The natural attraction between non-profit organisations and social media tools has triggered a myriad of associations. Can these relationships last?
By ANITA DEVASAHAYAM
The proliferation of non-profit organisations (NPOs) in recent years hints that a discerning and civic-minded society is on the rise. Parallel to the rise of NPOs is the rise in use of social media among NPOs to drive membership, attract funds, and recruit volunteers to charitable causes. According to market analytics of social media sites, roughly 55 percent or 2.6 million Singaporeans are on Facebook (reported on Socialbakers’ website in October 2011) and slightly over 930,000 Singaporeans use Twitter (reported by market analytics firm Sysomos in April 2010). The lively interaction of candidates, campaigners and voters on cyberspace during the 2011 General Elections is testimony of a growing cadre of a socially-engaged community in Singapore.
The Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) and Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) are among the many Singaporean NPOs that leverage Facebook to extend their reach. SCS launched its Facebook page in 2009 in conjunction with its Race Against Cancer charity run. “Our target was the tech-savvy generation or we would miss out on a significant slice of the Facebook population here,” said its director of community partnerships, Jennifer Lim.
She added that SCS’s Facebook page saw enriched dialogue between the Society and its followers, prompting the organisation to create an online registration page for future races. SCS had 1,432 Facebook members and more than 7,500 individual participated in SCS’s flagship Race Against Cancer event. (At presstime, SCS deactivated its Facebook page to start anew).
ACRES too had seen a spike in activity when it hopped on the Facebook bandwagon in August 2008. The page helped ACRES grow its pool of volunteers for various activities to 20,000. However, ACRES director of education, Amy Corrigan revealed that the charity counted 100 faithful of the 8,571 (and growing) “likes” on its Facebook page.
Both NPOs agreed that the number of “likes” does not indicate sustained public engagement. Instead engagement is driven by dynamic and interesting content; and support plateaus and conversation is limited to a certain few.
“It is harder now to keep the page focused with people talking about all and sundry. We need to respond in double quick time, keep trolls out and delete irrelevant comments, and to do all of the above at the same time,” said Corrigan.
Lim concurred, adding that time and commitment to keep SCS’s Facebook page “alive” is challenging, especially given that many NPOs do not have full-time employees on the job.
Help on its way
While observers applaud SCS’s and ACRES’s courage to embrace social media, other NPOs are less lucky. A report from Today Online found NPOs lacked the expertise, finances and manpower muscle to pursue social media. A straw poll across the Internet revealed several NPOs with dated websites and zero social media presence.
Earlier this year, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) stepped up to address this gap, awarding a S$125,000 grant to global public relations consultancy Text 100 to help NPOs registered on its online donation portal, SG Gives. Charities will be tutored and trained to use social media effectively under the “Digitalising Volunteerism and Philanthropy” (diVP) programme.
David Lian, Text100’s social media practice lead for Asia-Pacific, noted that charities had succeeded in reaching out to volunteers and donors via Facebook but cautioned NPOs against trying to implement a “one size fits all” strategy.
“You need to think about the organisation’s goals, target audience, resources and culture. Once aligned with the organisation, the potential in using social media as a communications platform is amazing. You can raise funds, recruit members, organise volunteer communities and inform the public of activities via social media. But most importantly, it is a tool to increase the reach of your message,” he added.
Content & conversations
Charities such as the American Red Cross and Charity: water have managed to widen their reach beyond Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers with edgy content, sexy tweets and viral videos. Their Facebook pages are packed with relevant and current stories, updates and events to keep their audience engaged.
“Focus on getting content right. When people visit your online property – whether it’s your website, Facebook page or Twitter feed – they are looking for information, or an update of your activities, or an opportunity to interact. Every organisation needs to understand what their audiences are looking for when engaging with them online and ensure they create relevant content. The best content will drive people to action, and, with planning, towards the goals of the organisation,” said Lian.
Both SCS’ Lim and ACRES’ Corrigan noted that in particular, photos of people, animals and issues that struck an emotional chord drew the most attention from its following. “We were able to as a result meet our loyal supporters to get their help on how to move forward,” said Corrigan.
Lim added that SCS took it a step further by creating and posting a Web page on SG Gives’ portal to garner support for its fundraising activities. Social media tools do extend the NPOs reach but continuous engagement can only be driven through compelling content and conversation.
Veron Lau, vice-president of Cat Welfare Society, who spoke during the launch of the Text 100 diVP programme at NVPC, stated that to have a compelling online presence, you need to create a human voice and presence; to tell stories, not just a broadcast tool for events and information.
“We must create talking points to engage followers; create official and unofficial events; connect people who you think should be talking to each other; handle online flamings and disputes like a human being. Be brave,” she added.
Tips to extend charities’ reach
So how can charities extend their reach and spread their message? Here are five tips from Text 100’s Lian:
Tip #1: Understand your objectives and purpose – why do want to use to social media? Is it to raise funds, recruit volunteers or build a community?
Tip #2: Create and measure your social media activities around your objectives. Success in using social media is not about the number of likes or fans on your page, but rather results.
Tip #3: Get your content strategy right by sharing relevant content on a regular and timely basis.
Tip #4: Get involved with the NPO community. Social media is not just about engaging your target or extended audience. You need to interact with like-minded charities to move to the next level.
Tip #5: Focus on building long-term relationships. The beauty of social media is that it allows your organisation to build long-term, high-touch, personal relationships with your community. A community that shares your belief will be ready to support your mission.