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Getting the most from social media

Hint: it's about quality not quantity.

Not-for-profits should use social media to build good relationships with supporters rather than just to ask for donations, according to a Melbourne researcher.

Monash University PhD candidate Karen Sutherland is exploring how not-for-profit organisations are using social media and comparing this with what their donors, supporters and volunteers actually want.

“Social media should be about building online communities that transcend into offline ones. If people feel connected and inspired the likelihood is greater that they will follow through with some level of support,” Ms Sutherland told the Funding Centre.

She said that social media use was on the rise in the sector, but many not-for-profits were still missing the point.

“It’s not a broadcast channel, it’s there for people to talk to each other. Charities talking to supporters or supporters talking to one another,” she said. ”I think that’s the thing that people need to remember: it’s a two-way communication channel. And it’s remembering to use the post to engage.”

A recent survey of the not-for-profit sector – Doing Good and Doing It Well? – published by Grant Thornton Australia and New Zealand confirmed that social media use by not-for-profits was on the rise in both countries.

Almost all the Australian not-for-profits surveyed had a website; 61% used Facebook and 51% had Twitter accounts.

Only 28% of organisations reported using no social media tools at all.

According to Ms Sutherland, social media can be used to strengthen and build relationships both online and offline.

“Elements of online and offline interactions should be embedded in one another to carry that relationship between the two environments,” she said. “Tagging people in photos taken from events is a good one, with their permission of course. Also, personally inviting your strongest social media supporters to events. They will usually share their experience from the event through their own social media channels.”

The ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge is one example of a fundraising campaign that successfully blurred the distinction between online and offline channels, Ms Sutherland said.

The campaign is not without its critics, but it has raised unprecedented awareness and funds for motor neuron disease, which affects a relatively small number of people.

To complete the challenge, nominated participants have to donate to the cause and/or film themselves having a bucket of iced water poured on their heads, before daring others to do the same via social media.

It has so far raised more than $79 million.

According to Ms Sutherland, the challenge worked because it was simple, fun to participate in and fun to watch, and it allowed ‘ordinary’ people to interact with celebrities.

It also “allowed people to proudly display their altruism,” she said.

Ms Sutherland said that the key for not-for-profits using social media was to remember that it is a platform for discussion and community and to craft their approaches and content accordingly.

“It's quality not quantity. It's better to use only a couple of channels well than having a mediocre presence on several,” she said.