Look out, kids, there’s a manifesto looming on the horizon of this blog post!
Today, I'm going to expand upon the flowchart I posted on Tuesday (pictured right).
I subscribe to lots of blogs and several Twitter searches related to nonprofits and technology. I scan hundreds of new items a day. And at least once a week, I still see a tweet or a blog post (sometimes several) asking the question, "Should your nonprofit be on social media?"
In 2007, this was a valid question. But guess what? Not anymore.
If your organization is still asking itself that question, you aren't just risking becoming irrelevant…your entire mode of thinking has already become irrelevant to a society that has dramatically shifted and expanded its means of communication.
Quite frankly, I'm tired of hearing what some still consider to be "valid" arguments against social media:
"We don't have time."
"We tried it, and it didn't work."
"We reach out to a population that isn't on Twitter."
"Nobody cares what we ate for lunch."
As a simple counter argument, I am going to point to what has happened to the newspaper industry and the recording industry in recent years.
The consumer-driven Internet has been a serious force to be reckoned with for at least 15 years. I worked at a newspaper from 1997-1998 that was still using computers with orange-on-black displays and a DOS-like operating system. When I asked my coworkers what they were doing about the Internet, most would scoff and say it was just a fad. Or that it was just for people wasting time in their parents' basements. Their audience, they said, still loved the printed page and had no use for this trendy stuff.
Over time, of course, we all know what happened. Slowly, reliable news sources began to pop up online...for free. Some newspapers started panicking and wildly experimenting; most continued to scoff: "People still need us for local news. I guess we can put our content online for our subscribers, but why should we give away that which we normally charge money for?"
They refused - REFUSED - to shift the paradigm…until it was too late. Much too late.
The same thing happened with the recording industry. They dismissed online file sharing as a fad, then tried to go after the people using it, then tried to kill the services that allowed it (and they’re still beating that dead horse), and only many years later did they try to offer a valid alternative to it that still earned them money. They lost a lot of money trying to beat the paradigm back into where it was in the early ‘90s before they realized they were the ones who had to change.
So, tell me...how are print journalism and the recording industry doing these days?
Meanwhile, those companies and industries that caught on early and kept up with the trends profited, by and large. Yes, the tech bubble burst (pretty much the exact moment I graduated from college - thanks, Universe!), but the strong companies survived: Amazon and eBay have revolutionized how we shop; dozens of dating sites have changed the way people find mates; and now, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the rest have changed the way we communicate...whether you like it or not.
The question is, what side of the fence do you want to be on? It's not necessary to jump, panic-stricken, onto every new trend that floats by. But lack of experimentation, fear of risk-taking, and refusal to shift paradigms have claimed many victims in the last ten years (think Borders and Blockbuster, for recent examples). And the nonprofit sector is not immune.
No matter what your nonprofit does or who it targets, I guarantee you there is very little to be gained and much to lose from ignoring social media...and many advantages to using it strategically, in a way that makes sense for your organization. Whether that amounts to listening (like my listening post I described at the beginning, even if it’s just as simple as regularly searching for your brand on Twitter and blogs), participating, using it to gather data about your audience, or some combination thereof, is up to you.
I hope we never STOP asking the question of "how best" to be involved in social media. The answer to that changes, and your organization needs to be open to anticipating and planning for those changes. But for the love of Gozer the Gozerian, let us stop asking the question of "whether" to get involved in social media.
Because, Ray, the answer is “YES!”