Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why nonprofits should promote social media in general

The NetSquared “think tank” topic this month is:
What do you think the role of nonprofit organizations is in the changing world of social media?
When I first read it, however, I mentally transposed “the changing” to “changing the” and read it as:
What do you think the role of nonprofit organizations is in changing the world of social media?
The two questions have different meanings. The first one asks about the role of nonprofits in the world of social media (a world which happens to be changing). The second question implies that nonprofits are actually causing that change. And I find this second question more provocative. (Answering one question kind of answers both, but I’m focusing on the second.)

One reason I find the second formation interesting is because many of us (NetSquared folks and others) are focused on how to use social media to benefit the world of nonprofits. But I never thought about asking the opposite question: How can nonprofits be used to benefit the world of social media? (And why should they bother?)

Well, as social media become more pervasive in our society, and as ever-new forms of social media emerge, I believe they will continue to create new opportunities for helping nonprofits that we can’t anticipate beforehand. And, if that’s true, then maybe it’s in the “self-interest” of nonprofits not just to utilize social media to help their own causes, but also to promote the use of social media in general.

When nonprofits employ social media tools they are by definition promoting social media. But, maybe they could go further. For instance...
  • When inviting people to join your Facebook cause, provide links to resources about how they can get more out of Facebook for other purposes as well.
  • While encouraging people to comment on your blog, provide links to services where they could start their own blogs, or where they could learn how to blog more effectively.
  • On your organization’s podcast page, include information about how you made the podcast (tools, techniques, problems), which not only humanizes the process, but may inspire the user to take a leap and create her own podcast.
I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but I’m starting to see how nonprofits and social media exist in a sort of symbiotic relationship. And the lifeblood of that symbiosis, IMHO, is empowerment. Social media, of course, are the epitome of empowerment. (It’s more empowering to put your video onto YouTube than to simply watch someone else’s.) And nonprofits are about empowerment also – either directly (microlending to help a poor villager start a new business) or indirectly (realizing that your single voice is important in stopping global warming). So, as we all work to transform our world, perhaps we should be more aware (well, I am, anyway) that we should be thinking not just about how social media can benefit the world of nonprofits, but how nonprofits can benefit the world of social media. Ultimately, they may be one and the same.

1 comment:

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi Seth, I enjoyed your twist! I think social media are indeed empowering. For development organisations I hesitate to put too much emphasis on the tools though, you need to find a balance in change 'offline' people and situations too. But I am with you in thinking that you could promote the use of social media in itself.