There's a risk we run when we nonprofiteers dive deep into social media: We start to feel driven by metrics that compel us to weave social media into all our communications, almost to the point of annoyance.
Our members, possibly already worn out from social media (more on that later), can get turned off by too many generic demands on their time and attention ("Vote for us here!" "Share this event on Facebook!" "Make a wish for your birthday with Causes!" "Tweet a picture of our conference to win an iPad!" etc.).
Less is more
I started thinking about this social-media-overload phenomenon after reading this article from last week's edition of The Onion: "Internet Users Demand Less Interactivity".
As I read the article (intended to be tongue-in-cheek, like the rest of The Onion's content), I couldn't help but sympathize with the cries of the fictional people quoted in the story.
Tired of being bombarded with constant requests to share content on social media, bestow ratings, leave comments, and generally “join in on the discussion,” the nation’s Internet users demanded substantially less interactivity this week. ... “Every time I type a web address into my browser, I don’t need to be taken to a fully immersive, cross-platform, interactive viewing experience,” said San Diego office manager Keith Boscone. “I don’t want to take a moment to provide my feedback, open a free account, become part of a growing online community, or see what related links are available at various content partners.”
Though I often happily post, comment, and share online, and enjoy the sense of online community, I admit I have my moments of feeling disenchanted with social media, and I'm not alone. In fact, I've heard more voices of frustration than ever lately, most recently over things like Facebook's new Open Graph feature.
It just feels like "too much" sometimes. I admit that I nearly grind my teeth every time I open a link that turns out to be on the Huffington Post, because the first thing they do is beg me to log in and tell the world that I read their article. I sigh when I see yet another person asking all their Facebook friends to vote for their kid's picture in their newspaper's "cute baby" contest every day. And some of my relatives confessed they either stopped checking Facebook or deactivated their accounts because they were learning too much information about their kids' daily lives. (Yet they complain when we don't call enough...)
And after dealing with social media overload on a personal level, having nonprofits bombard me with requests can just take it over the edge. I don't mind being asked for things, but getting repeated, generic requests on social media makes me feel like a cog in a machine, not a valued member of the nonprofit's community. I want to connect with nonprofits, not just provide random services for them.
It may be time for a change
So...have your social media efforts hit the point of social media overload? Are your users worn out? Is it becoming harder to get people to take action online, and are you responding to that reluctance by bombarding them with yet more ways to take action online?
The question becomes, how can we stop overloading our users on social media, but still achieve our goals? How can we use social media to connect with our supporters without making constant demands on their time and attention?
Social data can help combat overload
"Social data," the buzzword of the moment in the nonprofit tech circles, may hold the answer. (Full disclosure: social data is one of the products we here at Small Act provide). Using information people are already posting about themselves publicly (AKA social data) for your offline programs and initiatives is a great way to use social media "behind the scenes" while making your members feel valued, not put-upon.
How? Here are just a handful of examples. By using data culled from social media:
- Event planners can increase event participation - for example, sending information about their upcoming 5K event only to people on their list who've expressed an interest in running on social media, as opposed to the entire list (saving the organization money and generating better ROI in the process).
- Marketers can gather data that will minimize, if not eliminate, the need to conduct surveys (which kills yet another demand on your donors' time and attention).
- Fundraisers can cultivate better, more informed relationships with key prospects and get toward the Big Ask faster by connecting the organization's mission to their prospects' lives.
- Membership coordinators can add employer data to their existing lists, then target special messages toward members who work at companies that offer matching gifts.
- Alumni officers can improve telemarketing success rates by giving their telemarketers better information about the people they're calling, to help make the college or university's mission relevant to their alumni's lives right now.
So stop the social media overload. Stop begging for retweets and votes, and start using the information people are already posting to get them better invested in your organization's mission. Connect with them authentically. Because social media isn't just a gimmick, and it's not a shiny new toy anymore. It's a communications tool that can be used "behind the scenes" to benefit your organization in a variety of ways.