Tag Archives: social media

Measuring social media success? You’re probably doing it wrong.

logoA nonprofit buys billboard space on a major highway. Thousands of people drive by the billboard every day. After a week, the marketing director declares the billboard a huge success because of the number of people that are driving by the billboard. However, there is no significant gain in donations, volunteers or clients by the organization.

Does this sound like a ridiculous way to measure the success of a marketing activity? It is. Yet, that’s how I regularly hear people measure the success of social media use by a nonprofit, government agency or other mission-based initiative.

If your nonprofit is an animal shelter, or a farmer’s cooperative, or a community theater, or a health clinic, or any other nonprofit that serves a geographically-specific clientele, having thousands of Twitter followers is not an indication that you are having social media success. So what? That’s the same as the billboard out on the highway. It’s just a number, and if it’s not translating into something tangible, it’s a waste of money and effort.

For online activities to translate into something tangible, online action must create and support offline action or behavior. What could this look like?

  • An increase in the number of volunteers providing service to your organization
  • An increase in the number of volunteers who stay with your organization over a longer term
  • A greater diversity of volunteers providing service, with greater representation from under-represented groups
  • Greater numbers of donors
  • More repeat donors
  • New donors
  • Greater attendance to conferences, workshops, etc.
  • Greater attendance to events with an entrance fee, which creates greater revenues
  • Greater numbers of downloads or purchases of a publication or other product
  • Greater numbers of clients or people served
  • More repeat clients
  • A greater diversity of clients receiving services from your organization
  • Larger numbers of people writing government officials, corporate representatives or the media regarding the cause your organization promotes
  • Larger numbers of people filling out surveys that you will use in creating proposals, reports and publications regarding your organization’s work
  • More feedback from volunteers, donors, clients and the general public regarding your work
  • Volunteers and clients reporting a perception of greater support from your organization
  • Volunteers and clients reporting a new / changed perception that relates to your mission (for instance, those you engage with online reporting that they are no longer prejudiced against a particular group or community) or a change in behavior or practice that relates to your organization’s mission (for instance, if you were an organization that promotes recycling, and those you engage with online telling you they are recycling more)
  • Volunteers, clients, staff, the general public and/or the press reporting a perception of greater support from your organization, an improved perception of the organization’s impact, an increased awareness about the cause an organization promotes, etc.

A few hundred Twitter or Instagram followers may not sound impressive, but if most of those followers are in your geographic area, if there are lots of public officials and other nonprofit representatives and local people served by your organization among those followers, you’re doing well. If you are a nonprofit serving teens, and most of those followers are teens, you are doing VERY well. It’s not about the how many, it’s about the who.

How can you measure social media success ? I talk about that on my web page Evaluating Online Activities: Online Action Should Create & Support Offline Action & Results. For most nonprofits, measuring is not a matter of a software choice; it’s going to take a more person-to-person approach, involving surveys and interviews. In other words, engagement.

Quit celebrating how many people have “liked” your organization’s Facebook page. Are discussions happening on that Facebook page? Are people asking questions? Are individual status updates being liked and shared? Celebrate engagement.

Also see:

Folklore, Rumors & Misinformation Campaigns Interfering with Humanitarian Efforts & Government Initiatives

gossipUPDATED:

Preventing Folklore, Rumors, Urban Myths & Organized Misinformation Campaigns From Interfering with Development & Aid/Relief Efforts & Government Initiatives

Folklore, rumors and contemporary myths / legends often interfere with development aid activities and government initiatives, including public health programs – even bringing such to a grinding halt. They create ongoing misunderstandings and mistrust, prevent people from seeking help, encourage people to engage in unhealthy and even dangerous practices, and have even lead to mobs of people attacking someone or others because of something they heard from a friend of a friend of a friend. With social media like Twitter and Facebook, as well as simple text messaging among cell phones, spreading misinformation is easier than ever.

Added to the mix: fake news sites set up specifically to mislead people, as well as crowdsourced efforts by professional online provocateurs and automated troll bots pumping out thousands of comments, countering misinformation efforts has to be a priority for aid and development organizations, as well as government agencies.

