Social media in not-for-profits and membership organisations: Notes from the FreshNetworks breakfast briefing


FreshNetworks Breakfast briefingSo the first FreshNetworks breakfast briefing has just finished and we had some great insights into how not for profit organisations (NFP’s) can use social media for strengthening their membership offering.

Breast Cancer Care Case Study

First up to speak was Bertie Bosredon, Assistant Director of Services (Information & Multimedia) at Breast Cancer Care. Bertie has been busy changing Breast Cancer Care’s social media strategy to utilise other social media platforms and contribute to overall integrated structure. More importantly changing the way they use social media to start listening and conversing with people online.

There were some key messages that resonated from his presentation, these were:

1. Have an integrated approach

Breast Cancer Care realise that a lot of conversations that were happening online were not necessarily happening in their space but through working with key influencers on other platforms supplying them with packaged information you can increase your presence online and collaborate with a lot more people.

Breast Cancer Care at FreshNetworks2. Involve your members in planning

Bertie has been getting members involved in the planning of the current and future use of social media asking them what they would look for when engaging with Breast Cancer Care and how they could work this into a strategy that would best fit their organisational aims. Although a simple concept many companies forget that members and users usually know more about your brand then you do and can deliver some great insights.

3. Aligning all channels of communication

Breast Cancer Care have made sure that the social media strategy that they have been using is aligned with their offline print material so that it doesn’t matter where members go for the information. This means that they can use the channel that they prefer and the message will be consistent.

A popular point from Bertie: it doesn’t matter about the traffic to your site; care about how many people interact with your content even on other sites.

Social media marketing for not for profits

The next speaker was our very own Charlie Osmond from FreshNetworks. Charlie was speaking about how social media can be used for marketing and with specific reference to NFP organisations. Engaging people online is not about going for that quick win viral campaign but to successfully engage people online you need sustainable engagement.

Charlie Osmond at FreshNetworksSome key points to take away from Charlie’s presentations are:

1. The importance of the community manager

Engaging people online especially for sustainability requires a good community manager. They need to be able to reach out to people and facilitate discussions on a multitude of different platforms.

2. Know your tools but don’t let them drive your strategy

In order to be able to know what channels are available to you, you have to have a grasp of what’s in the vast social media environment. To create a successful strategy you should be looking at the aims of the business and the needs of the people that you want to engage.

3. To drive word of mouth for a certain cause take the ‘believe, belong and bear witness approach’

A great way to get people involved in a cause is to find people that believe in it, help them become involved in it and then help them bear witness to what they believe in this will help spread the message of the organisation through yours, and their own networks.

Steve Bridger on social media in charities

Finally but by no means least was Steve Bridger. Steve is a social media consultant and has some great (and extensive) history in community management for various charities. One of the more prevalent points of Steve’s presentation was the importance of putting people at the heart of your social media strategy

Some great points from Steve:

1. Help your advocates to amplify their voice

A lot of member organisations were using their current strategy to try and control conversations and go against ‘the flow’ of what people were online to do. They had a clear goal that they wanted to achieve and member organisations should be “enabling and empowering” these people to help deliver your message.

Steve Bridger at FreshNetworks2. It’s about relationships not transactions

Member organisations and more specifically charities are currently set-up for transactions and are very ‘me’ focussed, there is greater value for charities if they position themselves for conversations and engagement.

3. You have to be in it to win it

A lot of companies are hoping for a win in social media what ever that may be but they don’t have a social media policy or ban social media access completely. A restrictive approach rather than a guided one causes bottlenecks at many organisations and restricts valuable internal knowledge.

It was great to see the focus on relationships and emphasis on the value rather then how much money can be made. There were lots of interesting perspectives and too many to write all in this blog post. A big thank you to all the people that attended there were some great discussions and insight from lots of different organisations and another big thank you to the speakers involved.

It’s cool to align your brand with a cause in social media (even if only for a short time)


Ice Cold Pepsi
Image by boeke via Flickr

One question brands frequently ask themselves is why should people want to discuss their brand online in social media? With some brands that is true, certainly if they want to develop a sustained online conversation over time.

Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives using social media are not new. Brands that have aligned to a pursuit or a cause have found that the online conversations are more purposeful as their brand is seen in a new light.

Recently Pepsi has caught the attention of social media commentators by going one step better and much bigger. By shifting $20m of event based traditional advertising budget (from the Superbowl) Pespi launched the Pepsi Refresh Project.

Bonin Bough (Global Director Digital and Social Media at PepisCo.) described it on Beth Kantor’s non-profit focused blog:

For those who don’t know, the Pepsi Refresh Project is a new effort to empower individuals to make a positive impact on the world.  We’ve pledged to award more than $20 million to support innovative ideas that move communities forward. Anyone can apply for a grant and the public decides who wins.

Each month, Pepsi will award grants up to $1.3 million to the winning ideas across six categories, including: Health, Arts & Culture, Food & Shelter, The Planet, Neighborhoods and Education.

The interesting question is that Pepsi has first mover advantage is repeating this type of campaign possible in the future? i.e. can they (or for that matter anyone else) do the same sort of crowd sourced campaign next year and expect to get the same media exposure?

