Social Media Strategy: National Association of Dental Plans | npENGAGE

Social Media Strategy: National Association of Dental Plans

By on Nov 2, 2010


It’s good to see and hear what others are doing. Why? Because we love to learn from the experiences, failures and successes of others. It sparks ideas, connects us to each other and eventually helps us get better. I’m sure you’ve experienced this phenomenon before? In the spirit of learning we’ve got Jeff Hurt with us this week! We try to highlight the work of nonprofits in the social media space regularly here and Jeff Hurt’s nonprofit is a perfect fit! Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt on Twitter) is the Director of Education and Events for the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP)– a small nonprofit headquartered in Dallas, TX

These guys are avid social media users and Jeff is the mastermind behind it all. OK, maybe not the single mastermind, but he’s doing some great things with his team! Thanks for sharing with us here at NetWits Think Tank!

Let’s jump in … 

Why did you decide to start using Social media?

Jeff HurtI’ve been using elements of social media such as live streaming, satellite training, webinars with text chat functions and blogs for many years in my nonprofit work, but not until the past few years did I begin using more trendy platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the like.

In 2007, we had a keynote presenter that wanted to project to encourage audience participation with SMS and Twitter texting from both mobile phones and laptops during his presentation. Now, we’d used audience response systems in the past but nothing from personal mobile devices. At this point I saw the power of the social web like never before so I immersed myself in the social media phenomenon. Needless to say we went full force into using Twitter for all future events.

In 2008, our members began to ask us if there was a way they could easily share information with each other online and ask each other questions. They wanted the ability to network and connect with each other beyond emails. I recognized that they were asking for a private, velvet rope eCommunity so we started one in April 2008.

What are your goals or reasons for using social media?

Today, our staff is very intentional about our social media use. We’re so intentional that we include it in our annual association strategic plans.

Four of our main goals are:

  • Communication with our overall audience
  • Building a vibrant community eco-system and allowing members to Network with each other
  • Creating touch points with our members that allow us to extend our face-to-face reach
  • Listening to the industry and the general public

How’d you come up with your current social media strategy?

We started small and have held to the motto “Fast, Friendly and Flexible.”

From there our strategy has grown organically. Over the years as different team members become champions for different social spaces and platforms we expand on what we do based on the experience we gain. We’ve also figured out that isolating our social media efforts into specific department silos doesn’t work for us. Instead we look at it as a way to listen, communicate and engage with our members, prospective members and the public.

We’ve grown in our efforts to the point where each year, our staff integrates social media into our regular strategic and annual plans so it’s part of our daily efforts. For example, our annual marketing plan automatically includes all of our social media marketing efforts and in some cases, we’ve dropped our print marketing efforts completely in favor of eMarketing and social media marketing.

Lastly it should be known that I have a background in professional education and adult learning so I use some of that education philosophy in our nonprofit programming. I believe in integrating our education, content and community experience so that each effort it is not a stand-alone one-time shot in the dark. Social media helps us to cross pollinate and use different mediums for different people as well as different purposes.

What obstacles/challenges did you have to overcome in ‘selling’ social media to your internal stakeholders?

We didn’t sell it to others as “social media.” Instead we sold it as new communication channels and tools to help us do what we were already doing. We identified them as the new 21st century tools just like the TV, telephone, fax and email once were.

We felt it was important for our members to know the technology trends that could impact their business and the new ways for them to connect with their customers. We’ve been providing content and education about social media and Web 2.0 since 2007.

One of the most important things we did was to hire professional speakers that would teach our members about Web 2.0 and social media. These speakers would present the facts and build the case for why social media was necessary in today’s world. Our members and stakeholders didn’t argue much with outsiders and were more open-minded to their content.

Unlike some nonprofits, we didn’t survey our members to find out what platform each of our members preferred or were using. We realized there would be sectors of our membership using each social media platform. So, as staff members voiced passion for specific social platforms, we empowered them to set up listening and community posts there.

