When I took up my current job role, doing communications for an NGO, I started looking around for useful social media resources for NGOs and charities. In my search I came across Nonprofit Tech for Good and immediately signed up for their newsletter. That was how I found out about Mobile for Good by Heather Mansfield. I can quite honestly say that I had difficulty putting Mobile for Good down once I started reading it (though perhaps that says more about me and my social media obsession). I bought the ebook version, but I’d recommend getting a paper copy and sticking it next to your computer at work!
The book guides you step-by-step and in a very logical way through the process of creating a communications and social media content strategy, and even includes a handy check list at the end. It covers topics such as: how to conduct an online communications audit, mobile-compatible websites, email communications, mobile fundraising, ideas for social media content, and top tips for new media managers. There are also individual chapters on the main social media channels, with a list of the top five best practises for each channel.
In this spirit, I thought I’d list my top five takeaways from the book:
- Social media is not free. On the one hand, I always want to emphasise the fact that social media is free (or at the very least that it involves very little cost) because I don’t want to discourage people from using it. To an extent I think this is true. Social media accounts are free to set up and with a little bit of imagination you can create low cost campaigns that are still engaging. However, as the author points out, it is probably worthwhile investing in a skilled social media manager. Nonprofits that rely on unpaid interns and volunteers will find themselves either with someone who is not really that good at social media (and, as Mansfield points out, being young does not by default make a person good at managing a nonprofit’s social media campaigns) or else a skilled social media manager that ends up feeling undervalued and moves on.
- Social media roles are actually writing jobs. As Mansfield puts it, Woe to the nonprofit that incorrectly assumes that a new media manager is a tech position. First and foremost, it’s a writing position. This is something that I quickly recognised when I started working in social media and I think it’s the reason I love it so much – because I am, first and foremost, a writer. Yes, being comfortable with HTML and knowing your way around a computer is important and being able to use tools like video and photo editing software is useful, but if you can’t craft a good tweet or write a compelling blog post, then you’re probably not cut out for a social media role.
- Don’t worry about losing followers. Obviously, if your follower numbers are slowing decreasing then you have something to worry about, but Mansfield makes an interesting points in that she implies that you shouldn’t hold back from experimenting for fear of annoying your followers. Instead, she encourages experimentation. Although she points to research, for instance, about how often you should tweet (every 2 hours has been shown to be optimal for click-through rates), she also encourages nonprofits to experiment with tweeting more frequently to see what happens to their follower rates. I think I’ve shied away from this approach in the past, feeling that it is best not annoy current followers. However, I think Mansfield raises a good point. After all, if a particular approach doesn’t work and you lose a few followers, it is still a worthwhile experience that you can learn from. It is only by trying new approaches that you can find out what works for you and your community.
- Social media is not about conversations or “being human”. As Mansfield points out, social media best practise used to emphasise the importance of “being human” on social media and of engaging your followers in conversations. However, she argues that this strategy has proven to be unsuccessful and best practise has since moved on. Instead, nonprofit social media managers should focus primarily on follower growth. I was already in agreement with Mansfield on the topic of conversations. Although comments on your Facebook post aren’t necessarily a bad thing since it could lead to a few new likes, I agree that it shouldn’t be the primary focus of a social media strategy. However, before I started reading Mobile for Good, I was still clinging to the notion of “being human” on social media. In a way, I do still think this is a valid point, at least when it comes to writing styles. Writing in a way that is understandable to a wider audience and is not overloaded with jargon is important. However, as Mansfield argues, nonprofits are not people and they should instead focus their efforts on distributing information and being an expert on their cause.
- Social media managers need to take a break from social media. When I see job descriptions or articles about social media managers that are “constantly keyed in to the 24/7 news cycle”, I can’t help but feel that it encourages an unhealthy culture. As Mansfield points out, this is a useful attribute in a social media manager, especially, for instance, if they work for a nonprofit that responds to disasters and crises. However, as Mansfield also points out, constant monitoring of social media and news channels requires a lot of mental energy and can lead to burnout. It can also be especially difficult for social media managers, because their jobs are often not very well understood. Social media is seen as fun and trivial, but the role of a social media manager within a nonprofit can be anything but when they spend entire days looking at images of poverty, natural disasters and war. As with any profession, no matter how much a person might love it, they also need to step away and take a break every now and then. Mansfield even recommends that social media managers not taking any electronic devices away with them on holiday, so that they can completely switch off from social media.