Most nonprofit social media use centers around getting new and current constituents to know, like and trust the organization — basically to form a social network. In social networks, the number of followers that you have is inversely proportional to the depth of relationship that you have with each member. Or more simply, reach is inversely proportional to bond — as reach increases (you get more followers), bond decreases (you have less of a relationship with each follower). This isn’t news, but it is worth considering as your organization builds communities through social media circles. Some dismiss the topic and adhere to the more is better manifesto — they gather followers like a four year old at an Easter egg hunt. Others are very cautious in creating their networks, only entering into relationships that extend across multiple channels from the start. Is one right or wrong? It depends on your goals, something we cover extensively in our blog posts and learning series, but here we look at a basic approach.
What do you want to achieve with your nonprofit social media effort?
If your primary goal is awareness, then bigger is better. But social media aren’t particularly well suited for generating awareness. Broadcast media are far more effective. Some would argue that the folks using social channels to gather as large a flock as possible are simply using broadcast techniques in social space. Others argue that it is necessary to meet and connect with as many people as possible to develop a large group of true believers. If you have an opinion in this matter, please feel free to chime in below in the comments.
Most organizations use social media because they want to engage with and build their donor/prospect/constituent base. To engage you need to have a relationship and that makes the reach/bond connection an issue. An engaged person is part of something larger than an individual relationship developed online, they are part of a community. So, we are really talking about community building. The most engaged communities are made up of autonomous small groups. Each small group forms around shared mission, vision and values. How many people should be in a group brings up another question.
How big is too big for an online community?
Some argue that once a group grows beyond 12-14 people it becomes fractured or the strength of bond diminishes. Research studies argue that the most efficient number of people to manage in a group is 5 and once exceeded the efficiency of the group diminishes. But this research was done for assigned groups with a defined mission, not groups formed in a social network.
What we do know is that there are limits to the level of intimacy shared by a group based on its size. What we don’t know is where those limits are and whether or not they vary depending on the situation. The other issue that this brings up is how to transition from gathering followers to forming small groups.
Is it better to divide the role of gathering followers and being the catalyst to form a group, or can a single person serve as recruiter and catalyst?
This is a difficult question faced by organizations that have assigned someone to be, “the social media person,” and leaving them to do all of the online social communications. They need to develop an elegant way to hand off people to community managers without running the risk of losing the recruit. Otherwise they are left building an ever larger community with ever weakening bonds and ever lower engagement. How hard is it to develop a good handoff method? Have any of you mastered this, or tried and failed?
Alternately, organizations that include as many staff members as are interested and capable of participating in the social media effort are faced with the dilemma of coordinating many small groups. More so, they need to decide how big is too big? It may be that the way social media works to exponentially expand your reach is the answer. If your social media person has five people to manage within the organization and they each have five community managers who are volunteers for the organization, then they can each coordinate a community of 12-14 people or begin recruiting additional community managers. This is a big, highly organized effort. The result could be a fantastic army of volunteers who are tightly engaged with the organization. Have any of you managed to create something like this? Can you tell us what worked and what didn’t?
So, those are the questions. What have you seen or done that may provide some insight?