Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What Your Small Nonprofit Can Learn From the Sharknado Twitter Storm

Did I jump on a meme bandwagon? Please - if that were the case, I'd be doing a post on the royal baby.

Nope; what we got here is a kind of failure to communicate. This wacky movie about sharks falling from the sky got so much Twitter press I heard even one U.S. Congressman hoped a vote wouldn't delay his being able to watch it.

So what was the end result of all this hype? I guess that depends on what you were hoping for, if you were Syfy.

Tornado o' Coverage

First off, let's stipulate that Sharknado got lots of Twitter coverage. Lots. As in thousands of posts. No doubt the name itself was a large part of its popularity. And who doesn't like a monster movie with low production values (I've been a fan since Creature From the Black Lagoon)? Some tweets panned the acting and some the rubber and some the CGI, but as Oscar Wilde once said, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

Did the Coverage Result in Increased Viewing?

No. That's the interesting part. Twitter was full of #sharknado tweets, but viewing for the movie itself was pretty low (by Hollywood's standards). On the other hand, lots of celebrities tweeted about it. One of the last communications by Glee's Cory Monteith was about Sharknado:

So what was the result? Yep; Syfy just ordered Sharknado 2.

What can we learn from this in terms of social media?
  • Lots of buzz doesn't necessarily mean you get what you wanted. Of course, I'm assuming that what Syfy wanted was eyeballs on the film.
  • Not getting what you wanted isn't necessarily bad. So they didn't get viewers. But they did get noticed. Maybe they'll get new fans for the channel and maybe they'll get new brands that want to advertise. For sure they connected with brands on Twitter.
  • You can get enhanced branding. Maybe it didn't trend on Twitter, but it did on Google as a Hot Search. And now it's probably got street cred as the cable channel you go to when you want creature features.
  • Not getting what you expected but getting something else is a situation you should jump on with both feet - when Syfy saw that #Sharknado was getting 5K tweets a minute (at its peak), they revised their website to showcase a link to a rebelmouse page on it.
And consider this - in the olden days (pre social media), a low viewership would probably have been the end of the road for Sharknado. But thanks to Twitter, the producers, writers, actors of the film will be getting another project and the film itself is being lauded as a new camp classic. You can't buy that kind of press.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Two Things About Social Media - Using It or Losing It

On the Subject of Losing It:

One of the more ambiguous terms used when trying to quantify effort in social communications is authenticity. What does it mean to be authentic in your posts and replies? I mean, just the fact that you're posting and the posting comes from your small nonprofit kinda makes them authentic, right? After all, who would post saying they're from your NP if they weren't?

Obviously, that's not what is meant, so let's go a little deeper.

There are actors who are always themselves, no matter what part they are playing. Sean Connery and John Wayne come to mind. When you see them, they may be saying things that only their character would say and yet, there's an overlap of the human being playing that character. Watching them, you get the sense that you know something of who they are outside of the film. In this way, you could say they are authentic, real, honest; revealing something of the person they are at core.

This is why you want someone handling social communications at your NP who is authentic; who uses a writing 'voice' that is theirs alone and a style that may recognizable. Furthermore, that person should believe in your mission and be able to talk about everything that touches it without being overbearing, preachy, or sounding like a used-car salesman. This person talks about taking her four-year-old to a park and seeing a sculpture and then relates that to your NP's arts education program in a natural, unaffected way. She talks to people outside of your Facebook page and looks at pictures outside of your Pinterest page. She shares in the concerns of others and by doing so, builds trust that your NP is what it says it is and is interested in people other than as donors.

What happens when there is no authenticity? Then you get something like this, which proves that just having a live person at the other end of the social media telephone line isn't enough to make you authentic.

On the Subject of Using It:

Nonprofit Tech for Good (formerly Nonprofit Tech 2.0) has a great post on using Facebook status changes. I was not aware that you could tweak your status posts like this and am delighted to learn it.

Why would you want to tweak your posts?

Link Title. Say you see a link between your mission and an event outside your community. You can choose to post about it, but change the Link Name to something that makes the connection more clear. Perhaps the link title is "[Celebrity] Tears Up" but that's not the point of the article and probably would not interest your followers. So you change it to something like "Pictures of Rescued Animals brings [Celebrity] to Tears".

