Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Broken Clock is right twice a day

Picture two charities. One has a really bad Facebook page and even worse Twitter feed. The other has no social media. Which is better?

This surprisingly is the issue that a number of smaller charities are struggling with. They know that social media is important, but they hesitate to commit to it. The stumbling block is usually the time that it takes to make social media work. The reasons are many.

Some have practically no communications to begin with. To them, social media represents a major change. Entering this realm means that for the first time they need to ask some tough questions about themselves and their stakeholders. They suddenly need key messages and content, where before they did not. They need to start thinking about “selling themselves”, which is something they’ve avoided for one reason or another. And most important for this change, they need to invest more time and money in communicating. It’s no secret that many smaller charities run with very lean staffs or by using primarily volunteers. Up until now, communicating has just not been a priority for resources.

Others have some kind of communications capability, but realize that it is not enough to do an effective job on social media. These are the charities that perhaps have a communications coordinator or a committee of volunteers who produce things like a quarterly print newsletter, media releases and some static web content. But social media is more demanding. They realize that while it is mostly free, it can be very labour intensive. Someone has to post to Facebook and Twitter and manage the YouTube Channel. Here, the main challenge is not the mechanics of setting up social media, but understand what they should do with it. The communications they have mastered in the past were easy-to-understand and have become so commonplace that almost anyone knew how to do them. In contrast, their understand of social media is very limited. Social media is a blank slate and they have no idea what to write in that space.

All of these charities know what you and I know. Most social media is in fact boring. Even worse, much of it is out-of-date – the kiss of death to anyone wanting to connect with any kind of social media. Go to any small charity’s Facebook page and you’ll see many have gaps of weeks and even months between postings. They know that is wrong, and yet they cannot or will not see a way to overcome this.

So the dilemma they face is should they invest in social media knowing that they will do a miserable job of it, or should they not do social media at all. I know many charities that have agonized over this.

I’m a non-profit marketing consultant and I often get this question. I tell my clients that there is an answer.

I call it the broken clock. Picture a clock that has its hands stuck at 12 Noon. The clock is not very effective. People cannot tell the exact time by looking at it. And yet, it does serve as a point of reference. People will talk about it. At least twice a day it does tell the exact time. So, having the clock is better than having no clock at all.

The same is true with social media. It has become the standard for communications. It is expected by stakeholders, many of whom find social media essential for the daily lives. It is connected to a host of other communications channels. It literally is the key to a world of opportunities. And it is growing. There are still pockets of people who do not use social media and never will, but there are fewer of them every day. We all know where social media is leading us.

As well, there are new ways to do social media that can automate some of the process. You don’t have to go to a dozen social media sites to post things, a dashboard can do that for you.

And while many charities don’t have people with social media skills, the good news is that learning how to use social media is relatively easy. It really just takes time.

That brings us back to our question. Is it better to have really bad social media or no social media? The right choice is to do social media the best you can, even if your effort pales in the face of others. No matter how terrible you think your content is it is better than having nothing. You will find that social media, good or bad, will yield more results.

So, hold your nose and start investing resources in social media.