8 Reasons Why Social Media is Crucial for Nonprofit Organizations to Engage Their Supporters, Donors and the World at Large – Part 1 of 3

Social media started a revolution in Egypt. So why can't that same thing happen here in America? Photo courtesy of http://johnprooij.wordpress.com

Written by Tim Takechi

Remember when the phrase “World Wide Web” was the chic buzzword back in the 1990’s? The American Dialect Society did name it the 1995 Word of the Year.

There once was a time before every household in America had Internet connection. Heck, there once was a time when not every household had a computer, multiple television sets and one car per person. But that’s a whole other story.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, social media is a world-wide phenomenon that cannot be ignored. You can’t ignore it because you’d have to be living under a rock in the first place in order for that to happen.

You should all know about the popularity of Facebook (just watch the movie “The Social Network” for a taste), the rise of Twitter, why LinkedIn is crucial in today’s business world and how MySpace is SO early 21st century. And can any of you remember a time before YouTube? How else were we supposed to waste time at work?

And don’t even get me started on Hulu. How do you expect me to watch TV? On television itself? Please…

Not surprising, the American Dialect Society’s 2009 Word of the Year was “Tweet” while the Word of the Decade was “Google.” No need to elaborate.

The popularity of any social phenomena inevitably breeds controversy. Will using Facebook compromise your privacy? As this debate continues, consider the upside of social media: Not only can individuals use it, but so can companies.

Everyone from sports teams to big corporations to small nonprofit organizations are using Facebook, Twitter, blogging and YouTube to directly connect with fans. Just check out our blog here at Global Visionaries. We are using this as a platform to directly deliver our most relevant news, insights, perspectives and photographs. We hope you have enjoyed our content so far.

Our blog has been up for eight months and we’ve recently passed the 3,500 views mark. That means 3,500 unique visitors from all walks of life have shared our story. From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank you for your love, support and generous curiosity.

But think about this for a moment. A long, long time ago, nonprofits could not speak directly with its constituents as they can now. Many NGOs have websites, but updating a web page takes knowledge of HTML, CMS and lots of other acronyms I am not familiar with. Besides, posting new content onto a WordPress or Tumblr blog takes mere seconds. Updating a website takes a lot longer.

So you can already see the benefits of companies using social media. If any of you out there are interested in starting your own nonprofit, small business or social entrepreneurship venture, you must have an understanding of social media and why it is foundationally important for survival.

Read on for in-depth reasons. This list is by no means exhaustive. Nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter and marketing strategist David Meerman Scott can provide more comprehensive insight into this matter. For part one of this series we will look into reasons 1-4.

1. Everyone uses social media

That’s not entirely true, but it sure seems like it. According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as the company celebrates its 6th birthday, Facebook is now being actively used by more than 400 million users worldwide. That’s more than the population of the United States. The other statistics are also mind boggling.

Its popularity cannot be underestimated. As long as Facebook is popular, it never hurts for a nonprofit organization to start a company Fan Page to directly engage their communities. This leads us to our next point:

2. Social media is free

It costs nothing to join social networking sites. Facebook, Twitter, blog platforms, LinkedIn and Flickr are free to join (upgrades, on the other hand, do cost a little extra).

If it costs nothing to join and can only help you advertise your name and brand, what’s the harm? Anything in life that’s free and can reap high rewards is almost always worth it. Let’s say you start a blog on WordPress or Blogger but you hardly ever update it. While that’s not a preferable thing to do (not updating your blog regularly is a recipe for disaster), what’s the ultimate harm?

At the most, it will make your organization look lazy. That may not be the most horrible thing to have happen, but if you find out your blog is not working, simply delete it. Pretend it never happened. Unlike a gym membership, there’s no cost for ducking out early.

3. People do their research on social media

When you’re job searching and you stumble across a company you might want to work for, what do you do first? Apply for a position right on the spot? Of course not! You have to do your homework first.

And how do you research companies, organizations or nonprofits? First, people see if you have a website. The website is the first place everybody goes to for information. Secondly, people go to Google or some other search engine to see where else your company appears on the web. And once those means have been thoroughly researched, people then explore social media.

Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Do you have a blog? YouTube videos? These are real questions real people ask.

Here’s a great example. Our new Development Assistant Intern found us through Facebook after seeing an internship posting on Craigslist. She’s a recent college graduate who wants to get involved in the nonprofit field. She told me that after she found us on Craigslist she immediately Googled us and found our Facebook Fan Page. And the rest is history.

If we stalk people on Facebook to see if that cute guy or girl is single or in a relationship, why won’t those same people use similar methods to research your company?

4. Social media shows up on Google and other search engines

We’ve already discussed this, but your social media presence will not go unnoticed by search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo.

In fact, there are people out there whose full-time job is to improve a company’s prominence on search engines. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the 21st century version of posting informational flyers on community bulletin boards. Search engines are one of the first places people go to do their initial research. Even though I previously said people first go to your website, folks use search engines to see if you have a website to begin with!

Methods toward Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are vastly growing to become a professional field unto itself. Yes, there are fancy tactics to make sure your company is found on the top 20 hits on Google, but using social media is one of the more practical ways to make that happen.

I will say this now and I will say it again, but I am not the foremost expert on this subject. If you want more information about social media and how to use it, visit Mashable.

Check back to the Global Visionaries blog for my second installment of this series to see reasons 5-8.

Part 3 will talk about how social media is a crucial component to student leadership. The use of social networking sites among people ages 12 to 24 exploded in the year 2010, according to Edison Research. We cannot separate youth leadership engagement and the means with which youth communicate.

If you have any thoughts or additional resources we can learn from, please feel free to share them with us.

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