shiny new toy”. How do we get management to understand this isn’t an overnight success, and how do we start making it part of the ongoing business operations? Good read on this in Beth’s blog. So you’ve stirred a lot of questions, Debra, thanks!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Judith- firstly, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’ll try to address your questions here, and then ask any other readers stopping by to also give their thoughts as well…
    Most importantly, I’d recommend involving the entire staff in the creation of a social media strategy. By participating in the analysis and creation of a plan, the staff members become stakeholders in the success of the plan. It IS a “shiny new toy,” to some extent, but that’s like every new program and initiative. If the organization, from the Board and CEO on down are committed to ongoing social media activity, then implementation becomes an organizational priority and regular part of the org’s operations. I also would say that it’s important to keep everyone informed about how what the organization is doing on the social networks, and what is being said about the organization online. Doing this further engages staff. I love how Wendy Harman and Carie Lewis keep everyone in their organizations informed of all online mentions and social media strategies (these are mentioned in the blog post). Is this a start to answer your questions? There’s so much more to say, so I invite others to join in!

    [Reply]

  • Judith Sol-Dyess

    Hi Debra, and thank you for this post. I can certainly use it. I have been reading so much about getting started in social media, all the do’s and don’ts, strategies, tips, etc, that I think what I am missing out on is about how orgs are managing social media long term. Good point, for example, about when companies didn’t think they needed websites… but how many companies do a great job of maintaining fresh and relevant content? Probably a good deal, but many more don’t. So as orgs engage into social media, how do we make sure staff is continually engaged, even through turnover, and not just trying it out because it’s that “shiny new toy”. How do we get management to understand this isn’t an overnight success, and how do we start making it part of the ongoing business operations? Good read on this in Beth’s blog. So you’ve stirred a lot of questions, Debra, thanks!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Judith- firstly, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’ll try to address your questions here, and then ask any other readers stopping by to also give their thoughts as well…
    Most importantly, I’d recommend involving the entire staff in the creation of a social media strategy. By participating in the analysis and creation of a plan, the staff members become stakeholders in the success of the plan. It IS a “shiny new toy,” to some extent, but that’s like every new program and initiative. If the organization, from the Board and CEO on down are committed to ongoing social media activity, then implementation becomes an organizational priority and regular part of the org’s operations. I also would say that it’s important to keep everyone informed about how what the organization is doing on the social networks, and what is being said about the organization online. Doing this further engages staff. I love how Wendy Harman and Carie Lewis keep everyone in their organizations informed of all online mentions and social media strategies (these are mentioned in the blog post). Is this a start to answer your questions? There’s so much more to say, so I invite others to join in!

    [Reply]

  • Judith Sol-Dyess

    Hi Debra,

    Thanks for the feedback. I particularly agree with your comment on Wendy Harman’s strategy. I know from experience that our organization reacts to facts laid down in front of them better than theoretical or 10,000 foot discussions about something unknown or new to them.

    One thing I think we are doing right is tying the social networking strategy into our overall online presence work, starting with website content and an employee intranet – both to understand the need for fresh, relevant materials to be shared (web) as well as with social media tools that can be used for professional use (intranet).

    So the social networking aspect will come third on our list, by which time staff is more used to writing content and monitoring tools… if that makes sense.

    Thanks again!

    [Reply]

  • Judith Sol-Dyess

    Hi Debra,

    Thanks for the feedback. I particularly agree with your comment on Wendy Harman’s strategy. I know from experience that our organization reacts to facts laid down in front of them better than theoretical or 10,000 foot discussions about something unknown or new to them.

    One thing I think we are doing right is tying the social networking strategy into our overall online presence work, starting with website content and an employee intranet – both to understand the need for fresh, relevant materials to be shared (web) as well as with social media tools that can be used for professional use (intranet).

    So the social networking aspect will come third on our list, by which time staff is more used to writing content and monitoring tools… if that makes sense.

    Thanks again!

    [Reply]

  • http://joitskehulsebosch.blogspot.com/ Joitske Hulsebosch

    Very recognisable! I will reblog it.. I think it’s not safe goes two ways- the first one you mentioned, the second one afraid of spam/viruses etc too. Afraid of software which does not run within the firewall

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Joitske- thank you for visiting and adding to the list of objections. I am honored that you reblogged it on your website. In your blog post, you elaborate on the fear that people have of using software that is not within the organization’s firewall, as well as a few other added objections you have heard: fear that people will mistake lose online relationships as real ones and fear of information overload. Thanks for adding to this conversation!

