Some Tips for Nonprofits About Social Networking from the Humane Society of America

8 years ago

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Over on the Convio Connection Cafe Blog, I found this gem of a video presentation by Grace Markarian who is the Online Communications Manager for Humane Society of the United States.  It's from a session at the Direct Marketing Association meeting on multi-channel marketing.  During the presentation, Grace shares how her organization has integrated social media into their communications, advocacy and fundraising efforts. 

Grace Markarian works along side the Humane Society's social networking rock star, Carrie Lewis. (Carrie will be presenting at SXSW, on a panel about social media and ROI.)   Grace talks about how the Humane Society has successfully broken down staff silos.   The HSUS team has daily 9 minute meetings, unless there is something really important then they can run a few minutes longer. These short briefing meetings have helped them be more efficient and effective with every aspect of multi-channel campaigns.  This is a great examples of how one nonprofit has embraced social media and that it isn't an isolated activity by one person.

Over the years, I've watched the Carrie Lewis at the Humane Society do a fantastic job managing the organization's social media strategy and projects.   In 2007, the Human Society implemented its first photo petition campaign to protest Wendy's treatment of animals . They tracked the number of photo submissions they got, but they also listened carefully to the responses they got from participants.

As Carrie Lewis mentions in the comments in the blog post , "Since this was our first run at a photo petition, it was difficult to get across exactly what we wanted people to do without writing a book. So every person that wrote in and needed help was answered personally. This gave us a good idea of how to more clearly explain ourselves next time." This particular photo campaign had many technical glitches and ultimately the number of submissions was less than impressive. Did HSUS proclaim that photo competitions were a waste of time?


The next iteration of a photo contest, LOL Seals , made it as easy as possible for people to participate. That's what they had learned from the first campaign. The first contest, they asked people to upload their photos and tag it themselves, which meant they had to create a Flickr account and know what “tagging” was. The second contest, they used the Flickr API which made everything automatic -- from tagging and uploading without the user having to even touch Flickr. They had about 3,000 submissions and captured about 2,000 new email addresses.

They've recently implemented an online photo contest that combines wisdom of the crowds with person to person or rather dog to person fundraising.  If I was a friend of Zoe's owner, I'd donate to the Humane Society.  The contest offers a web and Facebook version.   It looks, from the outside, like a great success so far and this would not have happened with out these earlier experiments and using the concepts of Listen, Learn, and Adapt.  They Humane Society is close to being able to use a traditonal Return on Investment process to evaluate its efforts.

In the presentation, the Humane Society shares both the tangible and intangible benefits that their social media strategies have provided to their organization.     These are:

Increased our email database
Obtained original content
Obtained free PSAs
Raised some money
Recruited new donors
Recruited members, fans, friends

Raised awareness about our issues
Engaged people to participate in the issue
Generated discussions on our issues
Received buy-in from the top
Received recognition and media attention (online buzz)

How do they know they've been successful?   They use metrics to measure the results and translate into tangible and intangible values.   What metrics do they use?  Here's a list:

# of submissions/comments
# of friends, fans, members over time
# of new names added to email file
# of donations/amount of donations
# of video / photo views
# of subscribers (RSS, blog)
# of blog and wall comments
# of voting participants
# of blogs linking to us / covering our story (consider quality)
# of friends recruited (TAF)
Frequency of bulletin reposts on MySpace
Content of keywords, comments (what are people talking about?)

Grace Markarian also offers some tips to get started where she emphasizes the importance of getting buy-in from your organization's leadership, gotten over fears of "losing control" of messaging, accepted that it takes time to listen and build your presence, and your organization is ready to integrate social media into other Internet activities.  

Her conclusions - and I wholeheartedly agree, are:

  • Integrating social media into your nonprofit's marketing and fundraising campaigns can help build buzz and online actions (like donations) slowly, but their email marketing is the #1 driver of success.
  • Social media allows HSUS to reach audiences that may not reach through other channels or at all, but you must allocate the resources to monitor and communicate with this audience to sustain success.
  • Participating on social network sites allows them to experiment with new technologies, but it requires constant willingness to learn.

Beth Kanter, BlogHer CE for Nonprofits and Social Change, writes Beth's Blog.

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