Social media is an increasingly prevalent part of our world. Whether it’s on the news, sitting in traffic, or talking with colleagues, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid mention of Facebook or Twitter. Is there a good way for your foundation to become involved?
Perhaps your board chair suggested that your foundation join Facebook. Maybe you connected with other foundation leaders on LinkedIn and noticed their foundations had established LinkedIn profiles and discussion groups. Perhaps you were intrigued by the Council on Foundations’ use of Twitter during its most recent conference. Whatever your reasons, the goal of this guide is to demystify the world of social media and give you some practical first steps to incorporate social media into your organization.
Why should my foundation use social media?
In this day of on-demand information, people don’t want to read long articles or to wait a week to receive the latest news. Social media offers concise and immediate bursts of information to a broad audience.
Social media can help you...
- Reach and interact with a new audience
Unlike with other forms of communication, a social media audience has self-selected to follow your foundation to receive information. This means you have a captive audience that wants to hear from you. The audience may also comprise a different set of demographics than supporters who engage in other ways. Who will be your target audience for social media: grantees, other philanthropic entities, or the general public? The goals of your overall communications strategy will determine your target audience.
- Make your foundation more accessible and approachable
Social media can remedy a perceived power imbalance between grantmaker and grantee by providing an informal setting for interaction. It can promote ongoing and dynamic dialogue about lessons learned from previous grants, innovative solutions to issues, trending topics in the field, and other news and events. What you hear online from your stakeholders may differ from what those engaged in more traditional ways have to say.
- Promote a culture of transparency and openness
A robust social media presence expresses your foundation’s commitment to openness and accountability by making its activities more transparent. Such openness helps demystify the grantmaking process and promote public trust.
- Listen to and join the conversation
Like it or not, your foundation is coming up in virtual conversation, and you need to participate in that discussion. Although you’re still in the majority among your philanthropic peers if your foundation hasn’t embraced social media, your nonprofit counterparts surely are engaged. According to Larry Blumenthal of Open Source Advisors, about 15 percent of the largest 100 foundations have blogs, while 37 percent are on Facebook, and 31 percent are on Twitter. According to the“2011 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report,” 89 percent of nonprofits are on Facebook, and 57 percent are on Twitter. Many discussions happening online may interest to you—and some may even mention your foundation. By having a social media presence, you can participate in and control the dialogue and be knowledgeable about trends related to your grantmaking.
What are the most common social media platforms?
Blogs offer commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video in an interactive format on a website. Grantmakers often create blogs to share perspectives on issues, the grantmaking process, or to promote their grantees’ work. In 2011, more than 150 million public blogs existed.
Facebook is a social networking service that allows individuals or organizations to create a free public profile that appears as a Web page. Individuals can “friend” profiles and follow their friends’ status updates to remain connected. Users can also “like” a foundation’s public page to receive updates. A strong Facebook page should include the foundation’s basic profile, its grantmaking priorities, grantee information, and contact information. Use the page to share information on issues, the latest news, and upcoming events. As of 2011, Facebook had more than 600 million active users.
LinkedIn is a business-related social media service designed to facilitate networking. Registered users maintain a list of personal and professional “connections.” These users can access the profiles of their primary and second-degree connections. They can also create professional groups in which participants can have free moderated discussions on topics of interest. As of 2011, LinkedIn had more than 100 million active users.
Twitter is a social information and microblogging network that allows users to send short, immediate messages, called “tweets,” to other subscribers or “followers.” Tweets are posts of up to 140 characters  displayed on the user's profile  page. Users see the posts of all “tweeters” they follow displayed as a news feed. Grantmakers can group posts together by topic by using the hashtag  – words or phrases prefixed with a "#" sign.
For example, Council conference attendees might tweet status updates using the hashtag #2012annualconf. Interested followers could then search and read all public posts connected to that hashtag. The "@" sign followed by a username  is used for mentioning or replying to other users. As of 2011, Twitter had more than 200 million active users.
YouTube is a free video-sharing platform that allows users to upload, share, and view videos. Grantmakers can create and share videos that communicate foundation strategies, philanthropic trends, and best practices. Increasingly, YouTube is integrated into other social media platforms as an interactive way to share information.
What steps should we take to start using social media?
- Listen and track the information being presented on social media channels.
You can “listen” to online dialogue even before you are ready to participate. What is being communicated about philanthropic trends? What are other funders saying? What are your grantees saying? What are others saying about your foundation? In particular, Twitter is a good way to see what topics are trending. You should also follow other foundations or review their Facebook page to see the type and frequency of information that they post. What information will you share? What pages do other foundations “like”? By determining other foundations’ social media strategies and knowing what trends are being discussed, you will be better prepared to develop your own strategy.
- Define your foundation’s social media goals and focus.
Even though your foundation can have multiple goals for social media, pick a primary focus for the first six months. Do you hope to build awareness of a new grantmaking initiative? Do you hope to connect with new supporters? Do you hope to connect with your grantees in more meaningful ways? As you start out, make sure your posts reflect your primary goal.
- Consider which social media sites will benefit your work the most.
Don’t go overboard initially. Instead, start with one site and gradually build your social media presence, rather than join too many and not be able to maintain them. Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s many users require a minimal amount of maintenance time. You might consider adding Twitter later, as it generally requires more frequent posts, or “tweets,” to drive the discussion.
- Integrate social media into your overall communications strategy.
Social media tools should be used as a part of, and work in concert with, your overall communications strategy. Regardless of whether your communications team is responsible for managing your foundation’s social media presence, a targeted strategy for social media should be integrated into the overall communications strategy.
- Develop a social media calendar and identify your social media manager.
What: Decide in advance what you will post each week, whether it’s events, deadlines, trends, or research. Set an informal schedule that aligns with your overall communications calendar, so you don’t have to scramble for a topic.
When: Decide on the frequency of your posts. For Facebook, the general guideline is to post at least once a week, and no more than three times per day. For Twitter, you may tweet as much as you like—be sure to use a #hashtag to allow your followers to track discrete or trending subjects.
Who: Decide who at the organization will be the primary contact for your social media. Establish a policy for social media use across the organization, including those who will have access to your foundation’s account.
- Develop a social media policy.
Your foundation should have a clearly defined social media policy to ensure all staff members understand its appropriate uses. Some issues to consider as you create your foundation’s policy include:
- Ensure that all users are trained in the proper use of social media and that your policy lists the minimum training requirements.
- Establish goals and metrics for use of social media.
- Be sure to check all facts (statistics, citations, grantmaking information, and event dates) before posting anything.
- Establish guidelines about who can participate on social media sites on behalf of the foundation or as individuals and how often they are expected to be involved.
- Consider ways to protect your confidential and proprietary information.
- Respect copyrights and fair-use statements if you are sharing external resources with the public.
- Have a clear definition in your policy to underscore the distinction between public and personal information.