Under What Conditions Does Social Media Use Pay Off?

March 21, 2012; Source: Mashable

In the wake of the viral success of “Kony 2012” (see this Pew Internet and American Life report for research on the demographics that played a role), many nonprofits are thinking about how they might enhance their social media presence. Two recent research reports—one released by Bridgespan and one to be released on April 5th by M+R Strategic Services in collaboration with the Nonprofit Technology Network—provide valuable baseline data for large and small nonprofits.

The M+R Strategic Services 2012 e-Nonprofit Benchmarks study is based upon in-depth research with 44 nonprofits. At this point, only the infographic for the 2012 report has been released. It suggests an increasing trend toward both online advocacy and toward social media engagement, though both have only shown modest growth over last year.  The study focuses on relatively large nonprofits; “small” nonprofits in their 2011 study included organizations with up to 100,000 subscribers to a listserv, and many of the participating organizations in the study are household names. Nonetheless, the results can offer a great baseline for many large- and medium-sized nonprofit social media efforts. For example, organizations included in the study have, on average, 2.5 comments/likes on social media per 1,000 Facebook friends.

In contrast, this recent Bridgespan study focuses on ideas developed with six small (annual revenues averaging $1.8 million) nonprofits. The report acknowledges that many small nonprofits that have failed to develop strong strategic communication plans are simply importing poorly considered strategies into the online environment. The report makes several suggestions for smaller nonprofits, including aligning a social media strategy with organizational goals and establishing metrics for success. However, the benchmarking data that is perhaps most telling is the number of hours required for a small-to-medium-sized nonprofit to engage in strategic social media; the report suggests that small nonprofits will need to spend 12 to 36 hours per week on social media to start out.

In combination, these two studies should give small to medium nonprofits pause before investing heavily in social media. Although there are some extraordinary successes, such as “Kony 2012,” it appears that most nonprofits can expect to invest significant resources for somewhat modest returns. –Michelle Shumate

  • Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE

    Ah, social media. Over promised. Too much fascination. We need to make sure we read the research. And here are two books to read: YOU ARE NOT A GADGET, by Jaron Lanier. Lanier is the father of virtual reality and has been engaged with the Internet since the beginning. DISTRACTED by Maggie Jackson. Lots of research about attention deficit and multi-tasking.