Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

5 Experts Share Top Social Media Advice for Nonprofits

April 09, 2013

As a follow-up to my recent post: 8 Tips for Effectively Using Social Media for Social Change, I asked leading nonprofit and communications experts for their best social media advice for nonprofits to get a well-rounded view of the topic from a variety of perspectives. You will hear from noted nonprofit authors, social media and video strategists, and experts who have dedicated their work to helping nonprofits communicate effectively and intelligently. 

After their expert advice, be sure to join the conversation in the comments.

Allison Fine's Advice:

 Make yourself uncomfortable. If you're not making yourselves uncomfortable then you're holding on too tight trying to control the conversation. By making yourselves uncomfortable, you are taking down the walls, allowing people to participate in unusual and unpredictable ways, which is the only way creativity can thrive.Allison studies and writes about the intersection of social media and social change. She is the author of the award-winning book Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age (Wiley & Sons, 2006). Her latest book, The Networked Nonprofit (Wiley & Sons, 2010), co-authored with Beth Kanter, was an immediate best-seller. She is a Senior Fellow on the Democracy Team at Demos: A Network for Change and Action in New York City. Allison is a contributer to, hosts a monthly podcast for the Chronicle of Philanthropy called Social Good and writes her own blog, A. Fine Blog.

Timo Luege's Advice:

 Don't hand it over to the interns! Social media is an important part of your overall communications strategy and it should be managed by people who know your organization, its culture, the culture of your supporters and your communications goals. To be an effective communicator via social media, you need to be able to talk with confidence and understand what you are trying to achieve. You cannot expect that of interns. Your social media accounts should be managed by someone who is a communications professional, who knows how to respond to criticism and how to network. Simply being younger than the rest of the communications team is not enough to be qualified to communicate on your organization's behalf. Timo Luege is a communications consultant who is mainly working for humanitarian organizations that respond to large-scale emergencies. He has worked in Geneva, Haiti and Liberia and lives in Berlin. Timo blogs at "Social Media for Good" Twitter: @timolue.

Tom Watson's Advice:

  It's very easy to jump into social media, but if you're an organization with a track record in a certain sector - or an ambitious social enterprise - some patient listening at the beginning will pay off. Spend time getting to know the voices, the issues, people with big followings, the funders, and the competition. Make Twitter lists, join LinkedIn groups, like some key Facebook pages. Make some notes and see where the channels are. Then let your voice be heard. And this advice always applies - even organizations with big followings and social media operations shouldn't just broadcast. They should listen, be respectful and generous, and be part of a larger conversation. Tom Watson is the president and founder of CauseWired, a consulting firm advising clients on the social commons: nonprofits, foundations and companies. Tom is a journalist, author, and consultant who has worked at the confluence of media technology and social change for more than 15 years.  Tom contributes to the Social Ventures blog to Forbes and is the author of CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley, 2008) a best-selling book that chronicled the rise of online social activism. He serves as an adjunct instructor in the master’s program of New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.

Heather Mansfield's Advice:

  Nonprofits often misunderstand the power of social media. It’s not the tools themselves that are powerful. Simply having a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+ does not guarantee success. The reality is that your nonprofit’s social media campaigns are only as good as the person who is running them. To ensure success, it is essential that your social media staff have experience in writing website and blog content, publishing an e-newsletter, managing online fundraising campaigns, and working with digital photography and video. Those are the skills upon which a successful social media campaign is built. Heather Mansfield is the owner of DIOSA Communications and principal blogger at Nonprofit Tech 2.0, a social media guide for nonprofits. She created and maintains the “Nonprofit Organizations” profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Pinterest, which cumulatively have more than 750,000 friends, followers, and fans. Mansfield is also the author of the best-selling book Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits which was published by McGraw-Hill.

Marcia Stepanek's Advice:

 Get 'viterate' -- video literate. Now that social media and the Web have democratized philanthropy, enabling those outside the wealthy, traditional "giving class" to participate online and tell their stories—regardless of race, class, income, gender, education, and religion—it is becoming ever-more important for nonprofits to show how they're spending donor dollars. Social media can be used to tell stories of impact and 'show' versus tell people the existence of social problems that can be solved. 
Short-form video storytelling also is becoming an important, if not critical new way, to convey a nonprofit's mission. The stories of those impacted by a cause can be shot and produced inexpensively now, on smartphones by staff and volunteers, and distributed widely through social networks to give donors proof that their dollars are being used to make a difference.Marcia Stepanek teaches social media strategy and cause video in the Master's program at the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at New York University. She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BrandStories, a video, news and emerging media studio in Manhattan that makes 1-2 minute documentary style films to help good people, good companies and nonprofit causes move their missions forward and make a difference in the world.

Join the conversation! If you also have social  media advice for nonprofits, please leave it in the comments. 

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