Debate on ROI for Nonprofit Social Media Still Roiling

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Collage of Digital (Social) Networks / Tanja Cappell

September 18, 2016; Nonprofit Tech for Good

When it comes to social media use by nonprofit organizations, the question is no longer whether it should it be used, but how. According to the blog Nonprofit Tech for Good, nonprofit organizations should pause and examine the social media platforms they use to connect with donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders. They should also examine how social media strategy affects the employees who implement and monitor the varied platforms.

The results of social media efforts, the return on the investment of staff time and any advertising investments, and the effects on organization goals can be tough to monitor. Organizations chasing after the next new big social media platform may be ignoring other tools, like email, that have an established track record.

New social media platforms also require that social media staff have the skills to operate both in front of and behind the camera. Not only are the employees who implement an organization’s social media susceptible to the emotional drain of dealing with “Twitter trolls.” As social media is as much a personal as a professional networking tool, nonprofit social media managers may never get the sense of not working.

One particular area of skepticism for nonprofit organizations’ social media strategists revolves around Facebook’s new donation tool. The donation option, which may appear on some nonprofits’ main Facebook page, has been made possible by a partnership between Facebook and GuideStar. There is a three-step verification process for nonprofit organizations to be able to use the donation function on their main Facebook page. One of the benefits of this option is that it can serve as a potential campaign hub, offering an easy way for the public to make a donation during an awareness day/week/month. While a donation can be made in three steps or less, the donation is made through Facebook rather than to the organization directly. Charities only receive donor information if he or she signs up to receive email updates from the organization during that donation process.

There is also the challenge that the next new social media platform may have little benefit for nonprofit organizations. First and foremost, as Nonprofit Quarterly has covered in its nonprofit newswire, while social media accounts are free, gathering new followers takes financial investment in ads, and nonprofit organizations are often charged the same as for-profit entities. Social media platforms like Snapchat present obstacles in determining the return on investment of those ads. Links to organizational websites or event pages are a challenge to share on this platform, and the content an organization does post on Snapchat cannot be viewed later unless a user saves it, which many users do not. In addition, detailed Snapchat demographics are difficult to come by. Other than that there are more than 100 million users and that the majority are between 18 and 37, not a lot of other information is known.

While it may be hard to demonstrate a significant return on investment, social media generally offers a reduced cost per lead than traditional methods of marketing like television or radio ads. Other organizations may shift some of their content to include more recognition for volunteers and sponsors. However, that only makes sense if there are followers who would actually see and care about that content.—Kelley Malcolm

  • Paul Guba

    Difficult but not impossible. Like anything social is not a solution but a part of a greater campaign which ought to consist of as much media venues as possible. Its not going away and its impact ought not be underestimated. Tools and analytics are available and you can expect those to continue to grow moving forward. Got to be in it to win it but balance is needed in all pursuits.