Since 2004, I have been gathering and sharing both examples of this phenomena, and recommendations on preventing folklore, rumors and urban myths from interfering with development and aid/relief efforts and government initiatives. I’ve recently updated this information with new information regarding countering organized misinformation campaigns.

Anyone working in development or relief efforts, or working in government organizations, needs to be aware of the power of rumor and myth-sharing, and be prepared to prevent and to counter such. This page is an effort to help those workers:

  • cultivate trust in the community through communications, thereby creating an environment less susceptible to rumor-baiting
  • quickly identify rumors and misinformation campaigns that have the potential to derail humanitarian aid and development efforts
  • quickly respond to rumors and misinformation campaigns that could derail or are interfering with humanitarian aid and development efforts

And, FYI: I do this entirely on my own, as a volunteer, with no funding from anyone. I update the information as my free time allows.

Also see:

Did Facebook hurt the Syrian Revolution?

Why is it that social media can help win an election in one country and cannot stop a month-long massacre in another?

Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the School of International Studies at the University of Denver, has argued that social media is helping dictators, while giving the masses an illusion of empowerment and political worthiness.

At a recent lecture at Columbia University, when asked for an example where social media played a negative role in a social movement, Chenoweth paused a little to finally say, “what comes to my mind now is Syria.”

Indeed, social media hurt the Syrian uprising. It gave the Syrian people the hope that the old dictatorship can be toppled just by uploading videos of protests and publishing critical posts. Many were convinced that if social media helped Egyptians get rid of Hosni Mubarak, it would help them overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

It created the false illusion that toppling him would be easy and doable.

The above quote is from Ian interesting article by Al Jazeera.

There can’t be any argument that digital activism can have a massive impact, sometimes even more than volunteer engagement, as shown by the 2016 USA election, but it can also be slackervism/slacktivism, when virtual activism stays virtual.

Is social media, Facebook in particular, hurting activism in the USA as well?

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The importance of Twitter lists

Twitter_logo_blueAs I said in a recent blog, called the awesome power of Tweet tags, I am still a huge fan of Twitter. As I said in that blog, I still get so much more out of Twitter than Facebook, professionally:

  • I get a great sense of what folks are doing in the areas of expertise and work I care about most
  • I can easily find and connect with amazing experts in areas of expertise and work in which I’m intensely interested
  • I can find what I’m looking for and easily screen out what I don’t care about
  • When I tweet, I get replies and retweets and even requests for more info – real engagement – as well as traffic to my blog and web site

Of course you should follow me on Twitter: @jcravens42

But you should also be aware of another way to leverage Twitter for your nonprofit, government or other mission-based organization or program: creating and sharing Twitter lists, where you curate accounts based on some aspect of your program’s mission or location. For instance:

  • an animal shelter should have a public Twitter list of other shelters and animal rescue groups in the area, and another list of accounts tweeting credible information regarding animal care and training
  • a small college or university should have a Twitter list of its own departments, faculty and students using Twitter to talk about their university work
  • a police department should have a Twitter list of other law enforcement agencies in the area and nearby, and another list of accounts by nonprofits addressing issues that contribute to crime prevention (homeless shelters, drug treatment centers, programs to help teens, etc.)
  • a city office should have a Twitter list of other city offices
  • a public school should have a Twitter list of registered nonprofits in the area focused on youth
  • a water and sanitation program in a developing country should have a Twitter list of similar programs in other countries, so staff can look for ideas they can use in their own area, and have a list of programs and organizations in-country that have funded or might fund the WATSAN program
  • an association of managers of volunteers should have a list of all of the nonprofits in the area with Twitter accounts, another list of all student groups at local colleges and universities in the area that regularly engage in public service, and another list of all civic groups in the area using Twitter.

Creating Twitter lists and sharing them with the public affirms an organization’s mission, establishes a program as a leader regarding that mission, creates valuable resources for people you are trying to serve, and creates another way for you to attract Twitter followers. It also makes it much easier for you to be able to check in with what’s happening with specific audiences – instead of following them all on Twitter, you put accounts on lists, and then read those lists when it’s time to catch up on a particular area of interest to you.

