Home > Social Media > Angry Buzz Over Social Media

Angry Buzz Over Social Media

It takes a whole lot to get me worked up.  But after reading the ridiculous  suggestion this morning in Pop City Media’s article titled

“Steady diet of social media isn’t nutritious for nonprofits, says TechNow keynoter”

I got pretty riled up.  It goes against everything I know to be true.

John Kenyon, some social media guru from San Francisco gets quoted up front in the article as saying “a nonprofit’s Website and email are central. You have to have your vegetables before dessert. And social media is dessert.”

Calling social media dessert is like saying it has no value and therefore it can or should be skipped. It’s my fear that when non-profits hear something like this from someone who is supposedly an expert, they will assume people like me are wrong in advocating their use of social media. Trust me when I say it isn’t dessert, but being part of the social media world will have very tasty rewards.

I’d like to know what nonprofits in Pittsburgh he’s actually worked with as stated in the article.  I feel bad for them if he’s telling them leave social media til the end.  You need to be integrating. You need to utilize social media, which has multi-million users every single day.  And you need to realize that, especially if you are in Pittsburgh, the conditions are ripe for using social media tools.  By nature, Pittsburgh on the whole is a social city and that translates to many social networking users. It does make a difference geographically sometimes and our Pittsburgh nonprofits can thrive through social media.  It isn’t “buzz and hype.”  It’s the way things are getting done here.

Geography plays a role in how users interact with nonprofits through social media, but an even bigger piece of the picture is the age factor. Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30 years of age.  Think about this. That demographic has really never known a time without computers or cell phones. Where are they getting their information.  Online.  The largest group of users on Facebook?  Under 30. (With a great increase in over 30 users in the last 2 years.) Why wouldn’t you set up your nonprofit to be in line with how people are communicating right now so that you can connect and stay connected in the future?

It’s funny to me that Mr. Kenyon will tell you social media is dessert, but then push for mobile communication on his blog: “There are a variety of interactions people can have with a nonprofit via mobile devices. They can donate, be directed to a web page via QR code, or receive and share information via text.”

And while he is correct and I absolutely agree with him on this point, I don’t get him.  Navigating social media use without someone like me as a consultant to help is difficult enough for non-profits, but he wants to explain QR codes to you?  And Mr. Kenyon’s  more than willing to tell you that mobile devices can help people donate or be directed to your web page, but he can call social media hype and dessert for nonprofits? Social media does exactly what he describes in his mobile tech post and will continue to do so.  Know what else people do from their mobile devices? They access SOCIAL MEDIA sites.

Ask places like the Pittsburgh Foundation if social media is dessert.  Ask small nonprofits like South Hills Interfaith Ministries who embraced social media and drove their Day of Giving Donations up from $1,500(2010) to $13,000(2011) if social media is dessert. It might have resulted in the icing on their cake, but I watched them become an active source of information, purpose and social media success.

I want to impress upon the nonprofit community that getting involved with social networking sites and streamlining your social media presence now with all the other traditional communications is necessary, not a sugar-filled, stomach-bloating part of your organization’s diet.  It is the amazing side dish that is integral to the hearty substance of your website, email and paper-trail communications effort.  I beg you not to hear something like what Mr. Kenyon said and decide that social media isn’t for you.

Simply Put- Social media is not dessert, but it is definitely for sharing.

  1. R
    October 21, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    I worked at a non-profit in Pittsburgh that worked with John Kenyon. From my experience, it really depends on the non-profit. Our users and target audience didn’t use social media. I pushed it over and over again (that we needed to get up to speed anyway), but there was a lot of resistance from the higher-ups.

    If you want to talk more, you can email me. I have many thoughts on John’s consulting approach.

    • October 21, 2011 at 2:02 PM

      Thanks for your thoughts Rose. An email is in your inbox 🙂

  2. October 21, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    Obviously we agree with you Melissa. As you mentioned in your blog post, we had a tremendous showing on Day of Giving, thanks in large part to our social media push. A year ago, SHIM had no online presence beyond our website. It was very lonely. Over the past year, we’ve added Facebook, Twitter, and email communications. By utilizing these channels together, we’re able to get so much more mileage out of our website. An integrated communications strategy is definitely the way to go!

  3. October 20, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    The thing I love most about social media is that you get all kinds of viewpoints. This is an interesting take on the PopCity article.

