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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Social Media Week: Campfire Tales and Komen Under Fire

Day 2 from Social Media Week New York and Rachael Berkey's (@bookoisseur) thought-provoking analysis of social media and its impact, positive and negative, on the nonprofit world:

I did a few double takes today. I kept hearing things I'd heard before:

"Know your audience."

"Take it back to the campfire - to the stories where you really connect with them."

I'd heard them before because they are basic principals of writing and marketing which have been at the center of my livelihood for a number of years now. But I think it's vitally important to understand if you're looking to engage with your supporters through social media.

At the NGOs, Causes and the Original Interest Graphs - Interactive Panel Discussion (Livestream) this morning, the big take away was the phrase: "And then…"

You've set up your Twitter & Facebook page for your organization. You've roped in hundreds, maybe even thousands, of fans and followers. You may have even raised a little money from them or gotten them excited about a project you're pursuing with some targeted posting.

But what next? How are you going to keep them engaged and keep them coming back to your site or your page on Facebook?

Rather than answering this question outright, because none of us really have a surefire method for ensuring any of that, the take away from this panel was to include this in your plan. Have a road map and make sure it includes some, if not all, of the following:

- Contingencies for bad commentary, posts, and criticisms
- Contingencies for windfalls of good commentary
- A flexible schedule of post ideas so that you are constantly working to engage with the people you're trying to keep involved
- And a constantly evolving and growing bank of ideas to keep them coming back for more.

If you let the "and then" idea die, you're going to have a great start at the gate that fizzles before your social media and outreach person has the chance to hit the first curve in the track. Engagement isn't a one-shot action. It's a constant give and take between you and your supporters both online and off.

This evening, I attended Women, Money & Social Power: What Made The Komen Debacle A Win For Women (Livestream). It may have been held by the Health & Wellness hub at Social Media Week, but the discussion and analysis were firmly rooted in nonprofit engagement and understanding. It was also a great place to dissect the mistakes Komen, one of the nation's most well known and wealthy nonprofit organizations, made in light of the media backlash that resulted from its severing of funding for Planned Parenthood last week.

Now before any readers get their panties in a bunch, this isn't about which side of the issue you support; it's about how the issue is honestly and effectively communicated in the rapid-fire world of social media. Yes, I know Komen restored funding to Planned Parenthood. But that one backstep is the equivalent of a prize-fighter struggling against the tap out for five measly extra seconds. The issue really is about full disclosure and honesty with the public. Social media creates a forum for immediate advocacy and response that didn't exist before. Komen's new grant policies keep the fire alive and actually inflame, rather than adequately address, the controversy.

I don't have time to recount every great soundbite that came out of this panel, but here's one that sticks with me even hours later. After watching Komen's video response to the uproar, we discussed the language the speaker used and what was immediately brought up was the following:

She used the words "We're doing what's best for our organization" to defend the new grant policies, while not even naming Planned Parenthood as playing any part in the decision.

Here's the problem with this. It's 2012. And social media is making sure that every person has their shot at being heard. By refusing to acknowledge and openly discuss mistakes that were made (ie by speaking generally rather than addressing the fact that people were angry about Planned Parenthood losing funds), it makes it seem as if Komen isn't listening to the supporters who have donated millions of dollars to their cause over the years. What's the best way to alienate an audience? Ignoring them does a pretty good job. And when you do this on social media -- watch out!

Komen further weakened its position by making the issue about Komen as an organization. When you're raising money to fight a disease, and you're working to help people, you don't make decisions based on the "organization." Because it's not about the organization. It's about the breast cancer epidemic and the people who are sick and die from the disease every year. Every nonprofit can learn a lesson from this.

-- Rachael Berkey

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