The results of two new research studies about nonprofits and adoption of social media were released this week. One focuses on telling nonprofits not to bother with social media, the other provides some strategic ways to move forward.
Weber Shandwick released the results of a survey of 200 nonprofit and foundation executives to explore how their organizations (range of budgets) are using social media and the value they derive from these efforts. Here's the topline results:
- There is extensive experimentation with social media in the nonprofit sector, but only half (51%) surveyed are active users
- Most nonprofits (67%) say social media is changing how they communicate with broad external audiences, but not narrower categories of stakeholders
- Most nonprofits (52%) do not currently have the infrastructure, staff and expertise necessary to take full advantage of social media’s potential
- Nonprofit executives (83%) understand that social media makes it easier for supporters to organize independently – underscoring how critical it is for nonprofits to demonstrate their value and relevance to advocates
- Ultimately, for most nonprofit executives (79%), the true value of social media has yet to be determined for their organizations
The findings of this research offer insights into how nonprofits and foundations can optimize their use of social media in the future.
Successful nonprofit organizations will:
- Move from experimentation to implementation of strategic programs that drive digital engagement
- Focus on two-way conversations that build meaningful and sustainable connections with a range of priority audiences
- Invest in social media capacity as a means of achieving brand building, advocacy and fundraising goals
- Demonstrate their unique impact to underscore relevance to advocates
- Measure social media with key metrics for visibility, engagement and advocacy
The other survey, implemented by Philanthropy Action, focuses on midsized nonprofits. The headline is: Social Network and Mid-Size Nonprofits: What's The Use?
The survey looked at results and numbers and concludes that social media is not very effective and that midsize organizations should not waste time or effort. The survey was implemented between July 2008 and March 2009 - and the results presented here are focused on impact metrics
In terms of fundraising and attracting volunteers, metrics that most nonprofit boards and executive directors highly value, the available evidence suggests that social media is not very effective. To be fair, that evidence is limited. To date, there are only two surveys that we know of, one which we conducted, that have sought to quantify the impact of social technologies in terms familiar to executive directors and boards. In both cases, the results show that social technologies are not delivering much in terms of fundraising or attracting volunteers. While advocates of social technologies rightly point out that these are not the only metrics by which social technologies should be judged, they are the metrics that the majority of respondents to our survey cited as driving their participation. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of respondents to our survey say they are going to increase their investment in the use of social networking.
Certainly there are different motivations of the sponsors of these surveys, different methodologies, and different conclusions.
My opinion is that nonprofits should not ditch their efforts in social media. It takes time to get results, like anything else. You need to listen, engagement, develop relationships, scale within your organization, and have the capacity to implement strategically. This takes time and social media for nonprofits is still in its infancy. There are no silver bullets. The results are in developing listeners and participants who may later become supporters.
It’s time to set realistic outcomes, look for strategic efficiencies, and define and share best practices. I don't think it is a good idea to simply dismiss social media. I think it is important to have the conversation, but don't look at ROI in such a narrow - dollars only. Look at the missed opportunity costs of not participating - as well as take it as an opportunity to look at everything you're doing and figure out what isn't working and try social media in its place. It also important to keep measuring and improving.
What does your nonprofit think? Social media forget about it or move forward but implement strategically? Do you think social media is a waste of time for your organization or a technique in the early stages that needs more time to mature?
Update: The researchers responded that their conclusion was that midsize nonprofits should not use social media for fundraising. Sure didn't get that from the title. Further clarification point:
I think the most interesting "alternative" view of the data we collected is how many orgs reported no success on the metrics that they initially cared about but that they were planning on investing more. There are two possibilities to explain that: 1) they are caught up in shiny object syndrome and thinking "the reason it's not working is we haven't invested enough", or 2) they are finding value other than what they expected and that value is enough to justify increased investment.
This is a point I make over and over again - use the right metrics. Social media metrics - particularly in the early stages of use - are softer ones - like learning and adapting, and engagement. Once you've engagement full measure, then start counting conversions.