    I’d like to comment, as the person who organizes the TechNow conference for the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management and who engaged John to be the keynote speaker.

    John does do website consulting and social media consulting in the San Francisco area. I do the same thing here in the Pittsburgh region and have worked with dozens of nonprofits in my time at the Bayer Center. I teach web planning, design, and social media strategy at the Bayer Center and am absolutely an advocate for social media usage by nonprofits. Chris Whitlatch and I put together the first social media panel session for his Foundation’s Day of Giving 2 summers ago.

    Here’s the thing. Social media is important, yes. But it is not a substitute for a good website. Perhaps a better analogy than the “meal and dessert” would have been that an organization’s website is like the foundation of a house and social media is the walls and roof. You build the social media on the solid foundation of the website. Both are important in their own ways. Both accomplish different tasks for an organization.

    I worry frequently that we are forgetting about building good websites in the midst of the current social media frenzy. Social media has been the focus of several keynote speeches in the last few years of the TechNow conference. When John proposed this topic, I thought it would be a refreshing change and a good reminder to us all to continue to spend time on our websites.

    mcb1219, I invite you to attend TechNow 2011 at no charge so you can check out the conference and the good it does for the local nonprofit community. You can register by emailing me at leonard AT rmu DOT edu. It’s next week, Oct. 27, from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm at the Sewall Center at RMU’s Moon Campus. http://technow2011.wordpress.com

    • October 20, 2011 at 5:27 PM

      Thank you first and foremost for weighing in on the content of this post and providing your insight. I would be very pleased to attend the conference, thank you.

      I do like your explanation of websites and social media. It rings very true. It think it will be interesting to evaluate what issues np’s are having with their websites and email from others in the field- especially in this newer climate and culture of digital consumers. It will be very helpful to take any knowledge gained from the TechNow conference and assist nonprofits in finding a way to use a holistic digital approach.

      Thanks again for taking time to let others hear your perspective. I’ll be excited to update my readers on the conference.

      Melissa Carey

      • October 20, 2011 at 5:32 PM

        I think you’ll enjoy the conference. Please email me your full contact info, including name/title/organization or company name, mailing address, phone, email, so that I can get you registered. Once again, leonard AT rmu DOT edu.

  4. October 20, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    I am the person quoted in the article and I appreciate everyone’s passion. I actually agree with you Melissa and am sorry if there was a misunderstanding. I am giving the keynote on this topic next week at the Bayer Center’s TechNow conference (http://technow2011.wordpress.com/). I have been helping nonprofits with technology for over 20 years. A lot of my work these days is helping nonprofits figure out smart strategies for engaging folks online and most of that work is helping them with social media.

    I agree that social media shouldn’t be skipped or ignored, but should be integrated into a nonprofit’s communications. Unfortunately what I am seeing is a lot of nonprofits putting their very limited resources into social media to the detriment of the foundation of their online presence – their website and email. That is the reason for my somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment about eating their vegetables before they have dessert. I totally agree – and have seen – may nonprofits who do get tasty rewards from social media. I think all nonprofits need to be engaged with social media, I just want them to continue putting energy into their websites and email, which are vital to an effective online presence.

    I work quite a lot with Beth Kanter and agree that her recipe is right on. I by no means meant to suggest that social media is a fad or that it should not warrant active use by nonprofits. But as I follow nonprofits on social media, there are still many of them that lack the basics on their website, where people go to find deeper levels of information (financial, biographical, program stories, etc.). I couldn’t agree more with the comment by Christopher about listening to your audience and meeting them where they are online – website, email or social media. I advocate for what works, including social media.

    I plan to include these points in my talk next week, I hope you’ll join us. I think it is a great example of the debate that consultants, funders, nonprofits and their constituents should be engaged in!

    John Kenyon

    • October 20, 2011 at 5:06 PM

      Thank you so much, John, for commenting and clarifying that article with us. I am writer of the post and appreciate the chance to see your points made here.

