Thursday, July 23, 2009

Leveraging Social Media? What are all these internet forums and are they really applicable to associations?

Interestingly, it is the internet’s depth and vastness that mystifies many association executives. Sadly, I hear many associations express veiled excuses for not involving social media in their outreach efforts. Commonly thought of as the domain of Gen-Yers, and twenty-somethings, social media and internet viral marketing offer practical and sensible applications for all audiences. Social media strategy depends from case to case and will require an investment of time. Used correctly, social media can:

• Build networks and community, connect and mobilize members on the key issues confronting your association
• Build a donor base and gather emails
• Tell your story –Put a face and a personality to your organization
• Share information and resources quickly
• Promote brand and cause

If carried out correctly, viral web marketing techniques can be very effective in boosting your member list and getting your organization’s name and message out. Many non-profits are using “Tell a friend” buttons or links on their websites and email newsletters. Whether used for connecting or recruiting members and donors, and developing advocacy can take different channels through the various goals sought.

Recruiting members and soliciting donations:
The very essence of making online “friends” and developing a base of followers through social media extends this ability far beyond the reach of the amount of people or prospects you could physically reach in one day. With one of my charitable clients, the Success Factory, we have just begun an online campaign through Facebook to raise money and build word-of-mouth awareness for its employment training programs. Using the “Causes” application, Facebook is allowing board members and staff of this brand new organization in one full sweep to: 1.) Demonstrate the mission of the Success Factory, 2.) Engage other Facebook members to recruit their friends as supporters of the cause, and 4.) Allow a forum of communication for Success Factory supporters, thereby spawning the creation of new innovative ideas.

Facilitating communication between association staff, members, supporters and the board
The concept of sharing ongoing association business with the entire world on Facebook is less than appealing. To answer this situation, there are social media options such as Ning.com and Google Friend Connect that can create either a separate network for an association or integrate social networking elements right within an association’s website. The Canadian Table Soccer Association is one association that has effectively utilized Ning (http://tablesoccerca.ning.com) as an opportunity for members to connect, share ideas, and announce events.

Within an association website, there are means a communications team can take to ensure that it remains current and relevant for members. Using Google Friend Connect, a free set of customizable tools offered by Google, associations can embed html code within their website that easily invites friends from social networks and contact lists to visit and join your site.

If associations are not blogging, they need to begin. Integrating a blog into your web presence provides regular information for members and board to follow. For those associations less inclined towards a full blog, Twitter comes to the rescue offering a micro-blog option. Creating an account is free and each blog entry is limited to 140 characters. As a result, your association’s ability to be found in search engines is increased.

Building recognition with the Media and Influential Bloggers

The internet is crawling with bloggers on issues as vast as the internet itself. Social media also changes the presence of how non-profits present information to journalists. With the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), I have been working their media relations and internet teams to promote collaboration between these two fields. Journalists will also be kept up to date with every story development of via an RSS subscribe option. Even the delivery of traditional press releases changes with social media. Instead of the typical boiler plate press release, a photo was embedded along with clickable links over to the organization’s website. To best ensure the internet is leveraged as a communications vehicle, make sure the message you devise is clear, well presented, and easy-to-follow. This includes replying to personal messages and posting constant updates. Online profiles can be time-consuming, but their targeted visibility is unparalleled.
Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Strategic Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy for non-profits and associations.

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