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Online communications for nonprofits: the current trends

Posted on Jun 13th, 2014 by

Reflections in a crystal ball.

The art of communications, is to stick out from the crowds. Offer your public new and enticing communications, both in content and in form.

The world of online communications is now moving faster than ever before. We have more tools at our disposal, which provide new opportunities to bring our messages and interact with our audience.

While working on online media with a wide range of nonprofit organisations, there are some clear trends I see, with opportunities for all of us:

Blogs versus traditional Content Management Systems

The market of the content management systems (CMS) is now consolidating around three systems: Drupal, WordPress and Joomla.

Selfhosted WordPress is now more and more used as the single universal online publishing tool, with a relative low start-up cost, a solid and simple technical base and extensive support.
Drupal, as more complex to set up and support, is often used for large sites, with complex taxonomies and structures, where browsing speed is crucial.
Joomla’s market now involves as a “in the middle” go-between Drupal and WordPress, though I see its market slowly shrinking.

All three CMSes are now steadily merging the traditional split between CMSes and blogs, which results in most blogs and websites now being mixed into one single online site: The CMSes themselves are now more used for the static information repositories (access to online data, fixed information on “who we are, what we do, and where we do it), while the blogs provide a flexible platform for dynamic content, and interactions with our target public.

Online security and reputation management become critical

The more online tools we use, the higher the exposure to hackers and trolls.

Website and blog hacking is common these days, and require specialized staff with extensive CMS and server skills. The amount of both brute-force and sophisticated hacking on our selfhosted online tools will become more frequent and more malicious.

At the same time, with the proliferation of online tools, when something goes wrong, it goes wrong “fast and wide”: both trolling, and negative publicity can spread fast, and does require specialized tools to properly monitor. Online reputation monitoring and management becomes crucial.

The key social media platforms

There is a steady consolidation and standardization on the core social media tools, splitting between the “interaction-based” tools and the “repositories”:

  • Flickr as a photo repository
  • YouTube as a video repository, with Vimeo as a possible add-on for high-quality video.
  • Slideshare as a presentation and simple document repository
  • Facebook (both Groups and Pages) as one of the main website traffic drivers
  • Twitter as a partial website traffic driver, but mostly as an interactive real-time communications tool

While Google+ steadily looses its market (certainly in the professional and nonprofit market), the main newcomer is LinkedIn. While LinkedIn has been around for a long time, it recently changed its strategy towards a more interactive communications tool, rather than a mere repository of personal resumees.
“Company pages” have always existed, but with the introduction of interactive timelines (as Facebook and Twitter offer), and the expansion of discussion groups, LinkedIn will soon complement Facebook as the main traffic driver to our websites. Facebook will become a tool to reach the “general public”, while LinkedIn will become the main tool to reach the “professional market”.

On LinkedIn, do not restrict yourself to a “Company Page”, but start a discussion group, assembling people who are professionally interested in your causes, and willing to contribute to the discussions. LinkedIn groups have not only shown great potential for “professional interactions”, but also to network, and scout for people who you want to cooperate with, e.g. as guest writers for your blogs.

Another factor on the increasing importance of LinkedIn versus Facebook is that the latter recently changed its organic search algorithm: Only a small fraction of your Facebook posts will now be shown on the timeline from your subscribers. And the amount of posts will depend on how much interaction you have with your following. So even if you have 10,000 likes on your Facebook page, if you do not interact with your public, your posts will be shown less frequent on your followers’ timeline.

Beyond these tools, a whole plethora of meta-tools are full of potential: Instagram, which recently became the most used photo sharing tool, is used more and more by non-profit organisations. Its functionality is nicely split from Flickr: Flickr is more used as an “official picture” repository, while Instagram becomes more an informal outreach channel, based on interactions.

