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Nonprofits are increasingly using social networking platforms. That's the good news. According to the newly released, "Nonprofit Social Network Survey Report," sponsored by NTEN, Common Knowledge, and ThePort, over 86% are using commercial networking sites for marketing purposes, while almost a third use house networks. So, why the dilemma in choice?

One reason, the study cites, is that it's far easier to set up a group, page or cause on a commercial network than to build a house network. Of the 86.2% of nonprofits with a presence on at least one commercial social network, Facebook (FB) reigns #1 with over 74% of respondents maintaining a presence there. Yet, the average FB community size is just 5391 members. With most organizations active in this space for less than two years, it will be interesting to watch how this engagement rate evolves over time.
Another reason there may be less than a third using house social networks is because the social network software market is highly fragmented. The report indicates that the supplier with the most market share is Ning, at over 18%. Open Social is the most used universal ID protocol network for over 17% of organizations.
The survey includes other important findings such as:

  • How much staff time is being allocated to social networking

  • How much funding is allocated to these efforts

  • How much money is being generated through social networking

  • How they promote these networks

  • Who is responsible internally

Although this type of survey is extremely beneficial to senior leaders and marketers within the sector, there are also some elements I believe are missing.

  1. Do they have a social networking strategy in place? Without a marketing strategy for this activity, how can nonprofits evaluate their investment?

  2. Have they polled their members/supporters to find out what their social networking preferences are? This would be the customer-centric approach to take. On commercial networking sites, many groups, especially nonprofit associations, are restricted to bonafide members. Charities may be more open. Either way, I'd like to see a debate on whether unrestricted or house networks are the better choice.

Last year, Daily Fix contributor Toby Bloomberg, tried to get an association (to which we both belong) to open up their house network externally. She felt that it would engage more people, and as a result, could help increase membership recruitment. This has yet to be proven, but it would certainly merit a test or two.
What are your thoughts on these results? How do you engage with the nonprofits you support? If you work for a nonprofit, what's working for you?

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Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting LLC, and a marketing and branding thought leader, speaker, writer, and MarketingProfs contributor. She is the author of the Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most for Small Business Success.

LinkedIn: Elaine Fogel

Twitter: @Elaine_Fogel