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Guest

For Nonprofits, Social Media is the Message

By: Guest | November 23, 2010 | 
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Guest post by Eric Pudalov community events coordinator for Georgia Community Support and Solutions.

I had an operation for a brain tumor at age 14, which forced me to learn and function differently as an adult. In some areas, I need more feedback and assistance on the job than the average person. On the bright side, this has added to my understanding of social media: These aren’t lectures; they’re conversations!

Ever since I majored in communications, the one principle that has stuck with me is, “The medium is the message,” as Marshall McLuhan so wisely put it in “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.” This came to mind as I considered the question, “How do nonprofits best market themselves in the Web 2.0 era?”

Although nonprofits, as a rule, are providing services rather than goods, we who work in the field are most interested in engaging in dialogues with people, educating others about a cause, and telling the success stories of people who have benefited from our work.

In my current position, part of my responsibility is to make others aware of how we are improving the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families. While we have a main website that explains our services, I decided to take it a step further by creating a WordPress blog, a Twitter page, and a Facebook Page, as well as using other social networking tools to make contacts.

The progress of each new site was slow at first, as I had limited experience using them for marketing purposes, and also understood that building a network, like a city, takes patience. However, as Katya Andresen says, “Connect with your supporters in many ways, online and off, if you want to build the deepest connections.” So in addition to using online tools like the ones above, we’ve engaged in letter-writing campaigns, spread our message through word-of-mouth, and held events that benefited people with disabilities across Georgia.

As for our blog being a social medium, originally it had been hosted at BlogSpot. At the advice of two friends in the marketing field, I suggested using WordPress for its more professional appearance and reputation. With those elements in place, our CEO, Whitney Fuchs suggested sticking more to a theme, and focusing on disability success stories, including my own.

Twitter is proving beneficial in getting GCSS’s name out there. I use it to promote the blog and our latest events, but more importantly, to virtually “meet” other individuals and organizations worldwide. Through it, we’ve welcomed comments and information from many with likeminded goals (in spite of the site’s occasional technical frustrations).

So, does that prove that “the medium is the message”? I believe so. I just keep in mind that the message always must have substance.

Eric Pudalov is community events coordinator for Georgia Community Support and Solutions, a nonprofit that serves the needs of adults and children with developmental disabilities. His claim to fame is having pounded fists with fellow slam poet Mos Def at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Manhattan.

7 comments
DianaH
DianaH

Hi Eric,
I work in a nonprofit and as you we decided to have a blog, facebook and twitter. How do you get interaction from your followers? Some times I have the feeling that no one is listening. In FB we get about 3 comments a week. In Twitter very rear.
Diana

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Eric my sister works for a non-profit in NY State that focuses on womens health issues. I commend you for your work. I have seen first hand how Social has helped Non-Profits in many ways. Edward Boches of Mullen recently blogged with a theory that giving will migrate dramatically to social. But I still get incessant phone calls and mailers from the causes I support. My theory being we each have a certain amount we feel we can donate and only so many causes we can help. And obviously the demand for resources is larger than the resources available.

But I see two very dramatic areas that Social is kicking some ass. For actual fundraising I see some very unique things allowing people to reach out to their personal networks. So while a Charity itself might have the same barriers to raising money directly, the people who support them have it easier. Like a Walk-a-Thon. Before I had to call my friends or talk to people in person. Now I can do it via social and reach a broader group. And then the second which is what you specifically address is we all give money and often have no idea where it went. So with blogs and fan pages it is so much easier to get the message out of where the money went and make things more transparent. The more transparent things are the bigger the trust the more likely someone feels good about giving more.

Cheers and Kudos on your strength and achievements considering the curveball life threw you. You are an inspiration.

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

Hey, I like how this came out! Thanks for your help, Daniel and Gini! However, I do have a question; is there a way I can get this read by more people? I appreciate it.

CLGraphics
CLGraphics

Eric, excellent post. We work with a LOT of nonprofit groups. In fact, nonprofits account for more than 43% of our active client base. That being said, we're helping more and more of them plan, budget and measure their social media activity as we assist with their sm presence development and maintenance.

An additional thought to your post that resonates with our nonprofits; You MUST learn to communicate with your next generation of donors. Social media and mobile venues are where conversations are taking place. Connecting, just as you mentioned Katya suggested, in multiple formats both off and on-line will not only build deeper relationships, but enable new relationships to be formed.

Eric, thanks for sharing that post.

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

@DianaH Hey Diana, I had meant to respond to your comment sooner, but had to give it some more thought. Interaction from our followers...well, it's a tough one. On our Facebook page, we only get occasional comments, although we have 38 monthly active users and 61 people who "like" us. I think it helps to continuously update the page, as well as link to it on your other social media sites, etc.

What's the name of your nonprofit, and do you have a main website? One of the initial issues I had was that even people in our organization were unaware of the blog, etc. I worked with our Webmaster to make those links more visible on our main website, and also sent out a mass e-mail to let our employees know about them.

In addition to that, we now have a "Cause" on Facebook, which you could do as well. If you're unfamiliar with Causes, it's a nonprofit (http://www.causes.com) that helps other nonprofits succeed. It's not necessarily the best way to raise money, but it <i>is</i> helpful in gaining a following and letting people know what you're about.

I hope this was helpful; if you have other questions, you can e-mail me at eric.pudalov@gacommunity.org. Glad to hear from you!

EricPudalov
EricPudalov

@HowieG Thanks for your wonderful comment, Howie. I hadn't thought about the example of a walk-a-thon using Social Media, but like you say, clearly that would work in the same way! And yes, the SM does help make it clearer exactly what our money is going to. For example, the application Causes on Facebook tells you the name of the organization that receives any money you donate. You also have the option of donating a small amount to Causes, Inc., which is a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits. Our organization also has a Facebook Cause (which I should have mentioned!). What's the name of the nonprofit your sister works for?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@EricPudalov I was trying to see if I could tell in analytics how many visitors you've had to this post. You'll see a big bump tomorrow morning when it arrives in people's RSS feeds. Thank you for the post!

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  1. [...] afternoon, The Fight Against Destructive Spin published my guest blog post, entitled For Nonprofits, Social Media is the Message.  It discusses the role that social media like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs can play in promoting [...]