Link Description. Maybe the description provided also doesn't fit the bill. You can change that as well from "[Celebrity] holds rescued puppy" to "One hundred puppies rescued from abusive puppy mill thanks to [Celebrity]"

Scheduling. This is awesome. You don't have to post that status immediately. Instead, you can schedule it so that your post hits your timeline at the time that it will have the most impact or so you can space between your posts instead of bombarding your community.

Hashtags. We've talked about this in another post. Help your community find your post in a way outside of searching your timeline by adding hashtags.

And don't think these tweaks are outside of the subject of authenticity. How you choose to title and describe your posts will reveal more than you know.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Four Things the For Profit World Could Learn From Nonprofits

In a couple of other posts I mentioned that it's become rather a fad to borrow from the for-profit side of things. I've even recently written a post on what nonprofits could learn from for-profits. When someone recently tweeted this link, a twitter friend-in-common (Shaun Dakin) said he'd like to see it the other way round - what could for-profits learn from NPs? So here's my take on that question.

The way I see it, there are four things small nonprofits do that a for-profit might find very useful:

  • Focus on Mission
  • Relationships
  • Flexibility
  • Teamwork

Focus on Mission

We've all heard about a business wanting to return to its core values. For a small nonprofit, the mission is its core value. Whatever else the NP does, it can't wander too far afield in its search for relevancy. If the mission is to provide kids with backpacks, then that's what it needs to focus on. Any time an NP starts thinking, "maybe we should add some pencils to those backpacks, or maybe we could get calculators," they've taken a step away from their mission. This doesn't mean you should toe the line strictly, but if you're expanding your reach temporarily, you need to be clear about what you're doing and why: you can't afford to have your social media contacts become confused about what is important to you. Confusion about your mission will muddy the waters and your brand - what the public sees you as standing for.


There is at least one cable service provider whose brand is tarnished by horror stories told by customers about the way their problems were resolved (or not). There are even whole websites devoted to nothing but customers venting about a particular company and what it is not doing right. This is not the kind of publicity anyone wants, whether for profit or nonprofit, but some companies seem to think they are too big to care and they don't respond to the Tweets, FB posts, or other social media chastisements.

A small nonprofit must pay attention, must monitor, must respond. While a business may consider social media communications a needless distraction, for an organization whose brand encompasses doing good, there's no substitute for a timely response or outreach on issues related to the mission. Good social communications help make and maintain good relationships. A business could do worse than emulate a nonprofit such as the Humane Society. With better social communications, that cable service provider might find fewer people willing to take a hammer to their cable boxes or satellite dishes. Note: social media response/interaction leads to referrals and endorsements - that's a fact.


In the tech world there's a software product called Agile and it's spawned methodologies like Agile Project Management. The whole idea is to promote a rapid response to change using collaboration and self-defined, cross-functional teams. Companies put millions of dollars into learning something a small nonprofit that wants to thrive already knows - to succeed, you have to be flexible.

Almost everyone in a small nonprofit wears more than one hat, which doesn't happen as often in business, unless it's a start-up. More than one person has to be empowered to deal with changing situations or a crisis could completely stall the whole enterprise. With respect to social communications, a stalled response could cause exponential damage to community perception - damage that can take a long, long time to recover from. An internal structure that anticipates and builds in flexibility will have a much greater chance of preventing social media damage before it starts or at least dealing with it quickly enough to minimize the problem.


I've worked in places - including nonprofits - where the prevailing definition of teamwork was everyone doing what the boss said. Again, because the staff of a small nonprofit must take on many different jobs, teamwork means pitching in to help your colleagues; understanding that helping them win is to support the mission and ensure the whole nonprofit wins. It also means collaborating on strategies, plans for carrying out tasks: each person is an asset with something to contribute and while the final decision may belong to the Executive Director, it doesn't mean that the opinions or experience of other staff are less important or useful.

There's probably plenty more a for-profit could learn from the work of a nonprofit, particularly a small one. If you had the opportunity to tell a business how a nonprofit does it, what tips would you share?