Here’s a good example: Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association (NOVAA) has several Twitter lists. One is made up of nonprofits in the greater Portland, Oregon area that tweet, a list of people tweeting about the management of volunteers, and a list of people and organizations that tweet about volunteerism and volunteer recruitment. By having such lists and sharing them with the public, NOVAA is helping promote its brand as an organization that can help organizations in the area, including nonprofits, schools and government agencies, regarding effective volunteer engagement. What would be great is if they also had a list of all public officials in the area, or that represent the area, that are on Twitter, so that they could easily follow what those people might be saying regarding volunteers and NOVAA members could more easily contact those representatives regarding volunteerism.

Here’s another good example: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, also in Portland, Oregon. One of its Twitter lists is of its partner organizations on Twitter. Another list is of organizations focused on helping people and families work towards financial stability. Like NOVAA, they also have compiled a list of nonprofits in the greater Portland, Oregon area that tweet. So UW is using its Twitter lists to both promote nonprofits in the area and help people in the area find the services at nonprofits they need – in short, they are using Twitter lists as a part of their mission to “improve lives, strengthen communities and advance equity by mobilizing the caring power of people across our metro area.”

Here’s how it works for me: I maintain several public Twitter lists – lists of people and organizations that regularly tweet about subjects of interest to me. These lists affirm my areas of expertise and my interests as a professional, help establish me as a leader regarding some of these areas, and create valuable resources for people and organizations with whom I want to connect in some way. It also cuts down on how many people I have to follow on Twitter;  instead, I can put people and organizations on various lists, by subject matter, geography, whatever, and then check in with those lists as I like. I pick one or two of my lists a day, and then spend a few minutes going through the tweets of that list.

For instance, there’s my Tech4Good ICT4D, a list of people and organizations that regularly tweet regarding computers and the Internet used to help people, communities and the environment. Or my ework evolunteer list, which tracks people and programs tweeting about telework, telecommuting, remote work, virtual teams, distributed teams, virtual volunteering, etc. Or my CSR  list, which is made up of corporations that tweet about their philanthropic and social responsibility activities, and people and organizations that tweet regarding corporate social responsibility. My several public Twitter lists become both ways to brand my interests and expertise as well as a way to offer resources that others might find useful.

Take Twitter to the next level: make it not only an outreach and engagement tool, make it something that promotes your program through the lists you curate!

Also see:

The awesome power of tweet tags

Twitter_logo_blueI still love Twitter. I know, I know – all the hip tech folks say it’s passé. Nonsense. I still get so much more out of Twitter than Facebook, professionally:

  • I get a great sense of what folks are doing in the areas of expertise and work I care about most – new resources, new ideas, new trends I need to know about
  • I can easily find and connect with amazing experts in areas of expertise and work in which I’m intensely interested
  • I can find what I’m looking for and easily screen out what I don’t care about (unlike with Facebook)
  • When I tweet, I get replies and retweets and even requests for more info – real engagement – as well as traffic to my blog and web site

In fact, I’ve gotten a couple of paid jobs because of what I do on Twitter. 20 minutes on Twitter a few times a week is well worth my time! I’m @jcravens42 on Twitter, btw…

One of my favorite things about Twitter is tweet tags – keywords or phrases with a hash mark (#) in front of them. They are my favorite way to find great information on a specific subject, and for me to reach people that aren’t following me on Twitter but are following the tweet tag (by “following”, I mean that they look for tweets with that tag, specifically).

Here are my favorite tweet tags as of today. If you don’t know what one means, and I haven’t said so below, just click on it and have a look at some tweets that use the tag:

#volunteer (usually used regarding people giving back to causes or communities, but there is a USA university that uses it for their sports team references too)
#volunteers
#voluntario
#voluntarios
#nonprofit
#ngos (non-governmental organizations)
#vvbook (for mentions or links to The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook)
#ework
#ttvolmgrs (Thoughtful Thursday discussions for managers of volunteers)
#tech4good
#apps4good
#Civictech
#ict4d
Community, environmental & human development-related tags (caution: some software developers sometimes use some of these tags for their work, which can be confusing, and “development”, and therefore “dev”, can also mean fundraising in the USA)
#humanitarian
#comm4dev
#research4dev
#ideas4dev
#capacity4dev
#globaldev
#sdgs (sustainable development goals)
#undp
#unitednations
#usaid
#defyhatenow
#Afghanistan
#Ukraine

