Starting out on social media can be a scary for nonprofits. Common fears include:
- “Our client and staff identities need to be protected at all costs or lives will be at risk.” Example: A domestic violence shelter.
- “We are worried that potential clients who need us will be less likely to seek our services if they think there is a danger of their name or other identifying information being revealed.” Example: An HIV counseling center.
- “Our nonprofit deals with a controversial issue and we are afraid that we may be the target of online harassment.” Example: An LGBTQ advocacy organization.
While this fear is understandable, it is also counterproductive. The benefits of using social media to interact with donors and to tell stories vastly outweigh the potential negatives.
Here are 3 ways you assuage the fears at your nonprofit as you bring your organization into the social media fold:
1) Address the skeptics.
Social media skeptics tend to believe in two pervasive myths: Only younger people are on social media, and young people are not sharing any information of value.
These assumptions are harmful and completely disregard the fact that people of all generations are expressing interest in issues about which they care using social networks.
Your donors are on social media right now, sharing experiences, sharing pictures, reading articles, and connecting with others based on collective values and beliefs. Even the so-called “old guard” is getting online in droves and demanding more personal, inside access to the causes about which they care.
Pew Internet releases studies every year on Internet and social media use and age. Consistently, year after year, Internet users aged 60+ are the fasting growing demographic on social networks.
2) Create clear and concise policies for all staff and volunteers.
Before you jump onto the social media bandwagon (and definitely before you overhaul your website or start sending an email newsletter), your nonprofit should have protocols and policies in place to empower and educate employees and volunteers.
You may be surprised what your current staff and volunteers DON’T know about the policies you have already have in place on paper, but may not be readily enforced.
Your organization needs to ensure that everyone is on the same page about:
- What information should be confidential and why. Is the safety of the staff and clients at stake if there is a confidentiality breach? Will you lose funding? Will you lose integrity and lose the trust of the community?
- What breaches of confidentiality look like. Give examples, either from real life or made up. Show offline and online examples.
- The individual consequences for ignoring this policy. What will happen? Will they get fired? Unpaid leave?
3) Train staff on social media tools and good ways to use them.
Your staff and volunteers already have social media accounts of some form or another – you can bet on that.
Turning a blind eye or simply telling everyone they can’t use Facebook is pointless.
Provide them with helpful guidelines as to what is acceptable to share online. This is a perfect teachable moment for younger people in the office who may not be accustomed to censoring themselves online in any way, and will also create security for others who may not be sure where the boundary is.
Topics to cover include:
- Communications training – how all staff and volunteers represent the nonprofit even on personal accounts;
- What is appropriate to share and what is not on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, personal blogs, etc.?
- Is fundraising ok? Promoting events? Sharing articles relating to the nonprofit cause? Advocating?
Social media is not one person’s job
Social media should be interwoven into the culture of the organization and not in a silo.
Do your best to encourage an open, transparent culture of education and empowerment, not of accusations and finger pointing.
Change the organizational culture to one of being open and receptive to online tools, not closed off and fearful. (Trust me, these tools aren’t going anywhere.)