The vast majority of nonprofit organizations (88 percent) are experimenting with social media to engage key audiences, but a significant majority (79 percent) is uncertain of how to demonstrate social media’s value for its organizations. But nly half (51 percent) report active use of social media, according to a new survey by Weber Shandwick’s social impact team conducted with KRC Research among 200 nonprofit and foundation executive directors and senior communications officials.
“We know from our work with nonprofits that most realize the potential of social media and are experimenting with it, but many are not maximizing the full opportunity,” says Paul Massey, social impact co-lead at the firm. “This survey validates that there is widespread experimentation, and suggests that, in the future, nonprofits that fully participate in the two-way conversations that make this medium so powerful will reap the greatest benefit.”
The survey found that the vast majority of nonprofit and foundation professionals believe their online presence helps raise awareness (92 percent), keeps external audiences engaged (86 percent) and reduces costs relative to traditional media (77 percent). In addition, social media is seen as successful in helping nonprofits reach broad external audiences (67 percent). Sixty-one percent say the rewards outweigh the risks. For these reasons, the vast majority (85 percent) intends to make greater use of social media in the next two years and most (78 percent) will require additional and deeper social media expertise to keep communicating and garnering support for their work.
Despite predominantly positive perceptions about social media among nonprofits and foundations, several challenges were underscored in the survey. Two-thirds of the nonprofit executives surveyed (67 percent) believe that traditional media—including coverage in newspapers, magazines, television and radio—are more effective at supporting fundraising efforts than social media (67 percent vs. 22 percent). As important, executives in the nonprofit world are more skeptical about social media’s ability to help them connect with hard-to-reach audiences such as donors (45 percent), media (39 percent) and policy makers (31 percent).
“While two-thirds of nonprofit executives believe social media has a positive impact on their communications with external audiences, they are less convinced about social media’s resonance with donors, journalists and policy makers,“ said social impact co-lead Stephanie Bluma. “What these results imply is that organizations need to develop more targeted and sustainable digital connections with these critical yet narrower audiences. In the months ahead, digital engagement strategies will need to show value on multiple fronts from brand-building to advocacy to fundraising.”
Notably, the single area where social media is widely believed to be more impactful than traditional media is in mobilizing supporters and advocates (58 percent), a critically important audience for nonprofits. Yet, despite this firmly-held belief, and the additional survey finding that most nonprofit executives (84 percent) see the value of social media in connecting with advocates on their behalf, an equally large segment (83 percent) recognized that social media also makes it easier for advocates to organize independently of nonprofits – a cautionary note for nonprofit executives.
With nearly 70 percent of nonprofit professionals projecting their 2010 communications budgets to remain the same or decrease compared to last year, finding the resources and expertise to implement social media strategies is a widely shared challenge. Fifty-two percent of organizations concede they do not have enough staff to manage their current social media outreach and almost two-thirds (64 percent) report that their organizations do not have social media policies and guidelines in place for employees and board members to engage appropriately online.
Other key survey findings:
· Organizations with annual operating budgets of $25 million or more are more likely to say social media positively impacts their communications with all audiences and that they are good at social media.
· Large and small nonprofits alike believe social media are least likely to assist their outreach to policymakers and donors compared to external audiences.