#Kentucky (usually in combination with another tag, like #volunteer or #nonprofit)

#pdx (Portland, Oregon-area – usually in combination with #volunteer)

#fogro (Forest Grove, Oregon)

How do I find tags to follow? Either via other Twitter accounts I follow, or I think of them and wonder if any is using them and so I look for them. I also look at what’s trending on the left side of my Twitter screen on my laptop, and sometimes those trending tags inspire me to share something using such myself.

I also leverage Twitter tags associated with United Nations Days that are somehow associated with my work or interests. For instance, August 19 is World Humanitarian Day, a day meant to honor those who have been killed whilst doing international aid work and to recognize the work being done by humanitarians worldwide – local as well as international humanitarians. The tag the organizers use ever year is #WorldHumanitarianDay. Some years, they have a second tag for a specific theme; in 2016, that tag was #ShareHumanity. So I used HootSuite to program tweets in advance that would be posted a week before the day, the day before, and then lots the day of, and that were tagged with #WorldHumanitarianDay and/or #ShareHumanity. The result was that many people following those tags ended up retweeting my tweets, and I got a few new followers as a result (and some great people and organizations to add to my Twitter lists).

Tweet tags to use and follow will differ from person to person, and organization to organization. For instance, when I was in Ukraine, working for the UN, I recommended that @UNDPUkraine use these tags regularly, both on their own tweets and to follow:

#Ukraine
#UNDP
#uatech4good
#mdgs
#innovation
#comm4dev
#urbanplanning
#poverty
#humanitarian
#health

For a government program regarding water and sanitation in Afghanistan, I recommended:

#Afghanistan
#UNICEF
#water
#watsan
#sanitation
#wateris
#food
#health
#toilets
#equality
#industry
#energy
#poverty
#humanitarian

Give it a try yourself! Searches can be saved, for easy daily or weekly references. I don’t check all the tags every day – usually just a few times a month. And this is anonymous – people can’t see which tags you are looking for and following yourself.

Should you create your own tweet tag for a conference, a program, your region, a cause, etc.? Only if you believe you can get lots of other people to use it, and you understand you will not own the tag, that absolutely anyone on Twitter can use it. How to get lots of people to use a tag you have created? That’s the subject of a future blog…

humanitarian stories & photos – use with caution

whitesaviorbarbieIf you are going abroad, particularly to developing countries, even just for vacation rather than a humanitarian mission, be really careful and respectful in what you write for the public about your travels, including your use of social media – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. -, and what photos you take and post. Think about a post or photo carefully before you publish: is it accurate? Is it enlightening? Could it be seen as patronizing? What would the people I’m talking about say if they read what I said/saw my photos? Would it be acceptable for a stranger to talk about your community, and share photos of your children, on their blog in the way you are about to?

Earlier this month, National Public Radio did a story about how Zambians, other Africans and aid workers are using social media to show factual errors and condescending remarks in a memoir by British actress Louise Linton about her gap year. The hashtag being used is #LintonLies.

An excerpt from Linton’s book:

I still sometimes feel out of place. Whenever that happens, though, I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Really? THAT moment was that child’s GREATEST JOY?! And that is the kind of circumstance that makes you feel not out of place? She also talks in her memoir about child soldiers in Zambia – something that is not actually an issue in Zambia. Throughout her book, she confuses Zambia with Congo and Rwanda. The Zambian embassy in London has even called her out.

And then there’s actress Debra Messing, who seems similarly confused about Africa being a country, and posted photos online recently that gave people the impression that her message was more about “look where I am!” than the people she was supposed to be there FOR on behalf of two NGOs, as dissected by a commentator at Jezebel.

It all looks like ‘White Savior Barbie’ come to life – White Savior Barbie is an Instagram account that hilariously parodies volunteer selfies in developing countries, as highlighted in this article on the Huffington Post. There’s also an article in the satirical magazine The Onion that mocks voluntourism , joking that a 6-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s facebook profile picture.”

