Social media is a powerful tool in leading and creating social change. Think about the Occupy Wall Street efforts, the Arab Spring protests, and Hurricane Sandy reports: social media played a critical role in getting the word out and served as a central organizing tool for mobilizing people.
Against that backdrop, more and more grantmakers, concerned with impact, are looking to social media as an opportunity to communicate, learn, and listen to their stakeholders, grantees, and communities.
Glasspockets, a website created by the Foundation Center and focused on transparency in philanthropy, has documented the activities of more than 650 foundations, finding 271 that are active on Facebook, 190 on Twitter, 102 that have blogs, and 93 that have a channel on YouTube.
A recent study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) found that 71 percent of foundations surveyed have posted videos or have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, or a blog. And yet, despite the continued adoption of these tools by foundations, research suggests that few grantees are tuning in to the communication. The same CEP report found that only 16 percent of grantees reported using social media created by their funders, and almost a third of the grantees interviewed reported that they were not aware of whether their funders use social media tools.
Given the potential of social media to further positive social change and their increasing use of it by foundations, why aren’t more grantees engaging with these tools? The research indicates that nonprofits do not view foundations’ social media to be as effective as other modes of communication, including one-on-one conversations, group meetings, published materials, and websites.
To counter this reluctance, here are a few suggestions that grantmakers can employ to more effectively engage using social media.
Effective social media does more than push information out. To be viewed as a valuable partner, a grantmaker must use social media to glean knowledge, synthesize multiple inputs, and communicate learnings. Listening is more important than broadcasting.
2. Share Knowledge
More and more, people are learning about world events, sharing information, and conducting research using social media tools. In a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, 70 percent of Facebook users accessed news from friends and family posting links. Grantmakers can use their friends and followers as “research librarians” to learn about trends, events, and community activities.
3. Build Awareness
Some foundations find that social media helps inform people about their work, allows for more targeted outreach, and expands networks. This fosters greater participation, bringing more awareness to multiple audiences who want greater access to information about the foundation’s work.
4. Be Transparent
Social media can lift the veil off what is too often viewed as the secret world of foundations. For nonprofits, social media can provide an inside view into a foundation’s processes, strategies, and decision-making relevant to grantees’ work. Nonprofit organizations want foundations to be more transparent about what they’re learning, and how they’re assessing impact. Transparency is vital to a healthy ecosystem, and, indeed, foundations that are more transparent are viewed as more helpful to nonprofits, easier to work with, and more credible.
5. Be Authentic
A grantmaker that transmits marketing messages rather than building trust through interaction is going to fail at social media. One of the worst mistakes a foundation can make is to attempt to control conversations taking place online. Engage with authenticity, with the goal to inspire, share, and learn. Use the media as a feedback loop, not as a one-way communication.
6. Know Your Goals and Your Capacity
Getting into social media is an opportunity to connect, but it can also backfire without a clear definition of your goals and desired impact. Although there are several “rock stars”of social media from the foundation world, research suggests that very few are engaging with their followers. Social media is an ongoing obligation, not a one-off experiment. Know your capacity and have staff in place who can engage on a regular basis and make it an institutional commitment.
7. Experiment and Have Fun
Social media is a great place to build networks and to interact with people, even those you have never met before. You can also connect people from your networks, if you feel introductions are in order. Grantees can meet other grantees in your portfolio, and program officers in one area of the foundation’s work can learn about grantees in another portfolio, all online. Be considerate and thoughtful, and most of all, have fun!
Social media has incredible potential to serve as a mobilizing positive force for good. Listening, sharing, being transparent and authentic, and knowing your goals are key ingredients for successful engagement. Used well, the foundation world can benefit tremendously from social media’s capacity.