Dear typical nonprofit: nobody is talking about you online

… or at least that’s my theory.

I think it would be very interesting to take a truly random sample of nonprofits (any ideas on a good methodology?), and do some online research to find out how many of these nonprofits are actually being talked about “organically” online.

My bet: under 10%.

This thought occurred to me because so many social media consultants seem to be saying something to the effect of, “Hey people are talking about you online whether you want them to or not.”  With the implied followup, “So you’d best hire me to help you figure out how to listen and engage.”  I’m not so sure.

6 thoughts on “Dear typical nonprofit: nobody is talking about you online”

  1. I agree, but isn’t this subject matter close to your job description.. you should be contemplating the indie film world or hiking (perhaps on van is) shouldn’t you?

  2. I completely agree. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be finding better ways to listen online, it’s a question of focus. Strategic listening is essential for any non-profit. I think the point of listening online is more to keep on top of our issues, information, communities, government, related news, even “the other side”. Why? To ensure that we’re up to date and aware, whether for ourselves or to help keep those we work with/serve/connect with up to date as well.

    Maybe our reply back to the consultants should be, “Prove it. And, either way, show me how to listen online for the strategic reasons I’m about to give you.”

    Because, it’s fair to say, people are talking about our issues online and it is certainly important to be listening effectively, whether or not we want to actually engage them.

  3. @Marco – I agree that listening is important. It’s just the “OMG, you’re missing out” messaging that I have trouble with.
    And, I’d further hypothesize that almost nobody is talking online about the specific issues that most state + local nonprofits work on. I think the overwhelming majority of the chatter is about whatever national-scale issue is dominating the headlines today, and that the power curve drops off precipitously from there.
    I think this deserves some further research.

  4. Interesting. Definitely worth research and, hey, more than a couple short paragraphs worth of your thoughts.

    So nobody is talking about your organization online (or offline). I’ll buy that. Should they be? Is that a goal of social media (or unsocial media)? To have people talking about you?

    Should folks be talking about your state/local issues? Don’t organizations spend an extraordinary amount of capital trying to get “people” (in quotes b/c most orgs could stand to be clearer on who they want to do the talking)? We send out press releases en masse. God knows how much money and brain damage goes into “media databases.” We meet with “ed boards” and try to get LTEs in the paper. We run ads in papers, radio, TV and now online. We get emails by the truckload. We now chatter away on Twitter and Facebook. Why?

    Actually, it’s usually NOT so people will talk about us or our issue. At least that’s not what is going to happen the way it is usually done. It is still to “send a message” or as a “call to action” (action being writing a letter or some other sending of your message). Really, do groups actually want people talking about them or their issue? Not sure… that’s scary stuff for most.

    So seems ironic that social media folks would pitch “listening” because, for better or worse, many groups act as though they could care less. That said, there is value in listening and we’re still at the point where the contribution to be made is in helping people in orgs understand that value proposition.

    Oh. Whatever. Let’s just flood Congress with tweets. 😉

  5. I use google alerts to track almost 20 local nonprofits I have an interest in. It’s interesting to see the spikes, ebbs, and flows in the traffic and get a sense of how much is prompted consciously. All in all, many get a fair amount of chatter by supporters, members, critics, and the like, well beyond the kind of earned media they traditionally seek.

  6. Jon, I’m guessing that you’ve hit a self-conscious nerve here for more than a few nonprofits. It’s the difference between “We adopted social media to interact and collaborate with our friends/supporters” and “We adopted social media to FIND our friends/supporters and to give them something to talk about.”

    Until this fall, I was working with an org that, for all intents and purposes, was being IGNORED online. Nobody was talking about us. We adopted an aggressive online strategy and things changed rapidly. As a dude who played a large part in that transformation, I’d like to think that our adoption of social tools wasn’t precipitated by the dearth of conversation about us online, but that we saw that hole and then made an active decision to do what we should have been doing all along.

    A solid post. Marco, Ted, and Derek all have interesting add-ons. Keep up the good work.

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