Starting out on social media can be a scary proposition for many nonprofits. Horror stories abound — staff members "going rogue" and posting inappropriate Facebook photos, volunteers tweeting too much information, negative comments being left in LinkedIn groups.
And of course, there's the story about the hapless American Red Cross employee who tweeted about #gettngslizzerd from its official account.
There's lots of fearmongering on the destructive use of social media and other online tools. And so, it's no wonder that some nonprofits are wary of jumping into the social media pool.
At a nonprofit organization, discretion, respect, and trust are paramount. A serious online mishap could lead to a loss of donors, volunteers, or community investment, or worse.
Common fears include
- "Our client and staff identities need to be protected at all costs, or lives will be at risk." Example: When I worked at a domestic violence shelter, people were concerned that using social media would mean confidentiality breaches and legal problems.
- "We are worried that people who need us will be less likely to seek our services if they think their name or other identifying information could be revealed." Example: An HIV counseling center might be worried about the stigma associated with the disease preventing people from coming forward.
- "Our nonprofit deals with a controversial issue, and we are afraid that we may be the target of online harassment." Example: An LGBTQ advocacy organization is afraid of encountering hate speech online that may intimidate and traumatize its community.
Although these fears are understandable, they are also counterproductive. The benefits of using social media to interact with donors and to tell stories vastly outweigh the potential negatives.
Here are five steps you can take to help assuage the fears at your nonprofit as you bring your organization into the social media fold: