Social Media: Who should navigate the ship?

Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Indianapolis ORG magazine.

Recently, I learned some amazing new ways in which social media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) are permeating our everyday lives:

  1. According to a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, Facebook has outstripped Google as the main traffic source for big sites like MSN and Yahoo!. In other words, people are now relying on their friends to recommend them content more often than searching for it themselves.
  2. Microsoft just announced that as part of Outlook 2010, features will allow people to connect with their Facebook and MySpace accounts (the service already allows you to connect Outlook to LinkedIn). Social networking, once the office pariah, is now becoming an integrated part of office culture.
  3. According to a recent study, more people are connecting with social media on their mobile devices than on desktops. Social media now gives you the opportunity to reach people no matter where they are.

This is really great news for nonprofits and organizations searching for new ways to engage new and existing supporters. The potential ocean of success through social media continues to rapidly expand. By executing a strategic social media plan with specific goals and targets (a must), your organization can quickly propel itself forward in terms of awareness-building and new donor acquisition.

Which brings us to an important question: Who should build that strategy? Who should be in charge of implementing it? Who's going to navigate the social media "ship" at your organization?

Some organizations struggle with where social media should "live" within the staff organization chart. Compelling arguments can and have been made for it to live with the web department, with the marketing/communication department, or with the development department. Based on our experience, I propose to you that "who" works with social media is much more important than "which department" in this case.

The person or people who strategize and carry out your social media plan need three qualities:

  1. A passion and long term commitment to the organization and its mission
  2. A depth of understanding of the organization’s goals and direction
  3. A grasp of how social media specifically can help your organization meet those goals, which includes a grasp of how social media works.

Too often, strategy and/or implementation are farmed out to temporary or part-time employees who have minimal organizational buy-in, simply because “they have time” or “they’re young; they understand this stuff.”

But what happens when that employee or intern leaves? Inevitably, social media takes a back seat, any community and goodwill that have been built vanish, and this ship you have been building quickly sinks.

Personally, I've seen different levels of staff take on social media with excellent results. They have in common the three necessary traits I listed above, plus a deep interest in achieving measurable results from their social media campaigns.

For example, the director of Philanthropic Marketing and Communications for Children’s National Medical Center manages their organization's Twitter and Facebook accounts both at a strategic level and on the daily implementation level. They've seen incredible results, most notably in doubling attendance for one of their annual fundraising events simply by promoting it on Facebook and making it easy for attendees to invite their friends.

Meanwhile, the manager of online content and community development at KaBOOM! used social media to promote voting competitions to help people win grants for playgrounds. By making it easy for people to tell their friends to vote for their project on Twitter and Facebook, over 197,000 votes were cast in just one month (people could vote once per day).

Whether director, manager, or coordinator, whether marketing, development, or web-focused, it’s critical that the person navigating the social media waters at your organization have passion and understanding for both your organization and social media.

Who at your organization best fits this criteria? The opportunity for great success in these social media waters is there for your taking. Make that decision, and go forth!