Nonprofits: Avoid Those Social Media Silos!

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January 29, 2014; The Guardian

Staff of nonprofit organizations may find themselves working in social media silos. For example, three different programs might operate three different Facebook pages, and no one talks to one another. It’s easy: Just bury your head and do your work. That is, after all, what staff is paid to do.

But the days of social media silos may be coming to a close.

Kate Cooper, managing director of Bloom Worldwide, believes organizations are increasingly adopting a hub-and-spoke model for social media. In this model, a central department (hub) is responsible for the overall direction and tone of social media, but much of the actual client engagement happens through the appropriate department (or spoke).

In a nonprofit organization, the development/marketing department might be the most natural “hub” to which the volunteer department, various programs, human resources, and others connect. Using a hub model, the central department would take the lead on strategy, branding, staff training, developing social media policies, and more. The hub would receive the incoming client engagement and delegate it to the appropriate spokes. The spokes would have input and attend trainings, but would focus primarily on engaging constituents.

While the hub and spoke model makes intuitive sense and may be a welcome suggestion for those concerned with branding and consistency, it may not translate easily to every organization. Nonprofits with a diverse array of programs or organizations that engage in client outreach online may still need to operate multiple social media channels. In such cases, the hub’s role might focus on providing appropriate staff training and developing social media policies. Indeed, if high-risk client outreach is conducted, then training and appropriate polices become even more important.

Analysts at the Altimeter Group are concerned that the hub-and-spoke model could expose gaps in social media skills, particularly in those employees not hired for social media expertise. It seems social media is becoming a part of everyone’s role, falling into the much-loved category of “other duties, as assigned.” For example, funders may expect nonprofits to engage in social media outreach as a part of a grant. Staff time and expertise is dedicated to the larger mission of the grant (HIV prevention, etc.) and social media outreach is carried out “on the side” without sufficient funds for training. This can become very problematic. What if, for example, a nonprofit program staff member is eager to respond to a client’s request on a social media site? That staff member may or may not know how to respond in a way that respects client’s privacy or maybe hasn’t thought through the ramifications of using a professional (work only) vs. personal profile page. The consequences can be costly.

Some large companies have created social media certification programs. Such programs can teach staff how to effectively use social media for work purposes and, at the same time, teaches employees how to stay safe online. This education improves the company’s bottom line and doubles as an employee-benefit.

Certification programs may be too costly for the vast majority of nonprofits, but there are a number of low-cost resources available. Here are just a few:

Does your organization operate in social media silos or use the hub-and-spoke model? Tell us about it.—Jennifer Amanda Jones

  • Winifred

    This is a great article, thanks for the suggestions! Our organization currently runs 1 page on our selected social media sites. We are a small organization, but trying to get all of our employees involved with this initiative, as they contribute to our organization’s online image.