The Russian roulette of social media?

Posted on 15/06/2011


There’s a certain irony to the well-trodden phrase ‘finding the silver bullet in social media’.

Everyone is searching for that magical formula which will tell you that if you do X in social media you will achieve Y. It doesn’t exist. And I doubt it ever will.

In fact, finding the silver bullet in social media can be more like playing russian roulette.

This was never more apparent than at the Social Media Academy debate I took part in today on charity PR and Fundraising with social media. It is clear that charities are innovators in the sector, they are taking risks, trying new things and pushing the boundaries of how to act and interact with social media.

But for every campaign which can be proved to deliver actual hard fundraising targets, there are many which don’t or where clear measurement targets aren’t agreed at the start.

And that money isn’t raised directly is not in itself a problem.  Unrealistic expectations from boards and trustees are.

Genevieve Edwards from Terrence Higgins Trust put this best as she gave an outline of how her organisation sets differing objectives for the role of social media for each campaign, from ‘informing’ to ‘listening’ to finally ‘having a conversation’.  Much better approach than simple reach numbers.

But at each of those stages, generating an outcome was still important.

As I said during the debate:

Social media is not always activism. It is an inspiration to activism.

Activism could include signing a petition, signing up to a newsletter or inspiring a member of a charity’s social community to fundraise. But, it is very unlikely that an organisation will achieve a donation as a direct result – there will always be an intermediate step. That could be sending a text, going to the website to find more (and then through to a donation page), or a supporter fundraising.

This means that, as with all communications, ensuring that social media is just one stage of a smooth customer journey needs to be a priority for charities.

The other significant priority is that once charities have created a community, they need to continue to interact with them. In fact, communications directors should start to see themselves as much ‘editors in chief’ of content as they are the people who set the messages.

A good editor in chief will listen to their audience, will encourage debate and interaction among readers and also understand what they want to see and hear. Even give them games and puzzles to play with (as Gerry Hopkinson championed). The benefits of doing this and getting it right are clear, for as Nick Capeling from Save the Children said:

Give your fans a megaphone and stand back

The power of social media is – and always will be – the strength of the organisation’s community. Give the community the ideas and the tools and they will help you deliver your goals. And reduce the chance that using social media is a gamble.