I actually have a little bit of sympathy for Messing. I know that they had good intentions. And we’ve all done things out of ignorance that we later, often quickly, regret. We all make cultural missteps. We all make communications missteps. And aid workers can get quite carried away in an ongoing and very smug game of more-in-tune-with-people-and-not-acting-privileged-than-thou when they mock volunteer humanitarians and others, and that can be just as bad as the missteps they mock. I’ve been called out a few times for things I’ve written my blogs from developing countries – sometimes I haven’t agreed with those criticisms, sometimes I have. But I hope I’ve never come from a place of “look at me going to save all these poor people!”

I also hope these missteps don’t stop people from sharing their adventures online, including photos:

UNICEF recognizes the enormous power of visual imagery such as this to engage, inform and inspire audiences – and to advocate for children’s rights. Photographs or film footage that depict real life situations of children, and UNICEF programmes supporting supporting them, are one of the most effective ways to communicate these issues. — UNICEF Guidelines: Protecting children’s rights in corporate partner image use, viewed online in July 2016. More UNICEF photo guidelines here

I learn so much reading various posts on social media from people working in developing countries. It’s brave to put yourself and your thoughts and opinions out there, for public consumption. But be ready to revisit what you’ve said and thought online when it comes under public criticism.

And aid agencies, PLEASE train your workers, including volunteers and celebrity representatives, on how to use social media – and what not to do – before they start their work abroad or go on a field visit.

Check out this code of conduct resource from Child Rights International Network regarding taking photos of children in developing countries (really, anywhere).

Update October 21, 2016:  “a hot mess” of “neo-colonialism, racism, hypocrisy and privilege.” A Christian ministry feels the backlash of a very ill-thought video of their impressions of Uganda. Another story about the video from NPR’s Goats & Soda.

Also see:

Request to all those training re: volunteer management

Are you teaching a volunteer management 101 class, where you talk about the basics of successfully managing volunteers?

Are you going to teach a workshop on how to identify tasks for volunteers?

Are you going to teach a workshop on how to recruit volunteers?

Are you going to teach a workshop on how to keep volunteers engaged/volunteer retainment?

Are you going to teach a workshop on how to recognize/honor volunteers?

If you said yes to any of these questions, then here’s a thought. Actually, it’s a very strong suggestion: you absolutely should include virtual volunteering, whether or not you ever say the phrase virtual volunteering. You absolutely should talk about how to use the Internet – email, a web site, social media, third-party web sites – in each and every aspect of those basics of volunteer management. No exceptions. No excuses.

Consider this: no high-quality marketing workshop about event promotion would not talk about the Internet. No high-quality HR seminar or webinar would talk about worker recruitment and not talk about the Internet. No high-quality management class about better-supporting large numbers of employees in their work would not talk about digital networking tools. So why do those that work with volunteers settle for volunteer management workshops, even on the most basic subject, that don’t integrate into the class the Internet use regarding supporting and involving volunteers?

I hear a lot of excuses for consultants and other workshop leaders who don’t talk about Internet tools in a course regarding the management of volunteers:

  • The volunteer managers I’m working with don’t work with volunteers that use the Internet or text messing
  • The volunteer managers I’m working with are at organizations focused on the arts or the environment or animals or homelessness and therefore don’t need to talk about the Internet or text messaging
  • There’s a separate workshop for talking about digital tools
  • The volunteer managers I’m working with have volunteers that are over 55

ARGH! Not one of those excuses is valid for not integrating talk of the Internet throughout any volunteer workshop addressing basic topics like recruitment, retainment, task identification, etc. NOT ONE. In fact, I think anyone who attends a workshop on working with volunteers, especially a volunteer management 101 course, whether hosted by a volunteer center, a nonprofit support center, or a college or university, whether online or onsite, should ask for at least a partial refund if virtual volunteering is not fully integrated into the course (it’s either not mentioned at all or is briefly mentioned at the end of the class). There is NO excuse for this, it shows a lack of competency on the part of the workshop leader and it’s time to demand better!

