Monday, April 19, 2010

Not Just Another Post on Ning Alternatives for Your Small Nonprofit



Ning downtime screenImage by guspim via Flickr


A lot of bloggers and  folks on Twitter are talking about Ning and their decision to go completely to a paid service. As you might expect, a lot of the focus is on the free communities and what alternatives are open to them. And some are concerned that this is the opening move in a "free is dead" movement.

Call me Pollyanna, but I think this is a good opportunity to think about your social media strategy in the long-term.

Long-Term Social Media Strategy - An Oxymoron?

Yeah, social media is pretty mercurial. It's one of the things that make it both so interesting and so frustrating. Just when you think you know what's going on, something happens (Twitter introduces sponsored Tweets, Ning decides to kill its free service), and you're trying to figure it out all over again. And new services and applications keep cropping up. How is a small nonprofit, with no dedicated social media director, supposed to keep up with this stuff?

The short answer is that you don't. You may not be able to keep up with all of the rapid changes, but you can know what tools you are using and once or twice a year, review those tools to see how they're working for you and whether something else out there might be a better fit. Or at least a good substitution.

For instance, let's say your small nonprofit uses community pages to keep in touch with your supporters and volunteers. Maybe you even use Ning. You know that you want to continue using a cloud-based community service because you don't have the bucks or the staff to create and maintain one on your own site. It's a long-term strategy.

Regular Review

As part of your long-term online community strategy, you should be doing a Regular Review (you pick the time frame, but at least a couple of times a year, I should think). You block out some time to spend on looking at the community and evaluating what it's doing for you, pro and con, what else you'd like to get out of it and whether or not the current service is capable of providing that.

Then you look around at what other services are available and compare them. When you're done, you know whether it's time to migrate your community, expand on the community you already have by tweaking it, and what alternatives are available to you if something should happen. Then you can create an Action Plan for dealing with the unexpected.

Doing a Regular Review of the social media tools you use will provide you with:
  • data you can use to further your mission
  • alerts about what's new that you could be taking advantage of
  • information that can be used in e-newsletters and plea letters
  • an updated Action Plan that you can quickly initiate and communicate to reassure your online community, your board and staff
The most important thing you'll derive from a Regular Review will, of course, be peace of mind. Think of how good it will feel the next time someone says, "Did you hear about...?" and you can say, "Yeah - we're already on it."
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Social Media News Alerts - a Tool for Your Small Nonprofit

summer on a solitary beach
Image by ro_buk [I'm not there] via Flickr

With a very small nonprofit, any staff may be forced into wearing so many hats they may be tempted to open a shop on Etsy. These are the folks most likely to worry if they should stick a toe into the social media ocean. With little to no social media swimming skills, a fear of drowning can keep one firmly on the sand and under an umbrella.

If this is you, don’t put away the suntan lotion just yet.

Monitoring the Traffic
Even if you don’t feel you have time for the give and take required for making the best of social media you can still take advantage of it.
By using a tool to monitor social media traffic, you can learn:
  • What people are saying about your nonprofit in particular
  • What people are talking about with respect to the mission your small nonprofit serves
  • You can identify people in social media who regularly speak to the areas of your concern

With the above information, you can:
  • Choose whether or not to interact with people directly or through their blog or website
  • Make plans to deal with potential misunderstandings or public relations problem
  • Make professional connections with other people involved in the same mission or those serving similar missions
  • Track and accumulate data that may be useful to your nonprofit and its board in making future plans

And you can have the information delivered to you daily or less often into your own email box.

Google Alerts
The tool I use is called Google Alerts – learn about it here.

One of the things I get alerts for is “small nonprofits.” I get news results, blogs on the subject and even video. You might choose to get alerts when the specific name of your nonprofit is used online and alerts for keywords related to your mission like “underprivileged” or “homeless”.  Be aware that after you’ve received your first few alerts, you’ll likely want to tweak the search parameters to make sure you get as close to your targets as you can.  The more specific you are, the fewer results you’re likely to get, but they may be more on-target than leaving the search terms fairly general – example: homeless, Detroit rather than simply homeless. Experiment until you get the mix that returns the most useful information.

Once you’ve got the alerts working for you, you may find that it’s easier to support or discount ideas, find support within your peer group or community, make some plans with less uncertainty, and even experience a great feeling of connectedness and all without having to wade so far out in the social media ocean that you can no longer feel the sand under your toes.

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