Social Media Success Series: Become an Active Community Member

I’m starting a new series! The more work I do with non-profits around social media, the more I realize the biggest barrier between non-profits and social media success isn’t learning how to use the tech, it’s figuring out how to achieve traditional marketing goals in a new media culture.  The purpose of this series is to help nonprofit leaders like you make that leap.

Become an Active Community Member

In social media, giving comes before receiving

In social media, giving comes before receiving

I’m starting the series here because social media success is only possible after you integrate yourself into an existing community (or build your own).  The rest of my advice will fall flat if the community piece isn’t in place first.  Unfortunately, it’s also the piece of advice nonprofit leaders are most likely to skip.

When you are incredibly busy with your own work and spreading your own messages, it may seem impossible to justify making time to spread the word on behalf of other organizations or, even worse, randomly chit-chat with people you’ve never met.  But, you must.

That’s the “social” part of social media and it’s the grease that makes the whole system work. If you can’t find the time or the energy to genuinely participate in the culture of the media, there is very little value in investing any time at all.  Once you take the time to integrate yourself into the culture, you will find the time was well spent.

There are several ways to integrate yourself into a community. Here are my favorites.

Be Useful

This is a great place to start. It doesn’t require baring your soul on the internet and so it’s a way of interacting on-line that is unlikely to cause heart palpitations for those in your organization who aren’t quite sure all this transparency talk is really a good idea. It’s also very simple:

  1. Share information/links to resources that will be of use to the people you want to reach. Some of those resources should be from your organization, some should be from others you admire.
  2. Answer questions. This piece is a little trickier because it means you need to be paying attention to what others are saying, but it’s even more effective than simply sharing. Once you have proven yourself to be responsive in a helpful way, potential supporters are much more likely to want to return the favor.

Be Funny

This one is more difficult because “trying to be funny” won’t cut it.  If humor comes naturally to you (note:  this means other people think you are funny) then using it in social media can help you stand out from the crowd.  If not, feel free to skip this one.

Claire Kerr (@snotforprofit) provides a great example of how to make funny work in the nonprofit sector–but you’ll notice she also employs a giant dollop of the other ingredients as well.*

Be Generous

The on-line world is not transactional.  Lewis Hyde called it a gift economy Gary Vaynerchuk calls it the The Thank You Economy,** either way, it means your reputation for helpfulness and responsiveness, whether there is direct benefit for you or not, is a key factor in the enthusiasm people show when it’s time to share your messages.

So offer as much free advice as you can.  Retweet/share useful information, even when it comes from your competitors.  Respond to people when they talk to you.  Thank and congratulate people and organizations in public.  Help people who can’t help you.  Your success depends on it.

Be Authentic

This one is the hardest, and the most powerful.  The more willing you and your organization are to let your supporters behind the curtain to see what you and your work are really like, the more connected they will feel to you and your cause, and the more likely they are to support you.  This means letting supporters hear about ideas before they are fully formed.  It means being willing to talk about failures as well as successes.  It means treating supporters as partners, not just as ATMs.  It’s scary, and it can be risky, but it’s also the best way to create a large band of loyal supporters who stand ready to support you not only with their wallets but also with their time, attention and voices.

Bonus Tip:  Focus your Attention

The internet is a big place and you don’t need to convert everyone out there to your cause.  Know who your perfect supporters are before you start.  Then, focus your social media energy on finding them.  Hang out where they hang out.  Pay attention to what they need and do what you can to provide it.  Make sure they know they are special.  They will reward you for it.

Your Turn

What did I miss?  Share your favorite advice for integrating yourself into an online community in the comment section.

* Funny can attract attention on its own.  It’s just hard to use it to spur people to action.

** Lewis Hyde does not reference the internet specifically, Gary Vaynerchuk does.  Also, I don’t think you could find two more different books making approximately the same point.

4 thoughts on “Social Media Success Series: Become an Active Community Member

  1. Hey Mo, Interesting synchronicity, just had dinner a coupla nights ago with Michael Martone, a visiting writer here at Vermont Studio Center, and he also mentioned Hyde’s gift economy — using it in the context of how writers and artists share ideas/techniques with each other all the time, and what’s the (fine) line between plagiarism of ideas vs. the healthy, growth-nurture of sharing. Another visiting artist, David Kapp noted that there’s always an exchange going on between artists, and asks the question: are songs and art floating out there for anyone to grab and articulate? Or do we actually “make” them … this connects back, I think, to the “art” of making community that you address vis-a-vis nonprofits. If it’s a good idea, share it. If it failed, make note of that, too.


    • The way these ideas echo across disciplines is really interesting to me. I’d not thought of the artist connection that you outlined so beautifully, but as I was writing I did think about how the concepts outlined here applied in real life communities as well. The internet is not the only place where people are more likely to listen to you after you listen to them!

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