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Social media IS effective for nonprofits and small businesses

13 Comments 04 March 2010

Two new data sets about the value of social media came across my laptop recently: Idealware‘s “Using Social Media to Meet Nonprofit Goals” survey of nonprofit staffers using social media, and the State of Small Business report from Network Solutions and the Center for Excellence in Service.

The results are so similar to the nonprofit survey results that the conclusion is hard to ignore: social media actually is an effective tool for customer retention and attraction.

Social media is actually perceived by those doing it to work! In particular, the top benefits are seen as reaching new audiences and enhancing existing customer/audience relationships.

Here are some highlights from the Idealware survey of 459 nonprofit staffers using social media:

1. Nonprofits believe that social media is helping them to enhance relations with their existing audience and reach new audiences through the top platforms.

Most organizations feel that most social media channels are effective for enhancing existing relationships and reaching new supporters. The least effective platforms are MySpace and Linkedin. Blogs, video-sharing, Twitter, and Facebook are felt to be the most effective tools.  The surprise to me is that video-sharing is perceived as highly effective for enhancing relationships.

2. Most nonprofits are using a combination of Facebook, Twitter, video-sharing and blogs to reach out and enrich relationships online. The data shows that there isn’t a relationship between the size of the organization and the number of channels it is using. The responses show that, in general, nonprofits are using and regularly updating one to three social media channels.

I’m not surprised that Facebook is the most popular channel used, but I am surprised that 56% of nonprofits are using Twitter and 80% of them  update Twitter regularly. Two other points to consider: the blog is not dead (45% of nonprofits have one) and video sharing sites once again prove to be popular (49% have them).

Conclusions: Nonprofits are finding value in Twitter, Facebook is widely adopted and “known to work.”  These platforms must be seen as engagement tools to be taken seriously at this point. The blog, though time consuming, is the long form to express your message and enhance relationships with existing supporters. Video-sharing is the crouching tiger. Regularly maintaining one to three platforms is an industry standard.

3. Nonprofits are not yet satisfied with the results of social network fundraising. I don’t think this is any big surprise, as both social network donors and donation strategies are still in their infancy. The survey reveals that, of all the social networks, 41% of respondants believe that Facebook is most effective for raising money. (And that is the highest percentage of approval of any network channel.)  I suspect respondents mention Facebook because it has an affiliated fundraising platform, Causes, that is simple to use and easily accessible. Let’s see what next year’s survey results bring: I’m guessing that they will bring higher satisfaction and a stronger sense of nonprofit social network fundraising effectiveness.

This is also the only platform where Linkedin is rated on par with Twitter, video-sharing, and blogging, at 30% effeciveness. The Idealware study remarks that this is surprising, but I don’t find it surprising at all: Linkedin is an incredibly effective channel for targeted donor research and deeper interaction with potential donors and foundations within Linkedin Groups.

Here’s one more set of similar survey results: the performance of social media tactics for US small businesses in December 2009.

According to “The State of Small Business” report, small businesses are also using social media to successfully attract new customers, increase awareness, and stay engaged with existing customers.

Two data sets, two different user groups, same results: social media is effective for reaching new customers and strengthening existing relationships. Irrefutable evidence of the power of engagement.

  • craig4bizz

    Thanks for this stats

    only 7% of small business are using social media if that number increases we can see small businesses blossoms even more


  • friendslikeus

    We have been using Twitter, Facebook and started a blog for our non-profit and the results are amazing. No, we haven't tried the fund-raising part though, maybe soon. I don't know what we would do without the power of social media. It is the best tools ever. Thank you for the article…very good!

    Mark Bailey
    Friends Like Us


  • Hi Mark,
    Thanks for adding to the dataset. If you are able to share, I'd be curious to know about your experience using Twitter, Facebook, and the blog in terms of the answer sets in the Idealware survey: do you know that each of these platforms are helping you to reach new audiences and/or deepen engagement, or do you think they are?


  • An integrated approach is far stronger than purely social (or mobile) marketing, unless that’s the need at the time.It’s also great for any business while PR and marketing are very suited to it, there’s an audience there for pretty much any business on social.


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  • Yes I agree but they are also effective even in a large business especially when promoting products to get more customers and visitors.


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  • My hurdle: getting NPOs to actually pay for the real work it takes to meet real objectives, using social media. Oh! And I mean in Osaka, Japan, where no one is paying for anything these days!


  • Hi Saul, I completely understand. That is a real challenge, not just with non-profit organizations. However, I am seeing a change of late (especially in Israel), where NPOs understand that strategic guidance is worth paying for but not implementation.


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  • DMNdirect

    Social media marketing is a great tool for small businesses to use to help expand and grow their business. Try some of the more popular sites like Facebook and Twitter, and see what works best for your business. Best of luck!



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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