Perhaps you've noticed this sort of thing, too.
Status update from a local, grassroots organization that supports people with disabilities:
"It's a hot one out there today! Where does everyone go to stay cool?"
Followed by this, from an educational group:
"Tell us the SPF level on your sunscreen! Share with us ... we want to know!"
Really? I mean, do you really want to know such trivia? And, um ... why?
This sort of question would make sense if this was an organization with a mission having something to do with skin care or preventing cancer, but it's not. Or if the query about places to stay cool was followed up with a listing of summer recreational activities that are conducive and amenable to people with disabilities. That would be informative, interesting, interactive.
Instead, what these general questions represent is mindless chatter disguised as "engaging with our audience." And for quite awhile now, it has been one of my pet peeves of how nonprofits are using social media - Facebook in particular. I've noticed this becoming more and more prevalent ... and as a fundraiser and a donor, I don't really get it.
Or maybe I do. Maybe one explanation is this: many of us have had to sell our bosses or our boards on this newfangled notion of "doing social media." In the best scenarios, they were merely hesitant. Worse case, they were downright obstinate, refusing to go where everyone had gone before. (I've had the experience of working for both.) But we sold it to them (because that's what we do) under the guise of "engaging with our audience." We believed that the masses of people Liking and Friending us would rush home from our galas and our donor recognition dinners to spend the wee small hours of the morning breathlessly awaiting our photo uploads. And that they would gush over them, making us feel like we were, indeed their number one nonprofit.
We believed that our Fans and our Friends would engage us in meaningful dialogue, that they would become evangelists for our cause, spreading the word to their friends and family.
And part of us knows ... they're not.
So we fundraisers/PR directors/development coordinators start feeling a bit desperate, thinking that maybe this isn't working, wondering if we screwed something up with our profile or our settings. We start counting likes and Friends, in case of that moment at a meeting when we're asked how many "friends" our organization has. How many people we are engaging with, even if we're ... um, really not.
We start floundering, getting off course and off strategy.
And from a donor's perspective, well ... I think these casual snippets of conversation, as if we were standing around at a fundraising event (talking about our preferred sunscreens?) have the dangerous potential of disenfranchising our donors. In the case of the two organizations I mentioned above, there aren't any comments on those questions and that isn't a surprise now, is it? Who can be bothered with answering such drivel?
I think it also communicates what could be perceived in the eyes of our donors as a lack of focus on the goal or mission. We who do social media know that these status updates really only represent nanoseconds of time in the scheme of millions of other to-dos throughout our long days, but our donors might not recognize that. They see what they see, and if our board members are seeing a barrage of questions about sunscreen and inquiries of "so, what's everyone up to this weekend?" then it becomes eyebrow-raising, a potential turn-off in terms of interest and support.
It comes back to the stories, the stories, the stories. Social media (and don't get me wrong, I adore this Internet thing of ours) is tailor-made for stories galore. I believe it has so much potential but yet so much of that is squandered with the banalities. The story about your client, that kid your organization helped in that new program, that volunteer who has been an unsung hero for 20 years ... the substantive content gets sacrificed for constant crap. It's always been quality over quantity, in all of our fundraising communications. Social media is no different.
The compelling status updates that link your Friends and Fans to the mission of your organization or what your organization is about are going to be the status updates worth remembering - not forever, no. But my money's on it lasting longer than even the strongest level of sunscreen.