I always thought that I would know when I was getting old by my lack of understanding of the current popular music (which happened awhile ago), but I now feel that technology will be the barometer. There are websites and features and tools, that I struggle to understand what they do and how they impact my life. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, virtualisation, Foursquare, Spotify, SMS, LinkedIn, Flipboard, Picasa, cloud computing, Vimeo, Youtube, lions and tigers and bears…oh my! All of these are wonderful tools that can help me stay in touch, find wonderful places and show off those holiday pictures from Portugal. But I am forced into the question “which ones do I use, which ones will I need, which ones should I learn?”
I then realised that the not-for-profit clients I work with are struggling with the same issues. Their questions would be different: What pieces are my constituents going to use, where should I spend my marketing dollars, which one(s) will be around a year from now? But the concern is still there. Although in my case if I don’t make the right choice I might not see my Aunt Susan’s birthday pictures. If a charity makes the wrong decision, they lose out on potential donors and donations or worse sending the wrong message to the wrong people and wasting time, effort and money. There is also a fear of alienating the current constituent base by focusing too much on the fancy new networking tool.
So, how does a charity make the “right” decisions when it comes to social media, communication and technology? Unfortunately there is no “right” answer. It will be different for each charity in each unique circumstance. There are, however, some things that can be done to make informed decisions;
– Do your research. The IT Resource Guide is a great location for learning about new and emerging technologies. And you should not just look in the not-for-profit journals and publications. Mashable is where I go to get my information on the new technology and what it means for me. There is a good graphic on there that explains how the world uses social media.
– When in doubt, ask. Your peers would be a good start, but I would think the best resource would be your constituents. Find out from them what social networks in which they participate.
– Don’t put your eggs in one basket. The old investing adage is very fitting for this scenario. Your constituents are diverse, with a wide range of needs and ways they want to interact with you. Your communications should be as well.
– Set goals and measure the results. There are several tools out there you can use, many of them free, such as Google Alerts and Google Analytics.
– Do something! Even if you are a smaller operation the internet is not going anywhere so start using it in your strategy and marketing plans.
Technology is an amazing and frightening tool, but remember it is a tool. It is only effective if you use it and is most effective if you use it correctly.