As Susan Ellis and I note in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, virtual volunteering should not be a separate topic amid discussions about volunteer engagement and management. Instead, virtual volunteering needs to be fully integrated into all such discussions and trainings. No more segregation at the end of the book or workshop! The consequences of not integrating Internet use into volunteer management 101 workshops? It ill-prepares people for working with volunteers. It also immediately contributes to the stereotype that nonprofits are out-of-touch and old-fashioned.

vvbooklittleWe called it The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook not because we don’t think there will be more to say about virtual volunteering in the future, not because we don’t think there will be new developments on the subject, but because we really hope it’s the last book focused only on virtual volunteering, because we hope all books written about working with volunteers, whether in general or regarding a very specific part of the management of volunteers, like mentoring or risk management or recruitment or board member support or whatever, will now fully integrate the use of the Internet/digital tools in their suggestions. We hope that every workshop on any aspect of volunteer management, and every certificate regarding the management of volunteers, will fully integrate the various uses of the Internet in their suggestions. There’s no excuse not to!

Insecurity in the Humanitarian Cyberspace: A Call for Innovation

ALNAP (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) has a fantastic blog posting, Insecurity in the Humanitarian Cyberspace: A Call for Innovation, by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik. An excerpt:

“Over the last two decades, innovations have fueled the creation of a humanitarian cyberspace. It is now time for the task of addressing the challenges posed by the humanitarian cyberspace to be prioritised on the humanitarian innovation agenda… The traditional notion that the ´virtual` world is a different social space than the ´real world` is by now obsolete, also in the humanitarian context… While the traditional threats to the humanitarian space persist, the humanitarian cyberspace broadens the scope of humanitarian action – which means that, instead of shrinking, the humanitarian space is actually poised to enter an expanding frontier. As illustrated by the increasing reliance on mobile cash transfers in food aid, the humanitarian cyberspace also offers new options for the constitution and distribution of relief. The notion that access to information and humanitarian data constitutes a form of relief in its own right illustrates how technology is reshaping the very definition of aid. The emergence of ‘digital humanitarians’ exemplifies a shift in the understanding of who is an aid provider and the possibilities for providing aid from a distance. At the same time, the humanitarian cyberspace has engendered a new set of threats, which impinge on the humanitarian space and which needs to be taken more seriously in the context of humanitarian innovation.”

Another excerpt:

“The use of social media by fieldworkers may undermine principles of neutrality and impartiality and endanger recipients of humanitarian aid as well as aid workers. The dilemma is well-known: In the humanitarian field, the free speech of aid workers must be balanced against the vulnerability of aid recipients and the particular dynamics of the emergency context. However, social media exacerbates the risk, also for humanitarians themselves…While the medical and social work professions (among others) are developing more robust, binding and enforceable industry standards with respect to social media, the humanitarian sector is lagging behind. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are largely perceived as ‘private’ platforms, even when used actively during and for work. Additionally, the tension between security concerns and fundraising priorities seems to exacerbate the difficulty of developing strong and innovative approaches to responsible social media use.”

This entire blog is a MUST read for anyone working in international development, as well as any nonprofit, government or other mission-based organization. It is based on a roundtable at the 4th bi-annual IHSA World Conference on Humanitarian Studies and Sandvik’s recent article in the Third World Quarterly ‘The humanitarian cyberspace: shrinking space or an expanding frontier?’

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) was established in 1997, as a mechanism to provide a forum on learning, accountability and performance issues for the humanitarian sector.

Relationships take time, even via social media

Stop looking for the magic social media management tool, the one that allows you to send one message to “all” the social media platforms and magically get lots of likes and followers. The one that keeps you from ever having to actually log in to Twitter, Facebook, Instragram, etc.

Stop it NOW.

That approach to social media is like walking into a room full of people, making an announcement, even a powerpoint presentation, never taking questions or looking to see if anyone is listening, walking out when you’re done, and then wondering why no one gave your nonprofit money, came to your next event, provided input on your programs, joined as a volunteer, etc. – and using that same experience to say, “Well, I guess everyone likes us or they don’t care, because no one said anything to me!”