What advice would you give others trying to get started?

Don’t despise small beginnings! Start somewhere with something. It’s ok to start small and test the waters. The social space is very forgiving and welcoming to new endeavors.

Also, don’t think you must have a detailed strategic plan when starting. It could be as simple as, “We want to begin to communicate and engage our audience in Facebook.” The most important question you can ask yourself is “Why do you want to use social media?” If it’s to reach your market, your members, your audience, then jump in, the water’s fine.

Lastly, be human, act like a human, talk like a human. Engage in conversations. It’s no different from your staff having phone calls with your audience or members. It’s all about connecting.

What social media sites/tools are you using?

  • Animoto Videos (free or low-cost video creation)
  • Blogtalkradio (interview members, speakers, board candidates, etc.)
  • EventCenter & EventPartner Webinar Platforms (which include webinar microsite, registration process, podcast recording features, text chatting)
  • Hootsuite (to schedule our daily tweets)
  • iCohere eCommunity (velvet rope eCommunity for members only)
  • Facebook Fan Page (for conferences and events)
  • Google Alerts & Twitter Search (for NADP as well as specific industry key words)
  • LinkedIn Group
  • Ning groups (for our own professional learning)
  • Social Collective Conference eCommunity (which also includes event registration, marketing and crowdsourcing features.)
  • Tinychat – to engage in conversations with general public about dental benefits
  • Tweetdeck (to monitor chatter on specific association keywords as well as government initiatives)
  • Twitter
  • Vovici for our research and surveys
  • WordPress Blogs (conference blog, public outreach blog, advocacy issues regarding healthcare reform)
  • YouTube

Why did you choose the tools that you listed above?

Some were natural extensions of our education and event endeavors. Others came about from member requests, our own needs or staff experience. All staff is constantly looking for new tools to integrate into our plans.

How are you integrating all your social media efforts to maximize your time?

We see ourselves as the catalysts and facilitators of their connections as well as the conduits to their knowledge sharing so in many cases, we’ve educated our members on how to use these tools and equipped them to be our customer evangelists or “help desk.” Our members like to contribute and empowering them to answer questions in various platforms made a lot of sense. They tend to police each other.

We also use various alerts, Twitter search, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to monitor the social space. One person monitors the Internet chatter all day and lets others know of opportunities to engage in conversations as needed.

How much time does your collective staff spend supporting your social media efforts on a daily basis?

That’s a hard one to quantify for us because we use online social tools in so many different ways. Here’s how it works out for us. Maybe seeing how we do it will give you some ideas about how you can staff in a similar way.

  • I manage our webinars, eCommunity, conference eCommunity and registration.
  • Joe Flowers, our resident Gen Y Geek, manages our blogs, Facebook Fan Page, Twitter communications, Tinychat and website. Joe also keeps up with the majority of our alerts. Both Joe and I manage our YouTube videos as needed.
  • Rene Chapin manages our LinkedIn Group and communications. She drives most of the content for our eNews and eMarketing.
  • Jerry Berggren manages our research endeavors and uses Vovici as well as our own internal data collection system. He is also a LinkedIn evangelist.
  • Kris Hathaway manages our government relations and keeps tabs on all federal and state regulations for the industry.
  • Tim Brown facilitates our blogtalkradio interviews, industry electronic data initiatives and manages several groups within the eCommunity..
  • Our CEO, EvelynIreland, stays abreast of alerts, press initiatives, and government relations.
  • All team members, with the exception of Joe, are liaisons to various volunteer groups and manage the communications with those members in our eCommunity. We use our eCommunity to drive our committee structures and communication.
  • Several staff have their own personal blogs for specific areas of expertise.

As you can see Jeff Hurt (@JeffHurt on Twitter) and the National Association of Dental Plans use social media in numerous ways to help achieve their goals.


Frank Barry, formerly worked at Blackbaud helping nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising. 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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