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Nonprofit’s #1 Fear about Social Media: Someone Makes Us Look Bad


Below is a follow-up to the questions submitted during the August 24-25 social media webinar with Kivi Leroux Miller, president, Nonprofit Marketing, where she teaches a weekly webinar series and writes a daily blog on nonprofit communications, marketing, and fundraising. To view or hear a live recording of the presentation, please click here.

Several of the questions we received during the webinar on “Putting Strategy into Your Social Media Outreach” are based in one common fear: What if someone says something that makes us look bad?

Sometimes nonprofit leaders fear that inexperienced staff or others outside the immediate control of the organization, like volunteers or program clients, will say something inappropriate on their own profiles or on the organization’s. Sometimes they are afraid that people will get the facts wrong, or will word something in a way that others find offensive. Some nonprofits deal with very sensitive and private issues that should never be shared in social media. But what if someone were to share those details?

While these are legitimate concerns, the reality is that fears about something going wrong are, for the most part, overblown. The overwhelming majority of content in social media about nonprofits is positive or neutral. But of course, there are always exceptions (especially if your organization deals with contentious social or political issues). Yet these can still be addressed effectively. Here is what I recommend:

  1. First, talk openly and honestly about your concerns as a staff. Share very specific examples of what you think is good and bad, whether real or worst-case-scenario. Simply airing some of these worries and having some devil’s advocate conversations about what might happen and what’s an appropriate response will help you see where you have some agreement and where you need to talk further.
  2. Second, talk about “personal” versus “private.” If there are taboo topics, legal privacy issues, or concerns about personal safety, spell that out very clearly for people. Remember, “personal” and “private” are not the same thing anymore, and your age and experience with social media are likely to have a lot of impact on how you feel about those differences. Don’t assume that everyone shares the same level of comfort about sharing personal information, and don’t force your personal definition of “private” on others without being very specific about what you mean. It’s important to embrace a personal approach to social media, while protecting privacy.
  3. Third, sketch out a social media policy. I advocate finding the balance between responsibility as an employee/volunteer and freedom as an individual. We see a range of social media policies from very restrictive rules (“talk about this and you are fired”) to more lenient guidance (“Here’s what we prefer you do.”) Google “nonprofit social media policy” and you’ll find plenty of examples.

If you are leaning toward a more restrictive approach, do keep in mind that the law on what you can expect of your employees, and the extent to which you can limit their speech in social media, is still lagging behind the technology. What’s legally OK now may not be soon. And remember, you can’t control what others outside the organization say. That’s why talking openly – and regularly — about your organization’s use of social media will almost always produce better results than a restrictive policy forced on to staff.

If organizations with privacy concerns as big and diverse as the U.S. military and the American Red Cross have figured out how to use social media appropriately, you can too!

lindsay-nichols.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Lindsay Nichols, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at America’s Charities, the leader in workplace giving and philanthropy. As a member of the organization’s senior leadership team, Lindsay guides and oversees the strategy and execution of all marketing and communications efforts with a major emphasis on strategy and tactics that support increased growth for the organization. Lindsay has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chronicle of Philanthropy, NonProfit Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Public Radio, Dallas Morning News, and more.

Topics: Communications Webinars Social Media