Why and how nonprofits should use social media

Why and how nonprofits should use social media

It’s hard being a nonprofit these days. In an increasingly competitive world populated by increasingly busy people who are increasingly careful about how they spend their money in a post-recession era, nonprofits are struggling more than ever to raise awareness, attract volunteers, and generate a long-term interest in the causes they work for.

Strapped for time, money and manpower, more and more nonprofits are turning to sites like Facebook and Twitter, hoping to leverage these free platforms to generate mass interest at minor costs. However the social media space, like the real world, is crowded, noisy and extremely competitive, and many nonprofits after setting up that Facebook fan page or Twitter account are at a loss as to what to do next.

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On Tuesday, participants at a workshop on social media for nonprofits, organized by the Nasscom Foundation and held by Gaurav Mishra, CEO of Mumbai based social media research and strategy company 2020 Social, voiced some of their doubts.

“What if I run a contest on my website and nobody participates?" asked one lady who works for an international nonprofit that uses media and communications to achieve development goals. “How do I know if our fans on Facebook are actually engaged, or whether they’re just there for the heck of it?" asked another participant who works for an international artist’s association.

In an interview with Mint, Gaurav Mishra puts things in perspective, bluntly pointing out that social media is no panacea for a struggling nonprofit’s communications problems. He underscores that the very first step for a nonprofit is to identify the cause it is working towards, and consequently who its evangelists are. Social media can then be used to organize and energize this base of people.

“Nonprofits must start outside in and not inside out," he says. “Always start by thinking about who are the people whose lives you’re trying to change, what is the big cause you’ve committed yourself to. Start from there and then come down to the specifics."

He points to Pratham Books as an instance of an Indian nonprofit that has made excellent use of social media by soliciting feedback, sharing content, engaging its existing community, recruiting new volunteers and building interest through tools like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.