Beyond that first tweet

By Jessica Nicholls 14 January 2013

Most people can now lay claim to a blog or are active on several social networking sites. I include myself in this, but admit to several years of social media scepticism: I used Facebook to keep up with friends and ignored everything else. But then those friends began doing genuinely interesting things, and I was unwittingly drawn in by a new breed of language: the would-be coolness and blatant self-promotion, the pithiness and skill. As someone who previously baulked at the idea of an abbreviation, I now ‘get’ the creativity of social media-speak—the new terms, acronyms and symbols. With information overload cited as a problem of our times and our apparently shrinking attention spans, it’s important to keep those texts trimmed.

For charities, social media raises a lot of questions: can it be productive? How can it be harnessed effectively for fundraising or campaigning? Are charities providing something of value through their social media, or just trying to get people’s attention?

The top 100 charities have over 12 million followers, subscribers and likes in the UK today, according to the second annual Social Charity Index. This figure has doubled since last year’s study, comprising 3.7 million followers on Twitter, up from two million, and 7 million on Facebook compared to 3.5 million. But what can they do with them?

The study produced a Networked Power Index that looks at the relationship between social media activity and income, and calculates which charities are most connected to, and able to derive income from, supporter engagement. It turns out that smaller, more networked charities are doing especially well, for reasons that people feel more involved and perceive a smaller difference between the inside and the outside of the organisation.

And yet, according to About That First Tweet, 53% of 186 small and medium-sized charities and social enterprises say they are not using social media effectively in fundraising and marketing. The single biggest problem for smaller organisations is finding the time to use it. Other challenges include a lack of understanding and skills, knowing what to say and when to say it, and an inability to measure return on investment.

About That First Tweet provides tips from social media experts to help charities identify the objectives they want to achieve, audiences they want to reach and platforms they should use. These include: being selective with the platforms you choose; letting users help you create content, for example through photo competitions and polls; making friends and taking advantage of second and third degree networks; and using your mobile to post on the go.

NPC partners with organisations inside and outside the sector, and we’re continually meeting people at events and through in-house workshops. We use Twitter and Facebook to convey news and research to the rest of the sector, to support our partners and communicate with our supporters. Our blog features opinion and debate around the key issues affecting charities and funders—and it’s something the whole team contributes to. We are fortunate to have forged strong relationships over time, and this is reflected in a steadily growing base of online support. But there are things we constantly try to work at: integrating our social media activities into our overall communications strategy, and ensuring our content is of genuine value. It’s not a billboard or a commercial, it’s about building relationships and developing trust.

Charities can make great gains through social media, but only by making it an integral part of what they do.