One of the benefits of working with non-profits is that their work lends itself to social media in ways that make the tools available to us that much more effective. I wrote earlier about how building communities around causes is much easier than artificially creating communities around commercial products. How much can you say about 7-Up in a community built up solely around the product? OK, it's bubbly.
That said, there are not as many resources, and for that matter, budget to help non-profits increase awareness, and the new tools online do allow for increased community building and connection with supporters if used effectively. In creating an initial strategy for your campaign, look to the Social-Ecological Model.
For those that have worked with the World Health Organization or the CDC, this will be a familiar term for you. For those that have not heard about or seen the model in action, here is a quick definition:
The Centers for Disease Control developed the Social-Ecological Model to help practitioners better understand (and learn how to create) effective prevention programs. The Social-Ecological Model contains four levels:
- Individual — Identifies biological and personal history factors.
- Relationship — Includes factors that increase risk because of relationships with peers, intimate partners and family members.
- Community — Explores the various settings — e.g., schools, workplaces and neighborhoods — where social relationships occur.
- Societal —Examines the broad societal factors — e.g., social and cultural norms, and/or health, economic, educational and social policies — that help to maintain economic or social equalities between groups in society.
More succinctly, the Social-Ecological Model (SEM) was built to show that in order to effect behavior change, programs need to address the target audience at multiple levels. Preferably across all 4 levels. These "levels" naturally augment each other and build on the other so that the impact is addressed through touch-points spanning several of the personal scenarios an individual engages in everyday.
So, in social media terms, we can use this model to help identify and build a community around the particular program you are putting in place. A lot of agencies ask to put a plan together that in a sense, "dips a toe in the water." However, I do not recommend the first step to utilize just one or two of the tools. Rather, build a small network that spans the levels of the SEM and build from there. As the community builds and takes root, more time and more tools can added to this initial strategy. Conversations and communities are building up all around the Internet, you just want to continue to spread a wider net as you go and include those additional people.
So let's look at this more specifically. How, exactly, do we use the SEM to craft a strategy?
1. To begin with, social media is about community. So the Community level of the model is a great place to start. Tools like Ning make it very easy to set up a community online. Beth Kanter points to a Ning blog that gives more background showing that several non profits are already doing this. But to bring people into the new community you've built, you would need to insert yourself into other communities of interest that relate to your topic. These topic or cause "adjacencies" will give you a great step to look for those that would want to join your community. Comment liberally in these communities and show how the things in your community can help and add to their community.
2. Moving one step into the model, Relationships are more personal than the greater community. These are the inner "friend" networks on existing sites and networks. So to effectively build your community, build tools to allow members of your community and potential members to interact with their personal relationships. This can be done through tools that you give them to help spread awareness. Widgets and badges that can be passed through friend networks work well. So, too, can "lifestream" tools or "friend feed" features of existing social networks. When one person interacts with your non profit (use or download of a widget, commenting in a discussion, bookmarking relevant material) their activity shows up in the network of their friends, prompting their relationship level "friends" to see that interaction and perhaps click over to see what they were looking at.
3. At the core of the model is the individual level. Social media is personal, and so too is the message going out from the non-profit to their audiences. Blogging tools and micro-blogging tools like Twitter bring the message down to the 1:1 level and reach target audiences in the niche networks you need to tap into. Start a blog as part of your community site and, again, look for those adjacent topics that you can connect with and comment in those blogs. Look for Tweets in Twitter's Search Tool that address your topics, or build a list of followers in Twitter for your non profit and send messages directly to those individuals following your non profit.
4. The societal level of the model is a bit harder to address in building a strategy, but I look at this a bit like the Search Marketing part of any awareness campaign. Activity in the blogs and communities, content contributions, and the building of a network is going to increase awareness in the search engines as well. Since the search engines work hard on their algorithms to produce the most "relevant" links for any given search, they are, in a sense, defining the broader factors that define a topic. In working with these search norms and embracing the workings of the greater internet "society" as defined by the search engines, you can bring relevant material to the top of searches and get relevant non-profit content visible in the macro-level of a defining search.
So, from starting at the individual tools like blogs and Twitter and moving out towards community and search, a simple strategy of 3-4 tools can reach audiences in different ways that build on each other and augment each other to help jump-start any non profit that wants to either start a social media program or expand on an existing one. And, again, as the basics are covered, and as the network builds (as does your comfort level) expand outward to include new tools. Using YouTube's Non Profit Channel, visiting and working with others on Non Profit Island in SecondLife, and taking a greater voice in existing communities (building out from those adjacencies) will all work together and expand your community. Bookmark relevant material, post pictures in Flikr, and let others know what you are doing online with Plurk or Pownce.
Build the simple platform, actively engage in existing communities and conversation, and cross-reference your tools. Let's start there and see where it goes.
More to come...