      I am so happy that this opened a discussion between many. I am also genuinely pleased that nonprofits jumped in to advocate via comments here and places like Twitter and FB for the use of social media because of my post. Talking and sharing ideas and perspectives is so valuable and important. We all have many things we can teach and learn from one another. 🙂

      You make a very good point in your clarification- many nonprofit orgs have limited resources including funding and staff. What you present in your comment here in saying they shouldn’t abandon their website and email in lieu of social media is very true. I probably should have made that point in my post- that I wasn’t negating what you promote on that point, because I do agree. Using social media has many facets- and being able to direct people to a website where much more information and the orgs community resources are placed are a couple of important ones. It’s necessary to give people a place to actually go once they are connected on social media. It’s reciprocal- The website and emails should also direct interested parties to the orgs social media presence so that people can promote, share and help others learn about the NPO’s missions.
      Thanks again for opening up a line of communication! It is very much appreciated that you came to comment here.
      Melissa Carey

    • October 20, 2011 at 6:14 PM

      I had an afterthought, as I often do. I tell the nonprofits who ask for my advice or those that attended my session for np’s at PodCamp Pittsburgh this year that social media isn’t just about “me me me.” Having a well thought out/designed website is very important, but sometimes community members and potential donors don’t know about the resources out there or even think to look for them online. Social media is one the best “word of mouth” sources we have right now. Engaging people through this avenue that will then share the npo as a resource through SM channels allows them to help people who need their services and might not have found them otherwise. It provides a way to gain people who will support them with volunteer services and financial assistance. It also allows them to get the word out to check the website for an upcoming event and for calls to action that people who are not on a mailing list or do not regularly check websites might miss.

  5. October 19, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    “Why wouldn’t you set up your nonprofit to be in line with how people are communicating right now so that you can connect and stay connected in the future?”


    I was not at this event, so don’t know the larger context of Mr. Kenyon’s comment. I am concerned that it may be waved about as “proof that this social media mumbo-jumbo is just a fad” by those who don’t quite understand social media or don’t want to dedicate the resources required (and yes, that includes education, training, experimentation and practice) to successfully utilize it as a part of their communications marketing strategy.

    In my opinion, Beth Kanter described the most sensible guideline for nonprofits to follow in adding social media ito their overall communications strategy in the rule of thirds: 1/3 web presence, 1/3 1-way communications, 1/3 social media.

    • October 19, 2011 at 2:28 PM

      Outstanding response!
      Michele, that’s my big concern with this article from Pop City. (and like you, I’m only able to post on what was provided in that article, not as an attendee that heard the rest of Mr. Kenyon’s information) But that one suggestive word- dessert- is a detriment to the success stories that could resonate with orgs. It takes dozens of people to convince those that don’t understand of the power of social media, but will only take one “expert” to convince them not to try. Thanks for including the great communications strategy from Beth Kanter, who, for those that don’t know of her, is a top notch social media expert who works heavily with nonprofits.

  6. Anonymous
    October 19, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    Via Twitter @EECM_Pittsburgh, we have had numerous groups that were already holding fundraisers/events and made us the beneficiary just by hearing about us on Twitter! I am pretty sure that qualifies as not being a waste of time for the organization.

    Thanks Walk to End Poverty!
    Thanks ReddUP, ThreadUP!
    Thanks Vitamin Water Uncapped and Revive Marketing!

    Learn more at http://www.eecm.org or e-mail me with any questions.

    Tim Brown
    Community Relations Coordinator

    • October 19, 2011 at 1:51 PM

      Oh, how sweet that I can point out that Tim sent this comment via Twitter. Here’s a nonprofit that not only “gets” using social media, but does it extremely well. Many thanks for giving a np’s perspective on the value of social media!

  7. October 19, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    Dessert and eating your vegetables. That is a totally irresponsible way to illustrate social media. Wholeheartedly agree with Melissa Carey that social media is not an after thought and must be integrated for an effective nonprofit communications strategy. The world has changed. Consumers expect more from you. Yes, be effective in communications with website, email, newsletters, letter letters, and everything else that works for your audience. Respect that audience as well and give them the chance to “opt-in” and receive your messages when they want them. Share your stories and give your audience a chance to share your stories and theirs as well. More appropriately, don’t listen to Melissa, John or me. Listen to your audience – they will tell you what they want. After all, social media has empowered them to do just that and more.

    • October 19, 2011 at 1:58 PM

      Well said! Thanks. These are good points for all nonprofits to take note of.
      Do we have any individuals reading that can comment on their views of np’s using social media?

  1. November 9, 2011 at 11:14 AM

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