As voters in New Hampshire head to polls to divvy up delegates for the Republican Convention (and the uncontested Democratic one), all the candidates are doing what Barack Obama did so singularly in 2008: developing social-media strategies meant to expand their bases, to parry jibes from their opponents, and to launch a few of their own attacks. In sheer numbers, the Republicans have turned the tables on their Democratic counterparts: According to Jennifer Steinhauser of The New York Times: “Republican House members have more than twice as many followers as their Democratic counterparts — about 1.3 million versus roughly 600,000 — and are far more active on Twitter with more than 157,000 individual Twitter messages, versus roughly 62,000 for Democrats.”
Nonprofits are not competing for votes in a similar antagonistic dynamic, of course. But donations and volunteer hours are finite entities, and the fact is nonprofits of all stripes now must challenge themselves to raise their social-networking strategy to challenge for every engaged constituent. The return on investment (ROI) might not be votes,
Even the sheer numbers quoted above do not tell the whole story. The individuals behinds those numbers count as well:
“The Republicans in Congress are using new media technology to compete for the attention of Beltway reporters,” said Josh Earnest, the White House deputy press secretary. “We use it to compete for the attention of the American people,” he said, pointing to interactive forums that the White House conducts. “These are two different goals.”
Targeting your audience, even in the seemingly endless sea that is Twitter, is critical for long-term success. With the long term in mind, we should remember that few people start giving time or money to a cause they have just encountered. They will want to follow it, track its development, get a sense of what others are saying/doing about it. And social networks are how ever more people are doing all that.
The speed of social networks can be pivotal: when a crisis hits or a victory is won, your nonprofit or small business can make quick and meaningful appeals and keep people invested via the good vibes of a team’s success. Politicians keep up the speed with a staff dedicated to acting and reacting on networks: “In the Hill environment, minutes count,” said Mr. [Brad] Dayspring, whose mad-dash Twitter messaging is supplemented by his colleague Brian Patrick, [Republican Representative Eric] Cantor’s blogger and a Twitter expert who is known as Boomer for his ability to pump up Republican crowds.”
Nonprofits likely do not have that kind of staff. But the scales are different anyway. Timely consultation and the adjustment of a few hours a week for a one or two staff members can make a huge difference for an organization. Sure,. So develop a strategy that wisely dedicates the resources you have available: your organization will not enjoy a significant return on investment if you think you must hire two new full-time staff members to trace your growing number of Followers and Likers.
Whatever your political affiliation, don’t let divisive partisanship cause you to ignore what works for your organization. Ask not what your social network can do for you. Ask what you can do for your social network. (Hmmm…)