Social bookmarking tools like Storify and Pinterest are increasingly used, though are often not seen as the critical social media tools, but rather as “nice to have’s”

There is also a clear social media trend moving from “online publishing” to “online interacting”. The fastest growing social media networks are those which not only “publish” content, but actively communicate with their communities. For instance, it is no longer sufficient to tweet all links to your new content, but people will want to interact with you. So, systematically monitor the replies and mentions on Twitter, and respond to queries and feedback. Thank your most active followers and encourage them to continue interacting with you.

Quality becomes more important

Ten years ago, an organisation really stood out above “the rest”, when it had a blog. Nowadays every man and his dog has a blog, or several blogs. This is true for all other social media tools.

This means, to really stand out, the quality of our online media content and presentation, on any of our social media tools, becomes critical. Nicely crafted titles and descriptions, and high quality videos will help us stand out in YouTube, but a Blogger blog with a default dull template and merely a sequential list of blogposts, will not.

Events as a catalyst for online activity

Events like conferences and workshops used to be confined to “onsite participation”. Online tools now allow us to draw in the offsite public and significantly increase our reach.

Social reporting from events, using live blogs, live tweets, vlogging and podcasts slowly have become standard. There is still much room for innovative initiatives to really include and involve the offsite public into the onsite happening. Combining webcasting with live moderation on Twitter, feeding online questions to the onsite panels have proven to be very successful. In most events where I coordinated the social media outreach, there were more online participants, than there were onsite.

But events have even more potential. We can use them as a catalyst in a whole online momentum. The art of successful events these days is not to confine yourself only to the days of the event itself, but to start building an online momentum way before your conference, and stretch it as long as you can, after the event. Use social media to get related content online before the conference, and use it to entice online discussions. Ensure that conference content goes up fast during and shortly after the conference.

Building in “fun” and “online competition” elements around conferences has proven to be very successful. Past events I have been involved in, have shown that a online competition for blogs, photos or videos can become the main driver of traffic to the conference website, helping us to drill into a public we normally would not have reached. Many online competitions have also been successful in enticing people to comment and discuss topics we tackled at our conferences.

Use conferences also as a capacity building tool for your staff and your partners: Gather a social reporting group way on forehand, and give them onsite training and support, using the conference as an exercise to use their newly acquired skills. Often the connections you can build in these onsite and online teams, by integrating your partner organisations in a social reporting team, will outlast the event.

Mobile, mobile, mobile!

The use of mobile devices to access information becomes more and more important. Ensure your websites and blogs are geared for mobile use.

More and more organisations are also venturing into mobile apps, not only for people to access websites, but also to access core data, or to engage an online public.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Traffic from search engines on your blog or website visitors should typically be bigger than 50-60% of your total traffic. If you have less, then you have not optimized your SEO. I am always surprised that organisations spend so much time and efforts in redesigning websites, and generating great content, but are so under-performing in “selling this content” through search engines.

No matter how well you use social media tools to “spread” and “sell” your content, if you don’t do a proper SEO on all of your blogs and websites, you are wasting resources. I am amazed how many websites and blogs don’t even have the basic SEO.

But proper SEO goes beyond blogs and websites. As mentioned earlier, when you publish videos, podcasts, pictures, slides etc.., do take the time to give all these items proper titles and descriptions. In the descriptions include proper search keywords, and include links to other content related to these items. Did you know that after Google, YouTube is the most used online search engine? Without properly crafted titles and descriptions on your YouTube videos, you loose quite a potential public!

Picture courtesy Garry Knight

3 Comments to “Online communications for nonprofits: the current trends”

  1. Michelle Kovacevic says:

    Just to reiterate the importance of SEO – we use the plugin WordPress SEO by Yoast on our blog and it’s been a really great tool to help us optimize summaries, strategically chose keywords and titles and I think has made a big difference to our visibility on Google. Highly recommend anyone using WordPress installs the plugin!

    • Peter says:

      Agreed Michelle! – Personally, I use the “All-in-One” SEO plug-in, but its functionality is pretty similar to the Yoast plugin…

  2. Bunmi Ajilore says:

    Thanks for putting this out. Very interesting and informative. Will try out few new things I just picked up and give feedback.

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