A few weeks ago I was honored to be a part of a very interesting panel discussion focused on Nonprofit Marketing Trends for 2013, organized by Common Good VT. For many of us, “nonprofit” +
“marketing”= a big headache. Marketing can expensive — once it was a financial cost, when ad space and PSAs were the major ways to get noticed. Now time is what is spent, as organizations try to balance their big picture mission with daily posts, tweets, and follows.
Fortunately, my co-panelists Gahlord Dewald of Thoughtfaucet, and Dr. Elaine Young, Professor of Marketing at Champlain College, and our moderator, Lauren-Glenn Davitian, Executive Director at CCTV Center for Media & Democracy, have some sound words of advice. Some key ideas that resonated for me:
- Branding is how the world perceives you, it’s what you do everyday that makes your brand. Taking this a step further, reinventing your image with graphics and taglines only works if it’s not reinventing at all, but catching your materials up to your true organizational image in the world.
- Know your target market, and keep abreast of their social media usage — where do they hang out, when do they do it and what do they use to do so (phones v. computers v. tablets, etc.).
- Fun idea for using Pinterest (and other visual networking) for nonprofits: if you create visual content, more people can share it, and then connect back to your website. Creating the content is the challenge, but you can assemble community contributions to create a visual story of your mission.
For my part, I was often the voice of overworked nonprofit leadership — I remember all too well what it’s like to balance social media marketing and the rest of the organizational tasks. I suggested that folks make sure they know where their audience hangs out online — for example, if all of your customers check their emails, but few have a Twitter account, don’t waste your time tweeting. On the other hand, if you are trying to attract a new audience, find a way to bring them in (such as a public event in partnership with another group), and find out where they live online.
Regardless, nonprofits need to address their community with a personal touch. This is the cornerstone of my philosophy of communication: know what matters to people, and talk to/about their interests like it matters to you, too. The days of an anonymous, top-down voice are over (for now). Being real is in.
I made slides to present (I do this in part to prepare for any talk, as I’m a visual thinker) — but chose not to use them in the end, since I was the only person with slides that day. Inspired by the cold weather, and my love of knitting, I built a metaphor around handknits. I’m sharing them with you now, in the currently-popular infoposter format. (see more here)
There are three main ideas: Reach Out; Do What Fits; and Be Warm.
Reach Out: The firm handshake (in a hand-knitted glove) is about not just posting your upcoming events and recent accomplishments, but using marketing to really connect with people — meeting them face-to-face, communicating back and forth, and celebrating everyone’s success. As long as you know who your community is (peer organizations, clients/customers/audience, stakeholders, etc.) you can do this without any new effort, and may even reduce your overall work, since you are not trying to reach EVERYONE.
Do What Fits: Just like an ill-fitting hat, have a too-large or too-complicated marketing plan will itch and get in your way. Better to have a simple website that let’s folks know your mission, how to reach you, and where you are located, than to create a monstrosity of pages that requires more updates than you can handle. If you can create a strategy that fits the scale and goals of your nonprofit, you will have the ability to be more spontaneous — one of the most important, and most challenging aspects of social media.
Be Warm: This sounds a little hokey, I know, but make every message that goes out into the world with love. Like the little tag in a handknit sweater: “Made just for you by Grandma,” you want your audience to feel like you are speaking to them. This may be by sending out missives from a personal account, but it can also be by talking about the people and issues that matter to them, drawing them into the conversation. Storytelling is vital to warm communication, but a story can be a picture, an audio interview, or a collection of community responses to a question, curated and re-published (or not).
Like a sweater, this needs to be done consistently, stitch by stitch, row by row, and you will soon find yourself with a beautiful pattern of communication, that rings true for your constituents, and helps strengthen your mission.