Getting Started, listening

Using Social Media in Your Nonprofit: Overcoming Objections

52 Comments 14 June 2009

Image by p_champie

Image by p_champie

Last week I gave an “introduction to social media” presentation to the Board of Directors of a multinational nonprofit organization.  This was the normal “what is social media” overview, a review and overview of the popular platforms (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, blogs, etc.) and summary of how to get started in social media.  By the time I was 10 minutes into the presentation, I had heard three objections to using social media, and these objections kept coming at me throughout the entire time I presented. It has been a long time since I was in a room of people scared of social media. I’m going to take this opportunity to address their objections one at a time. At the end of this blog post, please tell me if you think I’ve satisfactorily addressed the concerns, and how you might add to these responses.

1. It’s not safe! What about the BU Craigslist killer? (someone REALLY asked this question in the presentation)

The”BU Craigslist killer” was actually Philip Markoff, a Boston University medical student who looked for massage ads on Craigslist and then attacked the women giving massages. In essence, how is this any different than if Mr. Markoff had responded to a newspaper print ad?  Did social media promote the massage ads? NO. Craigslist is not social media, but an online classified advertising site. In this instance, for massages. Is one of your nonprofit’s core services providing massages in hotel rooms? If yes, then you might have to worry. But if your core mission is about helping save the whales, or feed the homeless, or provide rehab services to veterans, then you really don’t need to worry.

When I asked my Twitter followers for their responses to this question, my personal favorite was from Teresa Boze, who wrote: “I’d tell them most household accidents happen in the bathroom… watch out for the toilet bowl monster.”

On a more serious note, if your organization promotes conversation on sites geared to teens, then you do have a responsibility to ensure that the conversation includes safeguards against teen predators. Just as in real life, if you bring teenagers together, there should always be a responsible adult present.

2. What if our biggest rival pretends to be us online?

Sheena T. Abraham responded (via Twitter) to this objection with “that’s why you have to build your own online credibility as much as you can, build trust with the online audience.” This is one great answer to the question! If an organization builds its own relationship online with its stakeholders, then this is what will likely happen when a rival impersonates the organization:

  • the real organization’s stakeholders will notice and alert the real organization of the problem
  • the phony organization will not have the ability to create a phony online profile because the real organization has already claimed its online profiles at KnowEm. The truth is that “it’s almost impossible to get your brand name or username back once it’s been taken” on a social media site, unlike buying back a website domain name, according to the KnowEm blog.

Secondly, listening for mentions of your organization online will alert you to this phenomenon, and your organization can quickly address the issue of the “phony brand name.” I cover this topic further in depth below.

Go get your social media online profile and begin to engage!

3. Social media means a lot of work and we don’t have the staff time to do that.

I hear that. I’ve worked at nonprofit organizations with two staff people, with 20, and everything in-between. No matter how many staff people your organization employs, they will always be overtaxed, overworked, with no time to do social media. This will never change. It is the nature of not-for-profit organizations. A good social media strategy takes into account how social media will help your organization better fulfill its mission (engage with stakeholders) and create real benefits to the organization  (listen to members, engage with stakeholders, vet new program ideas, measure responses, etc.) With that in mind, how do you not have the time? Amy Sample Ward writes on Twitter that “organizations want a person or department to “own” the task/responsibility instead of seeing it as a tool to aid all departments’ work.”

Carie Lewis from the Humane Society of the US (she’s their Brand Ambassador) holds a 9-minute staff meeting every day to inform each and every one of the HSUS employees about “what’s going on that day – PR, what people are talking about on Twitter, etc.”

Wendy Harman, of the American Red Cross, writes that “We distribute a daily social media update email that contains a sampling of most relevant mentions.” Everyone must be involved. No more silos.

If social media activities let your organization to grow, soar, and be more efficient, then determine your staff time and resources and create a social media strategy that will accommodate organizational limitations.

4. There is no place in our organization for social media.

Organizations are used to placing departments in silos. The organizing department…organizes the community. The fundraising department… raises money. The research department…researches. Where is the “social media department?” The organizations that implement social media most effectively include everyone in social media, whether it is merely apprising them of the latest activities or including them in the strategy sessions. Social media is the entire organization’s “new website”…its composite brand identity. Every department must be involved in some way.

Amy Sample Ward again writes (via Twitter) to those that argue “there is no ‘home’ for social media in any of the organization’s departments, obviously I would argue there is home in ALL of the departments for it.”

5. People will attack us online with negative critique.

I have news for you: if you are worried about this, then they are already attacking you online. If your organization is worried about negative critique, then the best thing that you can do is to be where your critics are…online. The dissatisfied clients/customers of your nonprofit organization will find a way to critique your organization no matter what – via Twitter, blog posts, commenting on forums and discussion boards, and many other places. The very best action your nonprofit organization can do is create a social media presence, listen for any and all organizational mentions online, and develop an online presence. By developing a loyal brand following online, your organization is positioned to respond quickly to all negative remarks, and leverage the loyalty of your followers to pass along your online responses. For more detailed suggestions on how to engage in proactive reputation management, see a prior post on this subject.

The final thought comes from Danielle Lanyard via Twitter: “nonprofits were built on an old corporate model where nonprofits are defined by differences from competition vs. a collaborative model which is social media.” Social media leverages the collaborative experience, knowledge and information of everyone online to fulfill the organization’s goals. The knowledge gained, productive collaborations, extended organizational reach, and increased stakeholder (and donor!) engagement should far outweigh fears about using social media.

Thanks for reading! Do you have other suggestions for overcoming objections to social media? Have you heard these objections before? Are there other objections that you want to add, and how you have addressed them? I welcome your participation in this conversation!

Please also visit Amy Sample Ward’s blog,  who continues this conversation by inviting her readers to contribute their own Comeback Lines to Social Media Objectors.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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