Social Media and Organizational Professionalism

Post by Dania Toscano Miwa

Professionalism has been completely redefined as social media, and online networks have changed the way we interact with one another. What is professional and what is personal are now much harder to distinguish. Professional/personal lines are blurred online with both friends and colleagues on professional and personal sites. (See my description on Twin Cities Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Blog, here.)

There have been a number of mishaps by Nonprofit organizations that use social media, including the now infamous Red Cross #gettingslizzered snafu. As a fundraiser by training, I was impressed with the leadership of that organization for taking an embarrassing situation and turning it around into a successful fundraising campaign. Also, having Dogfish Head Ale in your corner probably didn’t hurt.

Common sense should prevail. Obviously trying never to post potentially embarrassing things is the goal for an organization. If you have professional colleagues on a personal site do so carefully, as those colleagues will see personal things. I have a rather elaborate web of privacy settings on my personal networks; however, I also know that nothing is truly private online, so I choose what I share carefully.

For Nonprofit organizations, the content which is shared must adhere to a much stricter standard. My rule for any positing is: if you don’t want to see it above the fold in the morning paper, don’t post it. I caution organizations to be very clear about what vocabulary is used: can the current verbiage be misconstrued? Some may be especially at risk when dealing with potentially controversial issues. The message must be consistent, and all staff must have valid talking points with which they feel comfortable.

The other mistake organizations make is to go too far in the opposite direction, turning all their public interactions into robotic corporate messages. Most people who follow your organization on a social media platform care about the mission of the organization. They want to read personal stories, news about the organization, and about outcomes. The more the organization uses jargon, the less engaged its donors and constituents will feel. This is not what any organization wants or needs.

Remember these three main points in social networking:

  1. Use simple, consistent messaging
  2. If in doubt about a controversial issue, don’t post, or post with caveats.
  3. Make sure to let your followers/friends know there is an actual person writing/responding.

Be flexible with your social media strategy. If you start with one tactic hoping to attract more donors, but it doesn’t seem to be working, don’t be afraid to try something else.

There is no magical strategy that will bring all the millionaires to your door. However, there have been many very innovative and creative campaigns launched utilizing this new media platform. I continue to be impressed by the resourcefulness and ingenuity of many nonprofit organizations as they use social media.

Social media can be extremely useful resources when used appropriately. Not all platforms are right for all organizations. Organizations with confidentiality requirements may not benefit from starting a facebook page to share personal stories, but a twitter feed talking about overall successes may be all that is needed.

As we continue to move toward networks that allow us to find people with whom we share common values, the lines will continue to shift. The primary focus when engaging with constituents should be the mission of the organization.

This will help the organization stay true to itself, increasing the reach of the organization and — hopefully– gaining more engaged people who want to help the organization thrive.

Forty percent of the nation uses smart phones. Fifty percent of retail may be mobile in ten years. Online giving made up around 7.6% of all charitable fundraising in 2010 and is expected to continue to grow.

Now is the perfect opportunity for organizations to get solid social media plans in place to advance their missions. Social media provide great opportunities to find new constituents, and they can be useful stewardship tools to sustain relationships with donors.

As long as nonprofit organizations have a thoughtful strategy, I believe that the benefits of using social media highly outweigh the risks.

Copyright 2011, The Good Counsel, division of Toscano Advisors, LLC. May be duplicated with citation.

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