The importance of social media to non-profits

Future Man Cartoon via Nick Burcher

I love writing this blog. It has been a cathartic experience for me on a personal level as I struggled to come to terms with the changes in my life after my breast cancer experience. When I started off blogging a year ago, I hardly knew what a blog was. I did it as a kind of experiment. I lecture in traditional PR methods and standing up in front of a group of students talking about social media and its relevance to PR, I realised I had some cheek if I didn’t even know how to write a blog or have a Twitter account. So I set up the JBBC blog to see how exactly this blogging thing worked and pretty soon I was hooked and could clearly see the integral role it could play in a PR programme.

I thought I was just going to write about my personal experience on this blog,  but I started to come across such great information that I wanted to share it with other young breast cancer survivors whom I felt could benefit from it too.  And so began a steep learning curve of how to get the information on the blog out to a wider audience. I learned a lot in those first few months, but I am still learning, and that is where Damien Mulley’s online PR course in Dublin at the end of last month was a great opportunity to get some expert advice.

Damien covered the basics of developing a communications bible; how to work effectively with blogs, online forums, and social media platforms; which tools to use to monitor who is talking about you online; and how to develop a crisis plan if it all goes wrong.  Now admittedly not all of this is relevant to a blog like mine, but I sure could have saved myself months of online trial and error if I had been to a course like this when I was starting out.

Social media is a key component of a charity’s outreach and fundraising programme.  Its emergence has opened up a lot of doors for getting messages out there and spread wider than was ever possible before. It  provides charities with greater opportunities to share more information about the important work that they do, and to seek and receive feedback. When you need to raise awareness for an issue you need to be able to communicate it and as Damien pointed out social media is a powerful way to tell a story to hundreds of thousands of people.

If I may put on my PR lecturer’s hat for a moment here…I would emphasize that charities shouldn’t think it necessary that they leap into every form of social media; rather they should think about what best fits their needs. Traditional PR rules still apply. They should be clear about the audiences they need to engage with to meet their strategic objectives, and choose the channels, messages and types of activities that will work for those audiences and fit with the charity’s work and culture. Like all PR activities it is all about integrating your various messages, activities and media  – on and offline – and begin to use them more strategically.

While it’s ok for me blogging away here with my PR background to guide me, things can go wrong quite easily with any brand and Damien had some great advice on how to handle things if they do go wrong online.  Of course, you need your crisis communciations plan in place in the first instance and this is where some expert advice would be of great benefit.  

So do I sound like I am doing an advertorial here for Damien Mulley Communications? Well, those of you who know me well, know that’s not me. I often get asked to review books or link to websites on the blog, but I would never recommend anything that I don’t personally believe in and respect.  Sitting in the audience of Damien’s course, I learned just that bit more about how to spread the message of breast cancer awareness and advocacy to a wider audience, something which I am passionate about.  If you are reading this and are thinking of setting out on the path of online communciations, you can either take the slower, more circuitous route like me, or you could go find yourself an expert to get you there faster. If it’s an expert you are after, then go check out Damien’s website. And, shh! listen very carefully, I shall say this only once,  he has lots of great freebie advice available on the website,  including a comprehensive online marketing document which will act as an invaluable map to guide you on that path to better online communications.

Related Post: Can social media help fight breast cancer?