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It’s time for NFPs to rethink their reliance on social media

22 February 2021 at 5:39 pm
Craig Comrie
Last week’s Facebook blackout has exposed our sector’s reliance on social media and the fragility of the relationship we have with our online communities, writes Craig Comrie.

Craig Comrie | 22 February 2021 at 5:39 pm


It’s time for NFPs to rethink their reliance on social media
22 February 2021 at 5:39 pm

Last week’s Facebook blackout has exposed our sector’s reliance on social media and the fragility of the relationship we have with our online communities, writes Craig Comrie.

Not for profits last week became collateral damage in the Facebook action to limit the sharing of news content on the platform in Australia, as part of an escalation between the global behemoth and the Australian government. 

Online communities and content went dark on Thursday morning with no notice, and many organisations scrambled to connect with their clients and supporters using other platforms. While Facebook has since apologised and begun reinstating NFP Facebook pages I can’t help but think it was part of a coordinated effort to have a maximum immediate impact on the Australian community and consequently the government’s legislative agenda.

It got me thinking about the vital role social media plays in allowing NFPs to connect with their communities. The numerous platforms have become a critical element of many aspects of NFP work, central to communicating impact, engaging with new and prospective clients, building a supporter base and becoming a primary tool of fundraising campaigns. 

A quick look at some of Australia’s best-known charities on Facebook sees hundreds of thousands of page likes. You only have to look at last year’s example of Celeste Barber who raised over $50 million for bushfire recovery to see the power of social media in connecting people with charitable work. Unlike the static nature of websites, social media can create multi-dimensional interaction between organisations and their supporter base. This dynamism has seen the NFP sector become reliant on social media as a primary communication tool and, as a result, digital capability has become a must-have for all organisations.

Last week’s example has exposed our sector’s reliance on social media and in particular Facebook. It also highlighted the fragility of the relationship we have with our online communities. Supporters can quite literally withdraw their support with the click of a button and with many angry at Facebook over its behaviour this week this could become a reality. We were also reminded how little control we have over our own carefully cultivated content, with social media giants being able to dictate how and when we can engage – even when we pay for that privilege through advertising.

The 24-hour blackout has probably had limited impact for today’s NFP audiences, but if our pages were to go dark in the future, for longer, the consequences would be catastrophic. The investments we have made in these platforms would become sunk costs, millions in donations would be lost, and the two-way discussion with our supporters would be almost impossible to recover or replicate.

My suggestion is that we use this recent example as a “heads up” to think deeply about what we would do if this became a reality. NFPs need to think creatively about how to build and sustain supporter bases in other ways and we need to build organisational capabilities to respond to future challenges. In the same way we talk often about diversifying our income and service offerings – NFPs need to do the same with supporter connection.

Serendipitously Infoxchange, with the support of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund and Gandel Philanthropy, recently announced the launch of a new technology hub that seeks to prepare NFPs for shifts in technology and skill up our teams to use new technologies. This is a vital step for our sector, which typically hasn’t had the funds or capacity to maximise new and emerging technologies.

In contrast to the action of Facebook, some global tech companies are also helping NFPs on this journey. Atlassian and Canva, among others, are opening up their tools and platforms to free use – maybe as an act of contrition, Zuckerberg could do the same?

Right now we are at what Columbia University Professor Rita McGrath would call an inflection point for our sector and our valued cyber communities. Let’s think about how we respond and claw back control of our content. 

Because if we don’t, we risk being collateral damage again at the whims of Silicon Valley.

Craig Comrie  |  @ProBonoNews

Craig Comrie is the director of government, philanthropy and media at Teach For Australia (TFA).

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