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Social Media a Tough Internal Sell for NFPs

27 August 2013 at 11:40 am
Staff Reporter
While social media is now seen as a necessary communication tool, many Not for Profits struggle to get senior management and the board on-side to understand the importance of the real time aspect of social media, according to new research.

Staff Reporter | 27 August 2013 at 11:40 am


Social Media a Tough Internal Sell for NFPs
27 August 2013 at 11:40 am

While social media is now seen as a necessary communication tool, many Not for Profits struggle to get senior management and the board on-side to understand the importance of the real time aspect of social media, according to new research. 

Karen Sutherland

Melbourne Researcher Karen Sutherland has completed 18 months into a doctoral thesis at Monash University where she is exploring how Not for Profit organisations are using social media compared with what their donors, supporters and volunteers actually want.

So far, Sutherland says she has narrowed down her research to concentrate on youth homelessness charities in Victoria.

“I have been interviewing the public relations, communications and marketing professionals who look after the social media requirements for each of the six organisations in my study.  

“While it is too early to speak specifically about my findings, there are definitely some common themes coming out of this research that can apply to other organisations in the Not for Profit sector, but also to organisations more widely,” she said.

Sutherland says one of the early common themes seems to be that senior management is slowing down the process of using social media.

“My research is showing that while social media is now seen as a much more important and necessary communication tool; work remains in getting senior management and the board not only onside, but understanding the importance of the real time aspect of social media.

“It seems that those responsible for social media are usually trusted to produce appropriate content, however, sometimes a sensitive issue may arise that requires official sign off from senior management. It is in these instances where prompt reactions must occur to ensure that the issue is dealt with before it explodes both on social media and then quite often into traditional media as well,” Sutherland said.

“In terms of social media, time really is of the essence and trying to get senior management to understand this is proving to be challenging."

Sutherland says it is also becoming clear that Not for Profits need for a dedicated resource for social media.

“The organisations in my study vary very much in size. The larger organisations have quite recently employed a staff member specifically dedicated to social media and to building relationships online with donors, supporters and volunteers.

“The smaller organisations that do not have a dedicated resource for social media have all identified how much they wished that they had one. The organisations with the resources have definitely noticed the benefits in terms of having someone constantly working on strategy, content, monitoring and being able to get back to their organisation’s social media followers in a timely way.

“Often, in the smaller organisations, social media is yet another responsibility given to one or two staff members who already have so much to do. Therefore, it can be a much more difficult and slower process to reap the benefits of social media when only limited resources are available to support it.

“Many of the organisations in my study work extremely hard to ensure that the content and messages being sent out in traditional media are also reflected in their social media profiles.

“This could be as simple as posting or tweeting an article that appeared in a major daily or an upcoming television appearance to changing the look of their profile to keep it consistent with a current advertising campaign.

“Those organisations with dedicated social media resources generally work very closely with those devoted to traditional media to ensure that that continuity prevails,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland says she has already surveyed close to 180 people regarding their attitudes and habits in relation to social media, charities and the way they preferred to be communicated with.

“The next part of my research involves interviewing some of those people who interact with youth homelessness charities on social media to see what resonates with them and what turns them away.

Sutherland has previously worked for the Australian Red Cross Blood Bank service in Queenland before entering academia.

“I saw what it was like to work with limited resources and pull a rabbit out of a hat even whenj you didn’t have the hat,” she recalled.

“My research will hopefully help and inform the sector.”

The next stage of Sutherland’s research will involve donor and volunteer use of social media in engaging with the sector. The research is expected be completed early in 2015.

Any Not for Profits or others wishing to take part in the interviews can contact Karen Sutherland via email to  

Staff Reporter  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

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