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The Word from a Social Media Evangelist

April 14, 2010

As a social media evangelist, I praise the wonders of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Yes, I have a smart phone and I know how to use it for social good. I spread the gospel of the power of blogging and the sweet grace having an up-to-date LinkedIn profile.

Most of the time I’m a patient teacher gently guiding social media doubters to the light. But, I have bad days. I have days that I want to scream at people “My stars MAN, can’t you see the potential of social media? Don’t you see all the cool stuff your company could be doing?”

In my current position, I serve as the Communications Director the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, a nonprofit organization that promotes improved access, delivery, and demand for children’s vaccinations to keep Colorado healthy.

As it should come to no surprise to other nonprofit communicators, I came into this position with a very limited budget. I’d say I squeaked out about $3,000 in the 2009 budget for dedicated marketing and communications projects. The rest of my budget was just my time; essentially my salary was my only budget.

Many nonprofits face this conundrum. Nonprofits have lots of great stories to tell with no dollars. So how can you share them?

Traditional media relations is free, it just takes someone’s time. It’s powerful, but as any PR pro knows you don’t have a lot of control over the final message. You better pray it doesn’t snow or there isn’t some celebrity story on your press conference day.

There is e-newsletters and email outreach. It’s a great tool to reach out to your small section of the world who has already expressed an interest in the great things you do. We also know that open rates on emails and e-newsletter is DISMAL. Believe it or not, 15% is a good open rate. Really? That is like your mom, grandma and a few friends opening it to glance at what you are up to. Click through rates are even more depressing – 3% is the national average and sad!

Face-to-face meetings are powerful and inexpensive. A cup of coffee and an hour of your time can turn into support and dollars for a nonprofit. This tactics always sees great returns and worth every moment.

That pretty much expends your free to low-cost communications tactics. Events and print materials can be expensive and still only reaches a small, predetermined list of folks who have expressed an interest in your work. Websites and advertising are also expensive and while they are better at reaching a wider audience. Often advertising is a luxury that most nonprofits can’t invest in.

So you still want to reach a large population with nearly zero dollars? Enter social media!

Getting engaged in social media is FREE. Creating a brand space on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and Flickr is free. Even creating a blog is free. You can even go as far as to set-up a niche social network for your organization that could, in all honestly, serve as your website only with more interaction and functionality for FREE (see Think 360 Arts for a great example).

What social media can do for your organization that it rises above other communications tactics is the interaction you get out of this new medium. You can do the exact same things you do with your print materials and advertising campaign on social media.
With social media, you can push key messages and tout the benefits of your work.

With social media, you get a bonus: interaction with your brand. You can find out if people like your key messages. You get to query your customers to find out if they like your benefits or find something else more powerful.

It is this rich experience of interacting with real people that makes social media’s return on investment invaluable.

{Side note: For more great Mary photography check out Chris Haston’s “Riding with Mary” project http://www.chrishaston.com/}

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