Helping Nonprofit Managers To Overcome Fear Of Social Networks

My skeptical look by Flickr user imrational
"My 'skeptical' look" by Flickr user imrational

All over, I see middle management being urged to “get on the social media bandwagon” because they may get left in the dust.  But, often the senior management of the organization is skeptical or downright hostile to the idea. By understanding the fears that are driving this hostility, you might be able to break through.

This is from an excellent transcript at the Chronicle of Philanthropy on nonprofits’ use of social media. I’ve pulled out the fear-based questions that people asked. I recommend you read the whole thing, because there’s lots more!

Worries organizations have about social media:

  • My organization is concerned about putting our name out there to possibly be “manipulated” in a negative way on . . . these social networking sites.
  • Is it bad if members within the organization don’t always speak with a unified voice?
  • [H]ow can an organization that has no experience with these media options “get started?”
  • I would like to get my organization started in social networking, but my boss is skeptical. How can I show her it’s not a waste of my time?
  • I work with nonprofits whose executive management teams are resistant to the idea of social networking as none them are willing to invest staff time in the effort. Also, none envision value-added results.
  • [H]ow much staff time need be committed on a daily basis?
  • Our main concern with social networking are the liability issues that may arise. . . . [H]ow can we utilize a social medium like Facebook, without having to worry about any of our service recipients leaving comments that are crisis issues.
  • [H]ow does a development director or volunteer get management to trust (give up control)?

This adds up to just a few real fears:

  1. We’re out of control (of friends, of supporters, of staff)
  2. It’s a waste of time and money (and diverts us from better pursuits)
  3. Something bad will happen and we’ll be blamed (a friend may harm another friend)

What You Can Do

The best suggestion I have, as someone who’s been both middle and senior management in nonprofits, is to take baby steps. If you see utility for your organization in pursuing social medi, you’ll need to cover these bases:

  1. Make the business case for getting involved. Here is my favorite article on that (the key bullets are at the end).
  2. Start small so consequence of failure is low and the dislocation to the organization is minimal. Here are ten tips for new Twitter users, for example.
  3. Make sure you are ready to monitor performance. That means you will have to decide what success will look like. And you will have to spend time listening — but you can decide how much.
  4. Point out that it’s more likely you’ll be able to use your social network to respond to bad news than it is you’ll be the victim of your social network. The story of Domino’s is a good example of both the power and necessity for respect.

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

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