Get Those Conversations Going
NCDC, you put on one heck of a luncheon. I understand the financial and time-management necessity of box lunches, but sometimes it's just nice to chill out and cut into something juicy and substantial. And I know the lemon sorbet that arrived between the salad and the entrée is to cleanse the palate, but — dang — you just have to love a meal with a dessert right in the middle of it!
Anyway, that's not what this column is about. But it was at said luncheon that I chatted with Chris Hochstetler, director of fund development at the Missionary Society of St. Columban. With 10 to a table, it's tough to make conversation with anyone other than the person on either side of you, but something Chris was saying caught my attention and I zeroed in on him.
Paraphrasing, it went something like: "I noticed there were people on our Facebook page who were 'liking' post after post and making very substantial comments. So I clicked through and tried to look at their profiles to get a sense of who they are. Then I looked at our housefiles and realized that here these people were connecting with us on Facebook but none of them were on our files. Then I chose a few and sent them messages. I heard back from some of them — one man sent me a friend request, and I wound up getting involved in some good conversations with him."
What struck me about Chris' remarks is that they seemed so natural. Social media? No big deal — it's just a conversation. Eventually, the question was posed: Why do so many nonprofits seem hesitant to get into social media? The consensus seemed to be because they're afraid to devote money, time and effort to something that isn't going to bring in a donation.
It seems simple. Not every donor touch needs to lead directly to a contribution. So what should you be doing on social media? Said Chris: "It's no big mystery. You just have to think back to what Facebook was when it first came about." What it boiled down to — and still does — is a place for people to interact with one another, to engage one another, to share ideas and opinions.
Remember that, and you'll know exactly what to do. What you post, how often and who posts it are details for you to figure out. But the goal needs to be engagement, not solicitation. And that means real conversation, listening as well as talking. Getting someone to "like" your page and then disappear into the woodwork is just a numbers game — not true engagement.
Christina Johns, director of new media for the International Fellowship of Christians & Jews, made it clear: "There are so many aspects of an organization that are all about the dollar, where raising money is a primary focus. There needs to be a balance. Otherwise people just feel like a checkbook."
So true. Facebook and other social-media sites are a relatively easy way to achieve that balance. If you've been holding back on engaging your supporters on these sites because you can't see an immediate and concrete ROI, it might be time to broaden your definition of the term and open the door to deeper, more engaged relationships with supporters (who, you know, could conceivably become donors).