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March 12, 2010; The SmartBlog | Beth Kanter may not call herself a guru, but she’s certainly earned that reputation over the past several years from her never-ending stream of blog entries, tweets, and presentations, all focused on helping nonprofits make better use of social media.

While most nonprofits think of social media primarily for raising awareness and money, in an interview with the SmartBlog on Social Media, Kanter says these tools can serve other purposes. “I think that nonprofits can integrate the use of social media in many different ways from program delivery, volunteer recruitment and more. Using social media for fundraising and awareness is probably the tip of the iceberg and a great way to get started. One idea that I wrote about in my forthcoming book, The Networked Nonprofit, was how social media can help with effective governance. It sounds like science fiction, but I believe it can be a useful tool.”

During her chat with SmartBlog, Kanter also identifies some of the obstacles and how to overcome them so nonprofits can make better use of social media. As she points out, “One of the big cultural differences is the ‘tower and cloud’—many nonprofits work in hierarchical structures, and working with social media is a little bit more chaotic and cloud-like. I’m not saying that institutional structure is bad—but it is a different work style. Nonprofits need to know to shift between the two ways of working.”

Kanter also recommends that nonprofits experiment with how they use social media so they can learn as they go.  She also favors the “incremental approach,” especially organizations that don’t have the resources to dive in too quickly.  In other words, start by getting your feet wet.—Bruce Trachtenberg