Making Sense of and Success with
Social Media

For organizers, advocates, and health educators

For meeting on March 14, 2008
Funders Network Briefing

Preliminary outline


  • What I’m going to talk about today: A (very) brief overview of social media tools that nonprofits are using to organize, advocate, and educate about health issues

    • Flickr, a photo sharing site
    • Twitter, an instant messaging/social presence tool
    • Social Network Sites (Facebook, MySpace, etc)

Cute Dog Theory

What the heck is the Cute Dog Theory? It is a remix of the "Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism" which was the title of a talk given by Ethan Zuckerman at O'Reilly's E-Tech Conference in March, 2008 (notes from Ryan Singel of Wired Blog). In this talk, Ethan points out that the Web was invented so physicists could share research papers, but Web2.0 was invented because people want to share cute pictures of their cats. These same tools become very powerful in the hands of activists. Ethan's presentation takes a look at creative uses of well-known Web 2.0 tools from outside the United States that help digital activists evade Internet censorship and promote human rights issues to a wider audience.

These social media tools - like blogs, photo and video sharing, Twitter, and of course, social networking sites like Facebook - have made it easier for people share photos of their cute cats because of two twin revolutions going on - the ease of creating content and the ease of sharing it with local and global audiences.

This got me thinking about the adoption challenges faced by nonprofits in embracing these new tools. Many nonprofits are just beginning to use them as part of the Internet advocacy and organizing strategies. They are learning what works and what doesn't for nonprofit organizations here in the US. And, no there isn't yet a predictable template or formula. It takes trial and error to figure that for each organization as issues, causes, and audiences differ. However, based on observing nonprofits that have been effective - there are definitely some patterns of success for social media adoption.

The funny thing is that as I started to look closer, I discovered that many of these nonprofit Internet strategists are Dog lovers! Take for example the photo below of Jonathon Colman who is the Internet Strategist for the Nature Conservancy. There's even a photo sharing group on flickr called, "NpTech Dogs."

The Cute Dog Theory: Key Points

Nonprofits that have successfully implemented social media strategies under the following:

1. Assess Audiences
Know what the social activities are of their audience and choose their strategies and tools accordingly

  • Who are you trying to reach on the social web? Existing or potential? Younger or older?
  • What "social activities" is your target audience likely to be doing online? (creating, joining social networks, etc)
  • Where are you likely to find your audience online?
  • How will find the answers to your questions about your audience's social activities?

2 Set Measurable Outcomes
Set outcomes based on a clear understanding of how social media changes the feedback loop between organization and stakeholder

  • What do you want to accomplish on the social web?
  • Have you established realistic and measurable outcomes?
  • How will you listen? How will you participate?
  • How will you engage in conversations with your current or potential audience?
  • How will you encourage your audience to participate or create their own experience with your content or message?

3. Staff Roles
Put someone in charge who is comfortable and passionate about social media, but the social media strategy is everywhere in the organization

  • Who will be responsible for tactical implementation? Are they comfortable with the tools? Are they passionate about your programs or the community of people you want to reach?
  • How will you involve others in the organization in the strategy?

4. Policy
Understand what the organization and organization's staff will and will not do on the social web

  • Have you identified a social media policy for how your staff will represent the organization on a social networking site or what they will or will not blog about on their personal blogs or organizational blog?
  • Have you discussed the what the worst possible thing that could happen? How will you respond to criticism in blog comments, or a Fan on Facebook set up by someone outside your organization, but doesn't use your branding?
  • What happens if someone remixes your logo or remixes your message? What is the opposing side posts photos to your photo sharing group or responses with a video on YouTube? Will try to control it or embrace it?

5. Experiment
Understand that success is based on some trial and error and start small, learning from each activity

  • Have you created an experiment that is low-risk where you can learn?
  • How can you jump in first as an individual and then later as a group?
  • Does your organization have an environment where is safe to learn (fail)?
  • How will you design your first experiment, second experiment?
  • How will you figure out what doesn't work so you not do it again? How will you figure what works so you can repeat it? How will watch what other organizations are doing with social media and their results?

6. Time
Know that social media is a different way of approaching external or internal communications, it takes time and patience

  • How will you encourage a change of culture so that social media can be embraced by your organization?
  • How will you educate a skeptical executive director, board, or other staff?
  • How much time have you alloted for those will implement? How will you create the time?

Let’s Look at the Tools


  • What is Flickr?
  • Why nonprofit use it
  • Briefly, how it works – important features
  • Challenges
  • A few examples of how nonprofits are using Flickr for advocacy

How Nonprofits Can Get the Most Out of Flickr by Beth Kanter, TechSoup, March, 2008

Flickr for Nonprofits Examples
  • What is Twitter?
  • Why nonprofits use it
  • Briefly, how it works – important features
  • Challenges
  • A few examples of how Twitter has been used for health education, advocacy, and organizing

Providing Health Information and Tips
Women’s Health:</span>
Support Group Around Health Issues
Skinny Jeans:

Tracking Health
Tweet What You Eat

Health Prevention – Quitting Smoking

Pea Fund Friday

Twitter for Nonprofits Primer

Social Network Sites (Facebook, MySpace, etc)

  • What are social network sites?
  • Why nonprofits use them
  • Briefly, how they work – important features
  • Challenges
  • A few examples of how social Network sites have been used for advocacy, organizing, and health education

The Eight Secrets of Social Networking, by Beth Kanter, TechSoup January 2008

Determining Your Social Networking Needs, by Beth Kanter, Tech Soup, January 2008

Additional Articles, Resources, and Examples


Organizations that understand the “social” part of social media are successful
The tools will come and go, but outcomes, strategies, and metrics sustain.
Smart nonprofit campaigns understand that thoughtful experimentation and learning are essential

Raw notes