Timo Lüge blogs at Social Media for Good and in a recent blog: says this:

“Social media is about building and sustaining relationships. It is not a one-time interaction. In other words: you need to stop thinking about how you can get people to ‘like’ a post and instead develop a long-term strategy for how you want to interact with the community. You and your management need to accept that that will take time. Focus on the quality of the interactions instead of the quantity.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a social media management tool to schedule tweets or Facebook status updates or anything else in advance, or to create analytics – I use Hootsuite to schedule my daily tweets in the morning and afternoons, as well as bi-weekly posts to Googleplus and, sometimes, to Facebook. But I still take the time log into each of those platforms, individually, and to read messages by people and organizations I follow, like those messages, comment on them, share posts by others, reply to comments that have been made to me, etc. I also make sure I tag people and organizations related to what I’m posting on social media, so they know they are being talked about, and might be encouraged to reply. In other words, I spend time with the audience, just like I would in a room full of people, to hear their feedback, to hear what they are doing and thinking, to acknowledge their points of view and to get a sense as to whether or not I’m really connecting with people. That’s what building and sustaining relationships look like, online or off. And that’s what it takes to make social media worthwhile for any nonprofit (or for-profit, for that matter).

vvbooklittleFor more about building relationships online, see The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Susan J. Ellis and myself. The community engagement principles offered here work with the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference. Tools come and go – but certain community engagement fundamentals never change.

Snapchat’s Potential Power for Social Good – with REAL examples

snapchatThe vast majority of nonprofits, NGOs and community-minded government programs do not have the staff nor the expertise to use every social media tool out there, or even most of the most-popular tools, especially with so many funders refusing to fund “overhead.” That means these mission-based programs are often late adopters when it comes to social media tools – it’s a wait-and-see-if-this-will-stick-around attitude.

During workshops I’ve lead in the last 12 months, I have been getting asked a lot about SnapChat. If you don’t know, SnapChat is a phone-based app that uses photos or videos, with text, to create its messages to an account’s subscribers; you have a fleeting moment to captivate your audience, because 10 seconds after a user opens the message, it disappears. Nonprofits, government agencies and other mission-based folks have asked me if I think it’s worth their time to use to get a message out. My answer is always, “it depends.” IMO, it depends on if you have a program about which you really, really want and need to reach tech-savvy young people. But to work, the messages have to be specifically targeted to that audience and platform (just 12% of SnapChats millions of users in the U.S. are 35 to 54, though they company says that demographic is growing). In other words, you can’t just repurpose what you’re posting to Facebook or Twitter.

Starting in 2013, every few months, there’s an article touting the possibilities of Snapchat for nonprofits – the latest is this article on Snapchat’s “Power for Social Good”. IMO, most of the articles, even this latest one, are just hype – yes, I’m sure everyone is talking about SnapChat at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this year. Yes, 90% of Snapchat followers are now consuming the content, but that was a similar number for Facebook or Twitter in the early days – it will plummet as more people use it, as more PARENTS use it, as people subscribe to more and more users, etc.

Still, given that Snapchat isn’t yet saturated with advertising (the company is still working on an ad model), and that it has an excellent viewer rate (around 90% of messages are viewed by subscribers), and that millions of young people are using it, the platform has promise, at least this year, and maybe for another year or two, as an effective outreach tool for people under 35 in particular.

Most articles about Snapchat use by mission-based entities are about its potential, not about how it’s actually being used by nonprofit, NGOs, government agencies, schools, etc. So, let’s look at three REAL examples of mission-based organizations doing something with SnapChat that made it worth their time (and note, these actual examples were REALLY hard to find):

Tenovus, a Welsh charity helping people with cancer, used Snapchat to generate media coverage for Volunteers’ Week in the UK. The charity teamed up with WalesOnline and asked supporters to take a #selflessie – a selfie of them doing something selfless – and send it to the charity and WalesOnline via Snapchat. The response was, apparently, excellent – but it would be interesting to know how many of these young people had perceptions changed about cancer, how many became volunteers for the cause, etc.

