Nonprofits and Social Media: Why Silence Isn’t Always Golden

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Social media is everywhere these days. You can’t escape it. You really shouldn’t want to escape it. When used properly, social media can be a nonprofit’s best friend. It offers free advertising, easy promotion, and once you’ve given it a little TLC, it gives you a built in audience. The problems arise when Nonprofitss get serious enough to establish a presence online and then neglect it. Just because you forget about your online world doesn’t mean everyone else will.

The good, the bad, the ugly – it all ends up online. And if your NPO isn’t hitting the airwaves quickly to respond to it, you can bet someone else is doing it for you. That’s the case with the debacle that unraveled in late January with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. The news that the Foundation was stopping future funding to Planned Parenthood broke fast and spread like wildfire online. Everyone had an opinion and was tweeting, posting and blogging about it. Well, almost everyone. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation was silent on the topic for what seemed like an eternity in online time – three days.

In times past, three days may not have seemed like a long time to wait to respond to a situation, but in the current technological world we live, three days is forever. And in those three days, Komen gave everyone with an opinion the opportunity to speculate, criticize, mock and wonder just what was going on inside their walls. We all know that sometimes silence speaks louder than words and in the world of social media, this couldn’t be truer. To read more insight about the Komen story, hop over to Michael Rosen’s blog site and read “Does Komen Have a Communications or Integrity Problem?”

NPOs of all sizes can learn a couple things from the Komen example. First, be proactive. Whether we are talking social media or otherwise, be proactive. Get ahead of your organization’s news – both good and bad. Be ready to respond and have a plan to do so quickly. Second, don’t ignore the online conversations taking place. Social media isn’t the playground. Ignoring the gossip won’t make it go away. As an organization that is taking donations from the public to use for specific causes (whatever your mission may be), you have an obligation to answer people’s questions. And ignoring it will just create a PR nightmare you really don’t need.

We all know that not all online talk is credible. We all know that some people will jump at any opening to take the cheap shots. I’m not for one minute suggesting that you address those particular people. I am, however, saying that you can’t just ignore the negative talk that’s taking place online about your organization. Mashable has a good article about identifying different types of negative feedback online and how to deal with it. Read “HOW TO: Deal with Negative Feedback in Social Media” for more information.

Social media is growing and quickly becoming the easiest, cheapest, fastest way for NPOs to communicate with their donors, potential donors and the general public. Getting involved in the online conversation will soon be a must for all Nonprofits. Staying in the conversation is already a must for those who have already established themselves online. Whether you just have a website or are playing with blogs, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, etc. make sure you’re getting your message out consistently and in a timely manner. It will save you some major headaches in the long run.

Amy Stephan
This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Amy Stephan. Amy is a consultant and non-profit professional with more than 10 years of field experience working in fundraising and development. She provides nonprofits with help in fundraising and major gifts, capital campaigns, board and volunteer development and staff leadership, working with organizations of all sizes to plan, implement and assess social media strategies. While holding leadership positions with local branches of organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the American Diabetes Association, Amy developed a passion for all things related to fundraising and non-profits. In addition to her non-profit work, she is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked as a full-time writer and editor for daily newspapers and magazines. +Amy Stephan
Amy Stephan
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  1. says

    Well said Amy. It’s not just getting the word out – Nonprofits can now accept payments via twitter (@Chirpify). Bring the business value of twitter to a whole new level when it handles ecommerce.

  2. says

    I think the fact that SGK is hiring a full-time, senior level PR and communications person is significant. (Better to have in-house counsel than rely totally upon an agency, I think.)

  3. says

    Great post.

    We’ve always known it’s a lot less
    expensive to retain an existing supporter than to acquire a new one.  Salvaging complaining donors, therefore, is a
    worthwhile investment.  In addition, when
    people are turned around – and then let others know about your proactive
    response to them – this serves as positive public relations.  If you handle complaints well, constituents
    (and potential constituents) will no doubt be impressed. 

    If you ignore the problem, it’s
    likely to multiply. Through social channels, lots of people will see what
    transpired.  If you handle complaints
    poorly, and the complaint is re-published, re-tweeted, shared, liked or +1′ed,
    then the potential for hundreds, if not thousands of people to see the
    unresolved complaint if left unaddressed is pretty significant.  Research conducted by Conversocial and NYU
    revealed that a third of consumers who had attempted to communicate with
    companies via social networking sites found they were ignored; an astounding 88%
    said they’d be less likely to do business with a company that ignored their
    Posted on this in February on my blog

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