Guest post by my friend Geoff Livingston, author of Welcome to the Fifth Estate a new book focused on creating and sustain a winning social media strategy.

There are some aspects of Welcome to the Fifth Estate that will be familiar to the social media ensconced, but there are others — the chapters on strategy, measurement and the final chapter on sustainability –that will be new for most readers. Most important is the last topic, how to create success over a period of years for your nonprofit.

Long Term Social Media Growth

The Big Question

Why is it that we don’t discuss long-term success with social media? Is it because the nonprofit space is still catching up? Yet there are organizations like LIVESTRONG, the Humane Society of the United States, Care2, Wiser Earth, the American Red Cross, charity: water and others that have been successful with social year for successive years dating back to 2007 if not earlier.

Changeblogger Kristen Parrinello wrote about the final chapter’s topic in her review: “I have yet to find this information anywhere else, and it is an extremely important chapter as we need to learn new ways to stand apart from the crowd.”

The Time is NOW

It is time to look at long-term success with social media. Social is an easy media form to become bedazzled with temporary successes, the latest shiny object, and the hippest influencer/celebrity involvement. Yet this short-term campaign mentality flies in the face of the media’s strength: Building relationships with constituents — donors, volunteers, employees, and advocates — that stand the test of time.

A Few Best Practices

The core of the sustainability chapter looks at best practices from a diverse group of nonprofits, companies and social networks; Care2, Dell, the Humane Society of the United States, LinkedIn, and Wiser Earth.

All five had universal behaviors that were exhibited in their ability to sustain communities for the long term:

  • Measurement drives knowledge about how the community interacts. Every single one of the organizations measured their social media and how the community used it. This allowed them to analyze beyond follower counts and get into actions.
  • This provides a relentless focus on community’s actual use of new media forms. As a result, the organizations were able to deploy (or not deploy) technologies because they were in tune with their communities. The technology became a tool to accomplish the community’s larger purposes and needs, rather than a shiny “must-have” object.
  • All organizations had a willingness to experiment : When new technologies begin to be adopted by their people, the organizations were quick to give them a flier and see how the community responded. They adapted. In some cases, they changed systems to make it more community centric.
  • They all focused on their core mission, using social media to serve. Ultimately focusing on achieving larger organizational objectives was critical. Social wasn’t deployed for social’s sake. Each organization used the tools to serve business purposes.

In addition, the five organizations had moved to integrate Facebook and/or Twitter over the past few years. They understood that they could stand alone, and that beachheads were necessary for fluid conversation. This is particularly notable for Care2 and LinkedIn who are social networks in their own right. They did what they had to do to survive.

All five organizations had extremely interactive conversations with their communities about feature development. The communities were a part of the decision making process in some form. Further, when the community reacted strongly to certain features and content, the organizations developed unique content for timely matters (Dell, Wiser Earth), and focused on blogging topical content to spark conversations (Care2).

It was a revealing exercise talking to the five orgs. What was clear was their communities were centric to everything. They simply responded accordingly.


P.S. Thanks to the NetWits team for giving me the opportunity to blog about Welcome to the Fifth Estate.


How are you thinking about long term social media success? What are you doing today to plan for the future?


Frank Barry, director of digital marketing at Blackbaud and blogger at npENGAGE, helps nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising so they can focus changing the world. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

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