Advice From the Front Lines on Branding Via Social Media
It's important in any economic conditions for nonprofits to effectively promote their missions, programs and fundraising campaigns — in other words, to properly establish and maintain their brands. And it's especially essential for them to get the branding right before jumping into new arenas like social networks.
In the session "Effective Branding in a Social Media World" presented at the 2009 Bridge Conference held just outside Washington, D.C., in late July, presenters Holly Ross, executive director of NTEN; Bev Stanton, Web manager for National Parks Conservation Association; Wendy Harman, social-media manager for the American Red Cross; and Danielle Brigida, social-media outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, talked about the ins and outs of branding and shared tips for ensuring organizations stand out in online social networks.
A nonprofit brand is not what your organization stands for in the collective mind of your community, Ross said, and it's not your organization's self-image, mission or logo. It's the intersection of what's unique about the way your organization does its work and the interests and needs of your community. Building a brand means creating a consistent, recognizable, clear and unified voice or personality that conveys your organization's focus and uniqueness.
Branding matters because nonprofits are vying for a share of an increasingly smaller well of contributions and need to make themselves stand out to potential donors, as well as volunteers, board members, clients, etc. What's more, stakeholders are looking for something to hold on to. If you don't participate in the conversation going on around your organization, someone else will … and potentially with the wrong information.
A strong brand is essential to developing and maintaining strong relationships with your members of any social network you use. It’s important to create a brand that stands out, generates action and builds loyalty, and to be consistent and avoid confusion.
With a strong brand, your organization can use social networks to harness a web of supporters who can spread your message to their extended networks, creating exponential reach.
NWF has many branded programs — NWF Campus Ecology, Green Hour, Great American Backyard Campout, Wildlife Watch and Climate Classroom. Despite that and its long history, Brigida said, its brand is easily confused with other organizations.’
She said she encourages program staff to join social-media sites and do their own outreach, which she then promotes through NWF profiles.
She recommends empowering staff to represent your brand. In the open-source world we live in now, the people that represent the brand are just as important as the brand itself.
"If you can't trust your staff to represent you, then that's something you should think about," Brigida said.
Organizations need to learn to give up some control if they want to be successful on social networks. Trust your instincts and create an honest presence online, while following branding guidelines you've put in place.
Listen and learn. How are people responding to your organization? What makes them happy and engaged? What inspires them to defend your cause? NWF listens by searching news headlines, blogs and social sites for topics and conversations surrounding it and its cause.
The National Parks Conservation Association deals with weak name recognition and a lot of brand confusion, as it's often confused with the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation.
It recently began an online (including social networks) and offline branding initiative to help audiences understand who it is and its mission. Elements of the initiative include setting goals for the brand; determining the organization's strengths and weaknesses; assessing the competition; developing a brand platform; creating a brand map; researching and defining target audiences; creating brand guidelines; and creating and implementing a rollout strategy.
Stanton stressed that controlling your brand online is difficult, even with a brand map. She shared the example of an NPCA supporter who fundraises for the organization via a Facebook Causes page using the logo of the National Park Service (see the page here). NPCA staffers have tried to get her to change the logo, but to no avail.
NPCA's Web and communications teams continue working to empower staff and supporters to become brand ambassadors on social networks by:
conducting trainings at staff retreats and new employee orientations;
- distributing a brand book with online guidelines;
- teaching staff one on one;
- sharing brand success stories;
- publishing a brand newsletter; and
- empowering staff to reach out to supporters and encourage them to become NPCA brand ambassadors, making logos and widgets available to them to use to avoid misbranding.
NPCA's branding initiative culminated in a campaign that put all of its channels to work in an integrated campaign that included:
- integration of an advocacy and fundraising message;
- a Google Adwords campaign;
- a Facebook fan page and outreach; and
- Twitter outreach
Harman said the American Red Cross has been trying to use more empowering language to communicate its mission; to show it's about more than saving "victims" and actually empowers people to "perform extraordinary acts in the face of emergency situations." Her organization has explored social media on two fronts:
- Reactive: listening and maintaining brand reputation by correcting misinformation.
- Proactive: offering preparedness tips, disaster information, and other ways of offering the value of its mission within tools.
She stressed the importance of listening because when others do talk about you and you lose control of your messaging in that way, you can pick up on it quickly, identify any misinformation and leave comments to correct it in a way that's supportive of the person who wrote it. This shows the author and others paying attention that you're there, listening and can be reached if they have questions. In this way it can be a great way to build your supporter base.
The American Red Cross empowers its staff and volunteers to advance the brand via social networks by:
- drafting guidelines for discussing the organization online;
- developing guidelines that will help chapters establish official presences with proper guidelines; and
- giving internal training, e.g., a social media 101 class.
Harman added that staff at her organization create a daily "social-media update e-mail" that contains the most relevant mentions of the day, to keep anyone who wants to receive it aware of what's being said about the organization out there.
The organization empowers the public to talk about its work on social networks by making wikis and other easy-to-use tools available to them, offering a point of contact to help them, and building relationships with them on social networks.
The speakers shared the following tips for how to put your base of supporters to work for you and put your brand out there on social networks:
- Don't assume they'll spread the word. Once you have established a relationship with individuals, be clear about what you want them to do, and ask them to do it.
- Showcase the efforts of those who are spreading the word about your organization. This is more effective than your organization making a direct ask.
- Make it easy for your network of supporters to spread the word correctly and without confusion or misunderstandings. Provide them with graphics, widgets, etc.
- Thank those in your network frequently and personally for spreading the word on your behalf.