Get Your Head Out of … the Sand
Even with a plan, there are many pitfalls that make it a tough road for organizations venturing into the world of e-communications. Aside from underestimating the amount of resources needed to maintain relationships (including staff time and IT investments), others are:
- Trying to control the conversation on message boards and online communities too aggressively. “[Online communications] tend to be decentralized and organic in nature, so the nonprofit must be comfortable with not controlling the message. If an organization becomes obsessed with controlling the message, they’ll end up cutting off the conversation and alienating potential supporters,” Tandon says.
- Using blogs to bombard audiences with random or off-topic content that undermines the organization’s credibility. “If you use [blogs or social-networking pages] for work, be careful what you say, do and post,” Durham says, warning that organization staff should avoid blurring the lines between personal and professional use. “Don’t undermine your organization’s credibility by posting pictures of your development associate’s wild party last weekend, for instance.”
- Not reading comments/messages carefully and responding thoughtfully and promptly. Responding to comments and messages both on your own site and those run by others keeps the conversation going and underscores your organization’s interest in the community. Grunke likens “commenting back” to a prompt gift acknowledgment to a donor. “A prompt greeting and invitation for conversation is important,” he says. “It doesn’t just start the dialogue, but it also lets the ‘friend’ know that you are interested in their interest.” This is equally important — if not more so — when you see negative comments about your organization. Letting a negative comment go by without a response is, in many users’ minds, tantamount to admitting that the negative comment is accurate. Or at least that you don’t care enough to pay attention.
- Creating a blog, then not updating it regularly. “Blogs need to be changed daily, if not more often. If not, people stop visiting,” Jones says. “The more often you update, the more viral your blog becomes. Just remember … you are creating a dinosaur to feed. The bigger it gets, the harder it is to feed.”
- Using a blog, profile or message board as just another public-relations vehicle. “The dialogues need to be authentic,” Tandon says, “not just corporate-speak. People want to hear from an authentic voice, the person(s) behind the brand, doing the work, making things happen at a grassroots level or receiving help from the nonprofit.”
Finally, Tandon cautions that, while they shouldn’t control the conversation, organizations can’t just let their online presence run on autopilot.