March 17, 2013

To Tweet, To Woo? Volunteerism and Social Media

Posted in Marketing, Recognition of Volunteering, Technology tagged , , at 3:24 am by Sue Hine

Social-Media-in-Business-Social-Media-Applications-GuideThe phenomenon of social media has spawned a raft of new ways to communicate, for business, for politicians, and for the voluntary sector – which has also generated significant commentary, on websites and in print.

In the on-line course Essentials of Volunteer Management participants are asked to comment on the advantages and disadvantages of using social media for recruitment.  Mostly the responses are “we don’t”, and reservations are sometimes based on unfamiliarity with the facilities social media can offer.

Yes, as Susan J Ellis points out, social media is not always the ideal medium for recruitment messages: there are other fundamentals to take into account.  And as we all know, it is word-of-mouth that proves the most effective tool for engaging new volunteers.  Yet I am impressed with the promotional information and volunteer opportunities put up on Facebook by Volunteer Centres.  In their role as brokers between organisations and prospective volunteers they are offering new opportunities for both parties.  Mostly the messages are short and snappy and accompanied by a photograph, plus clear contact details.

Why should NGOs and not-for-profit organisations be bothering with social media?  If you have a well-produced and inter-active web-site and regular e-newsletters what more do you need?

Well – social media is just the best communication tool for reaching the widest possible audience and for dispersing information and promoting organisational interests.  Just think how popular crowd-sourcing and on-line fundraising has become.  Notice how often a message or a video-clip can ‘go viral’ and become part of popular culture.

After all, says a UK fan, social media is designed to be fun, straightforward and easy to use, and with millions of potential supporters accessible online it’s too good an opportunity to miss.

Quite – especially when I want to keep in touch with Gen Y friends and find they are never checking their email inbox.

Of course, for all my enthusiasm there are still disadvantages to consider when thinking about using social media.

Here’s the advice from a for-profit business perspective * :

  • It takes time: it’s a constant investment
  • Target which channel you want to use, likely to be used by your consumers
  • What are your objectives?  To gain sales; build profile; communicate with members only?
  • You need to have something interesting to say: be instructive, informative, controversial or humorous – otherwise your efforts will be simply social media white noise
  • Is social media relevant to your target market?  Test and measure its value to your business

For NGOs and Non-Profit organisations the best resource is the information offered by Jayne Cravens .  Her advice and commentary, plus extra links, cover most of the points made above.  There are risks to manage: you need a written policy on staff and volunteer online engagement as representatives of the organisation.  It takes time to get results; you have to really get engaged with online supporters.  Ultimately, Jayne says, online social networks are an important part of a mission-based organisation’s box of outreach tools.

And outreach, in my book, is all that marketing and promotion we need to do in this day and age.  You might think it ironic that I am not a Tweeter, and a minimal contributor to Facebook – but I do know a good thing for community organisations when I see it.  And I do like to push out boats on this blog.


*        Drawn from an article in Dominion Post, Februay 25, 2013