DoSomething.org is one of the largest nonprofits for teens and young adults in the USA, connecting 13-to-25 year olds to a wide variety of social causes and ideas of how to get involved. SnapChat users fall almost exactly within that age demographic. So, for instance, the organization ran a campaign in February called Love Letters, to encourage young people to make Valentine’s Day cards for homebound seniors, and to create excitement for the campaign, a staff member dressed up as Cupid and made a Snapchat story, using a series of photos with text, explaining that he was going to go out onto the streets of New York City and deliver Valentine’s Day cards, and he encouraged SnapChat followers to vote via text if he should deliver the cards by bike, ice skates or on foot in Central Park. The idea was that, if young people laughed at the photos and voted, they were more likely to make cards for seniors – though there’s no data on how many actually did so.

Save the Children has been using SnapChat since 2015. According to a thread I found on Facebook, “We have found we are getting HUGE engagement vs. other platforms (50% of our audience viewing our stories). We’ve used it for events like UNGA and our Gala, but find the best stories are those from the field where we are showing the children and families helped by our programs.” Save the Children exported their messages for their SnapChat photos that created a story about live in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp for Syrian refugees, so the messages wouldn’t disappear, and you can see this SnapChat campaign via Facebook. Unknown: were minds changed about refugees? Was there an increase in donations from young people because of this Snapchat use?

I still say “it depends” on whether or not a nonprofit should use Snapchat, but I will say that every nonprofit should be encouraging volunteers to use their social media channels, including Snapchat, if they are on it, to talk about and/or send pictures of themselves in action supporting a non-profit’s mission, like preparing food, cleaning up a trail, sitting at their computer while engaged in virtual volunteering, etc. But the organization needs to provide repeated guidance on this: volunteers need to always adhere to your organization’s social media policies regarding sharing photos online, they need to provide info on how their friends could also participate or get more information, etc.

A great way to involve young volunteers might be to invite them onsite to talk about how the nonprofit  might use Snapchat to promote a specific message, and how those young people could actually undertake the activities for this to happen; this isn’t so that the nonprofit doesn’t have to get paid staff to do it but, rather, because these volunteers actually might be the best people to lead this activity, better than paid staff, because the organization can involve young people in a very memorable way and in a leadership capacity, and in a way that might become a story in-and-of-itself for the media. Just be sure that screen-capturing is a part of the campaign, so you can preserve and review messages long after those messages disappear on Snapchat!

Even if SnapChat loses its shine in a year or two, your use of it won’t be time wasted; we live in an era where we must be much more nimble in crafting our messages for different online platforms. What you learn using SnapChat is going to help you use whatever takes its place as the shiny new popular kid in a year or two.

Update March 25: justgiving.com has an article called 7 charities that totally get Snapchat (no publication date given) and it highlights Do Something Snapchat activities (see above), as well as:

The organization Penny Appeal and World Champion Boxer Amir Khan’s Snapchat story of welcoming Syrian refugees as they landed on the Greek island of Lesbos, to create awareness about their plight.

Young Enterprise NI in the U.K., which uses Snapchat to provide young people with “bite-size” business tips and advice.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution, also in the U.K., which uses it to “have conversations with our supporters… to raise awareness of our lifesaving work.” The RNLI has used it to organize competitions, share coastal safety advice and tell stories of their volunteer lifeboat crew.

MuslimAid, a charity in the U.K. that says it uses it “as a key volunteer recruitment tool and as a hassle-free way of bringing their events to life.”

Brazilian environmental NGO OndAzul, which shared 10 second Nature Snapfacts with their followers. “Teens who opened their Snap would catch a fleeting glimpse of natural beauty being destroyed by man made hazards.”

The Danish branch of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) used Snapchat to emphasize the speed at which endangered species disappear. Each ad featured one of five endangered animals with the tagline ‘Don’t let this be my #LastSelfie’.

Update April 5: Beth Kanter has a new blog that adds a few more examples and links to some tutorials.

vvbooklittleI’ve read a lot about SnapChat, and the suggested practices talked about in the aforementioned case studies yet again confirms what Susan Ellis and I promote in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. Tools come and go, but certain community engagement principles never change, and our book can be used with the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference.