If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world, right behind China and India. That’s a pretty big clue that social networks aren’t going away anytime soon. So, you probably understand by now how crucial it is for your nonprofit to build an e-community and establish a solid presence in the world of social media. Next step—you need to know the rules of engagement. It’s not enough to simply create a Facebook page, acquire some followers on Twitter or start a blog. The key is in knowing what to do next. How you connect with your followers and constituents in your e-community is largely up to you. However, following a few important guidelines will help you maximize your social networking efforts. In 2008, prominent Blogger Sonia Simone wrote about the “Ten Commandments of Social Media.” Here’s an updated twist on these important rules
we would all be wise to heed.
Thou shalt participate in the conversation
Your online activity should be interesting and relevant, drawing your audience into a lively discussion. Social media is not the place to be silent. The conversation is going to happen with or without you. Wouldn’t you rather be part of it?
Once you invest the time into building an e-community on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, you’ll want to capitalize on your efforts by keeping the conversation alive. Post timely information or ask questions. Don’t ever sit idle—the bonus is on you to keep the communication flowing.
Thou shalt not lie
This is self-explanatory, so I won’t elaborate much. Just let me say, word spreads quickly online, and even little white lies can get uncovered quickly. Stay true to your organization and be honest about your successes as well as challenges. Your audience will have more respect for your honesty than they will any attempts to stretch or spin the truth.
Thou shalt not hire a third party to write nice things about you.
Don’t pay someone to sing your praises. You’ll find that good word about your organization will spread organically if you stay engaged in a meaningful way with your constituents and supporters. Pay attention to what people post about you on Facebook or Twitter. You may uncover some authentic, favorable testimonials that show up in the best possible way—unsolicited.
Thou shalt talk in real words, not corp speak.
Not everyone knows nonprofit lingo, nor is everyone familiar with the ins and outs of your organization. This means that what you write for your e-community should be free of industry jargon or nonprofit “speak.” If you can, run your content by a person who’s outside your organization and see if it makes sense to them. If they get it, you’re on the right track.
Remember thy community and keep it holy.
To paraphrase a famous president, “Ask not what your e-community can do for you—ask what you can do for your e-community.” If you approach your online audience with the attitude that you want something from them, you probably won’t get the response or the relationships you desire. But if your goal is to educate, inspire, inform and serve the members in your e-community, you’ll be more likely to make friends and garner new
supporters. In short, keep your focus others-centered.
Thou shalt not be a wimp.
Here’s a shocker—sometimes people will say things about your organization that are unfavorable. That’s why you need to have a backbone and not crumple with the slightest hint of negativity. Everyone has opinions, and social media has become a popular arena in which to share them—and it’s okay. Hold your head high and let the communication flow.
Thou shalt not complain when people are mean.
You know those people who shake their fists at slow drivers during rush hour or flip you a sign if you make the slightest mistake? Well, they’re not just mean on the roads. They’re probably mean everywhere—even in your social network. You may run across a little “road rage” from some of your online traffic. If that happens, my best advice is to refer back to commandment #6.
Thou shalt write what is worth reading.
I mentioned earlier that it’s up to you to keep the conversation between you and your e-community going. In part, that means keeping the conversation relevant and compelling. You can tweet about what you had for breakfast, but who cares? Unless that breakfast was at a homeless shelter that your organization supports, and they’re running a canned food drive to stock their pantry for the winter. Keep your posts relevant and talk about the things your audience wants to hear. Otherwise, you’ll kill the conversation.
Thou shalt not pontificate about what thou knowest nothing about.
Simply put, don’t blow a lot of hot air about something if you don’t have the adequate knowledge or experience. Know your niche, speak to your expertise, and leave the rest to the other experts out there. Believe me, people will know when you’re faking it.
Thou shalt have a sense of humor.
The world of social media is not “all work and no play.” Far from it. Lighten up, have fun and every once in a while, try to make your audience smile. Most people in your e-community engage in social media for the fun of it, so make it fun. You can be informative, engaging and interesting, all with a sense of humor. Make someone laugh, and they’ll remember you—and that is a great way to be remembered. Social media is an excellent way to connect with your audience, foster good relationships with your supporters and promote your organization’s mission. You just need to be smart
about it. Stay consistent, stay focused, be real and handle criticism with class. Follow the rules of engagement, and you’ll build an e-community that’s as passionate as you are about your cause.
Jay Wilkinson is one of the nation’s most sought after speakers on the impact of the web on nonprofits. As the CEO of Firespring, an interactive agency in Lincoln Nebraska, he has helped thousands of nonprofits utilize the power of the Internet for leveraging purpose, passion and mission. To register for one of Jay’s free webinars on Using the Web to Engage Constituents, Online Fundraising in Hard Economic Times, or The Power of Social Networking for Nonprofits, visit www.firespring.com/nonprofit.