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Losing the Social Anxiety
January 26, 2015

(Sally Crowley is the communications director for The John R. Oishei Foundation.)

Sally Crowley When I first suggested to our organization that we enter the social media scene a few years ago, my colleagues and I shared anxiety about it.

Would it be worth our time to tweet? Will we open ourselves up to criticism or attack? How could we use the social outlets effectively?

I reminded myself and my team of two of our strategic goals: "to better communicate our work and role to the community" and "to serve as a leader, convener and network builder."

I did not want us to be thinking at the "tactical level," which can be easy to do when it comes to communications. After serving on nonprofit boards and spending many years as a communications consultant, I was used to pulling folks out of the "tactical basement." My peers and I have a name for the often-requested tactic-without-objective. We call it a "COULDN'TCHA JUST."

"COULDN'TCHA JUST write a press release? COULDN'TCHA JUST do a flyer? Or a billboard?"

Social media allows us to inexpensively promote not just our own events, activities, and programs, but also those of our grantees and community partners.

The answer is NO. Wildly created tactical communications can actually be effective, but it is RARE and based upon, pretty much, pure luck.

I am a firm believer that effective marketing communications stem from clearly defined goals and a well-thought-out communications plan. One of the first steps in developing a yearly communications plan is writing a situation analysis that includes an environmental scan, or a review of the "market," in which one looks for best practices, benchmarks, and the newest trends.

In our scan, we found that social media has many benefits for foundations. The reach is amazing, and the promotional costs are minimal when compared to traditional paid media. The numbers we found were astounding...

  • 72% of all internet users are active on social media
  • 18-29 year olds average 89% usage with 30-49 year olds at 72%
  • 60% of 50-60 year olds and 43% of age 65+ plus are active
  • Facebook has over 1.15 billion users, with 23% logging in at least 5 times per day
  • Twitter has over 550 million registered users, 215 million of which are active
  • Pinterest has 20 million active monthly users
  • Instagram counts 150 million active monthly users
  • LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Vine, Slideshare and others also continue to grow in popularity

In addition, most social media is easy to track, so we can see what topics our audiences are most interested in, and what types of content and media are most effective.

Social media allows us to inexpensively promote not just our own events, activities, and programs, but also those of our grantees and community partners.

We're reaching out to our audiences rather than simply building a website where we hope "they will come."

Plus, we've created a two-way dialogue, one where anyone interested in our work and/or our community can comment and share a photo, video, or link. We're reaching out to our audiences rather than simply building a website where we hope "they will come." We're using social media to drive folks to our website, maximizing our substantial investment in a content-management-driven, open source, cutting-edge website.

However, the use of social media, and any communications tactic, is most effective when used as part of a strategic, integrated, thoughtful communications plan.

If you haven't taken the "social" plunge, and it's a tactic that comes out of your long-term plan in support of your mission, then it's time to take the leap!

-- Sally Crowley


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This is a clear and convincing case for why more foundations should use social media. The point about a two-way dialogue is critical since social meeting is not just about talking, but about listening. Several years ago, a blogger grabbed that data from the Foundation Transparency 2.0 tool on Glasspockets that tracks social media use over a wide number of foundations and came up with an interesting finding: the foundations that had the most followers were those who, in turn, were "following" other's social media feeds.

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the GlassPockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Candid highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Candid.

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