Social Media and Foundations: If you build it, will they come?

June 28, 2011 at 8:27 am Leave a comment

In a word, “no.” Not unless you give them a good reason. It just might not be clear at first what that is.

Unlike communication tools I was “raised” on, social media tools are changing faster than we can keep up with. And, even scarier for some of us at first, they are a two-way medium. It’s not just your messages getting out there, it’s how other people feel about you. Can you be open to letting that communication flow and see what happens?

At The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, we dipped our toe in the water with Facebook and Twitter about 2½ years ago, and began cautiously posting and listening, trying to understand the medium and build some followers while we decided what – if any – our social media strategy would be.

In the spirit of new media, that strategy emerged organically. We posted a few times a month – news, links, photos – and grew to about 150 fans the first year. A few people commented on posts, but no real interaction was happening. We “liked” or followed any local nonprofit, civic institution and other foundation we could find and did whatever else we could think of to build followers.

We began to realize that many of the comments and “likes” were from local nonprofit folks or grantees. As we posted more news about grant projects and other interesting nonprofit or civic projects, it seemed that what might interest our networks most were these stories about our wonderful nonprofit community.

We now have a pretty active Facebook “wall.” Besides our posts, nonprofits and other followers post news or comments related to GCF or tag us in their own wall posts. We have nearly 700 followers, plus about 100 nonprofits, businesses and foundations.

To what end? Well, part of GCF’s brand is to be “a welcoming hub for all things charitable” and we think this fits that bill. It can be hard to find a place to share all the bits of good news that aren’t quite a news release, newsletter article or annual report feature. This gives us a quick, timely, democratic way to share good news in our community with a low investment of time and oversight. We like the “big tent” feeling that it gives us.

A recent e-newsletter issue reminded our subscribers of our Facebook and Twitter presence and provided a few reasons for people to follow us. It resulted in a 10 percent increase in followers by the end of the business day and another jump over the weekend. Plus we had a handful of unsolicited testimonials on our wall the next week.

My takeaway at this point? Be open to trying these tools to see if they fit your foundation’s strategy and community. Don’t be afraid to give up a little message control to build goodwill. Find ways to push your audience to visit and make sure there’s something there that will make them want to come back. If the current social media tools aren’t right for your work, wait until something comes along that is. It could be as soon as next week!

Beth Reiter Benson, VP for Communications & Marketing
The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

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Entry filed under: Communications.

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