Oprah Winfrey likes a book. BOOM! It’s a best-seller and a big movie. Justin Bieber retweets something that catches his eye. POW! It’s trending huge for forty-eight hours! Who wouldn’t want that kind of attention? Well, often nonprofits and charities don’t want that kind of attention. The best/worst case of this kind of virality is the Kony 2012 campaign, which and don’t have the stomach to repeat.
What nonprofits and charities want is steady growth in awareness, volunteerism, and donations. They don’t need the huge splash (some small splashes don’t hurt!), but they use the same social networks that the Oprahs and the Biebers of the world use. How do they use the same tools to develop dissimilar results.
A recent story on NPR.org highlighted the difficulty of using the same social-media channels of stars and celebrities while hoping to attain long-term commitments: “There’s no magic formula. And in fact, social media savants say nonprofits worry that social media can be like playing with fire.” If your organization’s spark gets caught in the social-networking wind, the ensuing excitement can explode and fade away like a cheap firecracker.
But if you develop a story of your charity’s work and the good people who help make it happen, then social networks can help get that information out across ever-wider circles of people genuinely interested in supporting your work. The truism remains: content is king. If your tweets provide meaningful and engaging information, people will respond, follow, and support. Good storytelling is necessary for longer blogs and quick Facebook posts as well, as they should add different aspects to the larger narrative of your work.
The next step should be to encourage the conversation that the story engenders. “We let them speak for themselves and be able to talk to people about what they do,” says Gloria Huang, a social media strategist with the Red Cross. “We open up the entire organization and make it more human,” she says. “It’s easy for a large organization, especially with a long history, to become a closed fortress with this huge brand out there.” (quoted from the NPR article linked above). Instead, the Red Cross wants the public to hear some different perspectives on its work from different members of its staff.
For all the statistical/aggregate evidence to the contrary, individuals can quickly scan and tune out most of their incoming tweets, e-blasts, and update notifications. What wins people’s attentions is grabbing their attentions with an. Social networks are simply the means to get that narrative out, and to offer a few perspectives on that narrative. If Olivia Wilde retweets your story, all the better! But all effort should be on that story. Then let the conversation expand as it will.