Social Media Serving Society

:: A Guest Post from Melissa Weaver :: Part One ::

How social media has changed public relations for nonprofit organizations, and the challenges they face adapting to them.

AUSTIN, Texas – It was an ordinary Friday morning in Austin when Teddy was picked up from Ben White Blvd. The brown and black striped canine was not on a field trip away from home, but he was seriously injured and fighting for his life.

The 4-month-old plott hound mix covered his face with his feeble paw, hesitant to move it away. As he tried to bare the pain of two broken elbows, he wouldn’t look at anyone through his tear-filled eyes.
The volunteers at Austin Pets Alive secured transport and a foster for Teddy within half an hour, but they were not sure if they could afford the $3000 surgery necessary to save him.

They turned to Facebook and their blog. Thirty minutes later they had raised $1500, and had enough for Teddy’s surgery by the next morning.
Teddy’s miracle may have been out of reach without the mobilization of APA’s online community; a power APA has harnessed and used continuously.

Social media like Facebook have changed the way many nonprofit organizations communicate with their publics. As a result, public relations programs are more and more propelled to adapt to the rapidly changing technology.

Sarah Weinstein, the Public Relations manager for APA, attributes immense success to social media and says the greatest contribution has been getting volunteers and donations.

“In the beginning, we didn’t feel like we could take in dogs and cats that had that much medical work, because the funding wasn’t there. But we’ve been able to do it more because of social media,” Weinstein says.
Despite evidence that social network contributions can make a difference, there are still organizations that have not incorporated it into their public relations programs.

According to Blackbaud’s annual North American State of the Nonprofit Industry Survey, only 56 percent of nonprofit organizations use social networking to drive donations. Yet, social networking is ranked among the top five drivers of online donations in the same survey.

With more than 500 million active users on Facebook, the social networking phenomenon is a great place for an organization to garner support and extend their reach.

“Being able to interact with people and keep people in the loop and up-to-date, and our followers being able to share with their friends broadens our reach so much,” Weinstein says.

Other social media like blogs are also important, and can be a good starting point for organizations without social media.

Most likely, organizations will find that they already have supporter’s online called bloggers. This was the case for the American Cancer Society.
When David J. Neff joined the team in 2001, social media had not yet made its debut. Fast forward 9 years, and ACS has a strong presence online as well as its own social network for those affected by cancer called sharinghope.tv.

The catalyst occurred when Neff realized that people were talking about ACS in blogs. Surprised, Neff started listening and responding to bloggers. From there ACS jumped head first into the social media realm where they continue to shine.

At sharinghope.tv users upload multimedia content to share their stories with each other about how they are dealing.

Stumbling across bloggers who support their organization may have been a small start for ACS, but it paved the way for their success in social media today.

“Their Facebook presence is just amazing, and they’re able to go out and leverage it to make money because they have 200,000 people that can go and vote for them at a moment,” Neff says. “They’ve done a great job of mobilizing that audience, and plus, they love to have this direct connection with the people behind the accounts.”

The capabilities of Facebook seem to make it a no-brainer for nonprofit organizations: it’s a well-established network with global reach that offers a variety of ways for people to get involved with an organization.
Yet, there are still nonprofit organizations without a social media pillar in their public relations programs. According to Blackbaud’s survey, about 32 percent of nonprofit organizations do not use social networking and 66 percent do not use blogs.

Various reasons exist for the lag in adopting social media, but time is a major obstacle.

The timely nature that makes social media a friend to nonprofit organizations can also be a challenge for those responsible for monitoring it. This is particularly true when there is a call to action by an organization or a time crunch, which is this case for APA’s special needs dogs like Teddy.

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