Paola Faessler’s PR Research on Nonprofit Social Media

PhotoPaola1.jpgIt’s hard to pitch me, but I’m a sucker for new research. That’s why when NYU Masters graduate Paola Faessler sent me her Capstone research on social media in nonprofits I asked her to write a guest post.

Now settled between Brazil and Uruguay, Paola is structuring her own Public Relations agency focused on social media. Her goal is to work with nonprofits and small and medium businesses in Latin America that seek for national and international visibility. Here’s a summary of her research findings…

A Public Relations Perspective on the Use of Social Media in Nonprofit Organizations

By Paola Lamarca Faessler

The increasing competition for funds, among other factors, has raised the importance of public relations in nonprofit organizations. At the same time, social media have emerged as indispensable tools for public relations practitioners, given their ability to engage true dialogues between an organization and its publics.

Yet, a few studies have directly addressed how social media has been used by communication professionals in nonprofit organizations. With this in mind, during the fall of 2009 I conducted a research study to understand to what extent nonprofits benefit from social media. My goal was to analyze organizations that successfully integrated these new media into their communication mix. This study was part of the Capstone project I presented to the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, New York University to obtain a Master’s Degree in Public Relations.

The research included three phases: a survey directed at communications professionals of selected nonprofit organizations; case studies featuring best practices of Save Darfur Coalition, The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton, The Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and charity: water; and interviews with Holly Ross (NTEN) and Frank Barry (Net Think Tank).

The study revealed that there is no right formula to achieve success when using social media as public relations tools in nonprofits, but the organizations and professionals analyzed offered helpful insights. Here are my top-line findings:

  • Public relations practitioners working in nonprofit organizations should keep in mind that social media are not just a trend; therefore they must be used strategically, as all other types of media.
  • Social media integration poses challenges, so it is important to keep the communication goals in perspective. Sometimes, other ‘non social’ media can be more effective to achieve specific goals
  • Besides planning, social media implementation implies time, dedication, and discipline; otherwise it might become distraction and waste of time
  • • Nonprofits should have a plan to manage their message flow when using social media tools. Messages need to be consistent to their audiences and platforms in order to serve a purpose.

    • Lack of time can be the most relevant challenge for an organization implementing social media. New technologies make daily activities easier, but to elaborate a consistent message to the right audience is still a handcraft job. The additional challenge is that the two-way communication flow must be timely.

    • It is a mistake to use social media with no goals and no focus on measurement. Yet, nonprofit organizations should focus on the metrics directly related to their goals to avoid being overwhelmed.

    • There are many free social media tools available on the Internet, but an organization will always use staff time to develop social media efforts. Thus, a social media campaign demands an appropriate budget that will vary according to the overall planning.

    • Social media can be successfully used as a fundraising channel, but this is not necessarily the ultimate goal all nonprofits want to achieve. Compared to other forms of fundraising, social media might still not raise a significant amount of money. However, this situation is likely to change in the future as people will get more comfortable doing things online.

    • An updated, interactive and content-rich Web site still seems to be the starting platform for any social media initiative. Blogs, online video, photo sharing, and other tools can naturally derive from this initial platform if the communication goals are met.

    • Social media generally increase the competition for attention among nonprofit organizations on the Web sphere, and it might reflect in competition for supporters, volunteers, donors, funds, and other resources.

    The takeaway: social media strategically integrated into communication plans can help many nonprofit organizations to achieve their missions and goals more effectively. However, not all organizations can benefit from these new media in the same way. It is the task of the public relations practitioner to consider if social media are the most appropriate tools to help a nonprofit to achieve its goals.

    About Paolo

    In early 2007, Paola moved from Sao Paulo, Brazil to New York in pursuit of a Master’s Degree in Public Relations at NYU. In the City, she gained experience as volunteer communications coordinator at the Disaster Chaplaincy Services. After finishing the Master’s main credits, Paola moved with her family to Montevideo, Uruguay, from where she worked on her Capstone project.

    The best ways to get in touch: paola.faessler [AT], skype: paolamarca77, or via LinkedIn.