    [Reply]

  • http://joitskehulsebosch.blogspot.com Joitske Hulsebosch

    Very recognisable! I will reblog it.. I think it’s not safe goes two ways- the first one you mentioned, the second one afraid of spam/viruses etc too. Afraid of software which does not run within the firewall

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Joitske- thank you for visiting and adding to the list of objections. I am honored that you reblogged it on your website. In your blog post, you elaborate on the fear that people have of using software that is not within the organization’s firewall, as well as a few other added objections you have heard: fear that people will mistake lose online relationships as real ones and fear of information overload. Thanks for adding to this conversation!

    [Reply]

  • Rebecca

    What about the objection about stakeholders being too old?

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Rebecca – not sure what you mean, exactly, about stakeholders being too old? Too old to be using social media? Can you tell us more about the objection? Perhaps we can all address it to problem-solve a few answers.

    [Reply]

  • Rebecca

    What about the objection about stakeholders being too old?

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Rebecca – not sure what you mean, exactly, about stakeholders being too old? Too old to be using social media? Can you tell us more about the objection? Perhaps we can all address it to problem-solve a few answers.

    [Reply]

  • http://MuseumMobile.info/ Nancy Proctor

    Mike Edson, Head of Web & New Media Strategy for the Smithsonian, made a wonderful animation on this theme: “Web Tech Guy and Angry Staff Person” http://usingdata.typepad.com/usingdata/2009/03/web.html

    Thanks for keeping this discussion and useful notes on it in play!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Nancy, the animation slide show is FANTASTIC! It’s a humorous way of addressing many objections to social media – and it is dead-on. Thank you for linking to this animation. I urge everyone to view it, and pass it along, too!

    [Reply]

  • http://MuseumMobile.info Nancy Proctor

    Mike Edson, Head of Web & New Media Strategy for the Smithsonian, made a wonderful animation on this theme: “Web Tech Guy and Angry Staff Person” http://usingdata.typepad.com/usingdata/2009/03/web.html

    Thanks for keeping this discussion and useful notes on it in play!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Nancy, the animation slide show is FANTASTIC! It’s a humorous way of addressing many objections to social media – and it is dead-on. Thank you for linking to this animation. I urge everyone to view it, and pass it along, too!

    [Reply]

  • Rebecca

    Sorry Debra! Yes exactly too old to use or understand social media. The argument is that anyone over 40 gets too freaked out by social media to actually use it.

    [Reply]

  • Rebecca

    Sorry Debra! Yes exactly too old to use or understand social media. The argument is that anyone over 40 gets too freaked out by social media to actually use it.

    [Reply]

  • Harriet Miller

    Hi Debra, You are way ahead of me, but iam trying to learn and grow with the new technology ( for me.) Will share this site with Guy, who works for BARK in Portland Oregon. They are an environmental non progft, protecting Mt Hood.

    My best to you,
    Harriet

    [Reply]

  • Harriet Miller

    Hi Debra, You are way ahead of me, but iam trying to learn and grow with the new technology ( for me.) Will share this site with Guy, who works for BARK in Portland Oregon. They are an environmental non progft, protecting Mt Hood.

    My best to you,
    Harriet

    [Reply]

  • Molly McDonnell

    Ms. Askanase,
    I’m so glad to have found your blog! I’m a college intern currently creating an online presence for Roots of American Music, a non-profit in Cleveland, Ohio. At the end of the summer, I am presenting all of my work to the Board of Directors, and am glad to have your blog to assist me in answering any difficult questions I may be asked.

    By the way, in response to #3, I’m sure you’ve heard of ping.fm? I love it. It’s a website that automatically updates your status on several social media sites. Once you get it set up, it takes a lot of the hassle out.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Molly- great suggestion to use ping.fm for one-stop status updates to all social media sites. Let us know if we can answer any questions about creating an online presence, and don’t forget to come back and tell us how the Board received your recommendations!

    [Reply]

  • Molly McDonnell

    Ms. Askanase,
    I’m so glad to have found your blog! I’m a college intern currently creating an online presence for Roots of American Music, a non-profit in Cleveland, Ohio. At the end of the summer, I am presenting all of my work to the Board of Directors, and am glad to have your blog to assist me in answering any difficult questions I may be asked.

    By the way, in response to #3, I’m sure you’ve heard of ping.fm? I love it. It’s a website that automatically updates your status on several social media sites. Once you get it set up, it takes a lot of the hassle out.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Molly- great suggestion to use ping.fm for one-stop status updates to all social media sites. Let us know if we can answer any questions about creating an online presence, and don’t forget to come back and tell us how the Board received your recommendations!

    [Reply]

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  • http://www.asqh.org/ Dr.Mahmoud Nassar

    We are non profit organization working in Africa
    We are trying to improve quality in health care

    [Reply]

  • http://www.asqh.org/ Dr.Mahmoud Nassar

    We are non profit organization working in Africa
    We are trying to improve quality in health care

    [Reply]

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About

Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She is the current Director of Outreach at the National Brain Tumor Society. She speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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