How volunteer organizations can use social media | Track It Forward

How volunteer organizations can use social media

Written by James McBryan

What is social media?

It’s the new hot topic. Marketing experts blog about it, journalists grapple with it and the consumers get addicted to it. But what exactly is it? Social Media is a relatively new form of communication that is characterized by interactive, collaborative content. It differs from traditional media in that it allows for more feedback and consumer participation. Examples of popular sites are: Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, Google+, Ning, Tumblr, Orkut, Meetup, Bebo and Friendster.  Social Media can also be seen as a disruption of old hierarchical models; consumers can interface with each other and with the site itself.

Why should volunteer organizations use social media?

Social networking sites like Twitter and Google+ are the new word-of-mouth. Facebook has more than 750 million active users. In fact, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populated in the world, right behind China and India. These websites can quickly increase your numbers.

In addition, photo and video sharing sites like Flickr and Youtube can be an excellent way for organizations to provide volunteer recognition.

How can we best utilize social media?

Each service has its own personality. It’s best to start with one or two at a time; be sure to update regularly. Neglected accounts won’t do much for you; an ancient status or post might give the impression that your organization is no longer open or active.

Facebook is infinitely useful, for many reasons: volunteer recognition, call for volunteers, spreading the word about events, community building and establishing relationships with other organizations.

Creating photo albums of volunteers is a way to recognize their hard work. Tagging them in the photos (with permission, of course) is a way to spread the word about your program and perk the interest of potential volunteers. The Friends of San Jose Rose Garden definitely know how to engage their volunteers with good photos.  Calls for volunteers on work days can be put out by using the “events” function of Facebook. Creating an event can also be used to invite volunteers to parties or meetings. Build community by asking questions in your status updates and initiating discussions - it will allow volunteers to get to know one another. Your program can build relationships with other like-minded organizations by sharing their content and using @mentions to promote them.

Flickr is another way to recognize your volunteers by posting photos of them. These photos can be easily shared on other sites as well.

Tumblr, a blogging platform, can help establish your organization as an expert voice in your field. Your blogs should be unique. Try not to closely mimic other articles on the web. Allow volunteers with a gift for storytelling to blog about their experience and the impact that your organization makes. These volunteers wanted to share their in-depth thoughts about why they volunteer.  Youtube can also be used to establish expertise, through the use of instructional videos. Our friends at Planting Justice made video lectures on Sustainable Self Governance.

Twitter is a superb place to gather content. Following knowledgeable people and relevant publications allows you to scan through your Twitter home feed and keep abreast of breaking news and current trends in your field. Your content from Flickr and Tumblr can be shared on Twitter with links.  Red Cross of the National Capital Region maintains a very active Twitter, where they share their events and utilize hashtags to reach a broader audience.

No matter how you decide to approach your social media strategy, you can’t lose. Any effort you make will increase in your organization’s online visibility.

Volunteering and Social Media