we are media – thoughts on evangelizing social media

This week’s module in the We Are Media Project is How to be an Effective Evangelist for Social Media within a Nonprofit Organization.

I’m on record about this business of being an evangelist — I think the term itself sets up an unhelpful dynamic between the converted and the heathen, as it were. I prefer to think of myself and my like-minded peers as translators, ambassadors, and diplomats.

Remember that social media is a foreign culture to most, and a good deal of cultural sensitivity is often called for. Think of yourself as the foreign exchange student, not the other way around.

That said, here are a few tips for trying to get something social started in your nonprofit:

Put your audience’s needs first

Think first about who it is you want to involve in your organization, who it is you want to reach. Try to provide some real data on them. Does your nonprofit conduct regular, systematic market research? No? What a surprise.

Fortunately, there’s fair bit out there for free. Forrester’s interactive marketing blog is a good place to start. The authors of Groundswell have posted lots of free data on various demographics, and maybe some of it will be helpful to you as you discuss what your members are likely to be doing online.

Are they the type of people who join social networks? Who read blogs? Who would enter a photography contest on Flickr? Believe it or not, you can actually make some well-founded generalizations on some very good research — without spending a dime.

So first, decide who it is you want to reach, and then figure out what it is they already like to do online. Remember, it isn’t about you, it’s about them.

Tackle something with social media that the old methods can’t seem to touch.

You also want to focus on what the problem is that wants solving in the organization. What’s broken? What is “the old way” NOT doing well right now? What’s a stubborn problem that won’t budge, no matter how many mailings you send, how many lists you buy?

Flat membership renewals, not enough new donors coming in, what? Isolate one small thing, and build a trial social media plan around solving that one problem. Keep your budget small — including staff time and money — to keep the risk low.

As another participant in the We Are Media project, Brad Lewis, writes, Emphasize the people, not the technology. Results, not platforms. Avoid jargon. Ask people what they want to get done — first.

Put your policies on paper first.

It’s important to put policies in place before you start implementing any social media plans. There’s a lot of source material out there already on blogging policies for organizations. Even if a blog isn’t going to be your first move (and despite the hype, it often is NOT the right first move — it has to be the tool that best fits your objective), thinking through what happens if this, if that, or if that happens, will always be a useful strategic planning exercise.

Remember to plan not just for bad things, but for success as well. Being wrong-footed by a run-away smash hit can be just as damaging as a negative comment or three. Yes, it can.

Remember you’re on the same team.

Beth Kanter writes:

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with a reader. She told me that her board was very conservative and that she was the youngest person on staff. Every time she brings social media or social networks in any discussion about marketing or communications, the idea gets labeled as “crack pot” idea. I’ve heard even worse horror stories.

Remember that old habits die hard. and quite honestly, they should. Being cautious, risk-averse, careful with resources, and skeptical of unproven ideas — these are all generally good things to have in organizational leadership.

Your board members have a fiduciary responsibility to keep your organization afloat. They do not wish to shoot you down. They wish to have a successful, sustainable organization. So do you.

This is why I dislike the evangelism terminology. It sets up the two parties in opposition to each other. In actuality, you are on the same team. You have the same ultimate goal. You might just differ about the means.

And that’s what it all boils down to, really. Social media is a means to an end. Media is another word for way. It’s the way you get to your goal, not the goal itself. Remember that, and stay focused on your goal, and you’ll be off to a good start.