The longer term impact of the Pepsi Refresh Project partly depends on whether the causes that benefit will talk or continue to talk online about Pepsi.

This is our first post in a new series on social media and not-for-profits

Why every online community needs a suicide policy


by net_efekt

by net_efekt

My husband’s been reading John T Cacioppo’s Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection and as usual when he’s enthralled by something, I’ve heard about it at great length.

While I have yet to read it (I’m too cheap to buy a second copy instead of waiting for his) it has made me think a lot about loneliness and online communities at Christmas.

For some people, through physical and perceived isolation, online communities and social networks are a main or even sole route of social interaction.

Detailed 2004 research by Dr Vladeta Ajdacic-Gross of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, at the University of Zurich found that suicide rates actually decline dramatically in the run up to Christmas Day - Christmas Eve has the lowest suicide rate for the whole year.

The trouble starts after Christmas, suicide rates increase dramatically, with a peak in early January.

So it’s important to know what the realistic risks are, and when, before putting any plans in place.

Any seasonal suicide sensitivity needs to continue into the New Year, and your process for dealing with a suicide threat needs to be written and ready all year round.

No-one wants to write a will and it’s no different as a community, no-one relishes writing a suicide policy. But every community needs one, even the happiest, most sunny side up communities.


  1. Every community needs to be supportive, not just support communities.
  2. Every community contains people. Where there are people, there is unpredictable behaviour.

Several professions are at particularly heightened risk of depression and suicide, and consequently even a professional community aimed at sharing knowledge and best practise could be a platform for lonely, isolated people.

On one of our communities, which is mainly a place to discuss health and beauty, sometimes life gets in the way. During a product trial, a happy-go-lucky community member experienced an unexpected and upsetting event in her life. She came to the community, to a place she felt safe, surrounded by friends and she shared her news.

It wasn’t health and beauty news, it was real, personal news and she found comfort and support amongst online friends.

How could we ever assume that someone in their darkest moments, considering something terrible, wouldn’t come to a place they regularly spent time and felt safe? We couldn’t assume that. That’s why every community we run has a suicide policy, regardless of their membership or topics.

Writing a suicide policy

There are several factors to consider, and you must consider them properly:

  • Could there be minors using the community?
  • Do you have means of contacting community members?
  • Do you have real names and locations for community members?
  • You will need a templated (but customisable) message containing links to supportive organisations such as the Samaritans and any specifically relevant organisations (such as a professional benevolent society with counsellors available).
  • Do you have functions within your community that could be used to post images or videos of an attempted suicide? It is incredibly rare, but it happens.
  • Do you have an in-house legal team to discuss this with?
  • Is there a reporting function for other members to flag content they’re concerned about? Do members know this is not just for spam or offensiveness?

It’s a tragic subject, but as community managers we have a responsibility to try and keep our members as safe as possible.

Having a plan in place won’t cause any problems if it’s never needed, but not having a plan in place could leave a community manager with a scenario that haunts them for a very long time.

3. Growth of a healthy online community


Sun CatcherImage by ecstaticist via Flickr

What constitutes a healthy community?

This is a big question. A really big question.

In short (although we’ll deal with the long version too), it depends on what you (or your client) wants the online community to be doing, how the community feel about that, how much churn and spam there is, how the numbers reflect the KPIs set and how ‘happy’ the membership is.

When we say ‘happy’, it’s important to say that we mean happy as members of the community (happy that they are safe, respected and encouraged) rather than happy as people, even the best community manager in the world can’t enforce that!

Perhaps it’s easier to look at what constitutes an ‘unhealthy’ community? Here’s what my vision of an ill, ailing community looks like:

  • Members’ questions and opening posts go unanswered, by both other members and the community manager
  • There is a visibly high amount thinly veiled spam (a loosely connect reply to a post that is stuffed with links) and a splattering of out-and-out ‘buy these diet pills now’ spamola
  • Feuds and fights have escalated, crowding out genuine discussion; with even mild-mannered members turning decidedly Lord of the Flies
  • People are leaving, loudly
  • The original purpose, theme or appeal is unclear, or lost, and the community is in the throes of a panic-stricken identity crisis
  • OR worst of all, it’s totally and utterly barren

Notice at no point did I mention quantities, traffic or ratios of active users.

Sure, your online community should have KPIs but one person’s page view target is another’s irrelevant number. The number of members a broad-interest lifestyle community has will - and should - differ from a special-interest, academic knowledge-sharing community.

That’s why it’s very important to work out - right at the very beginning of the planning stage, ideally before - why you want to launch a community and how you hope people will use it.

There is solid value in having numerical targets and understanding how many members need to be engaging to keep momentum, but there is no definitive ideal traffic goal any more than there is one topic area for all communities to be built around.

Tara Hunt, author of The Whuffie Factor, has a lovely bite-sized definition:

The health of a community is the gauge of where various qualitative and quantitative metrics lie in relation to the goals you set.

How to encourage engagement

It’s all very well promoting the community in all the right places and sweet-talking potential members into joining, but the real challenge (and the real trick) is making sure that they engage once they’re there.

Think open questions, talking points

If you want to get a conversation flowing, don’t ask “do you wish you were 21 again?” because the answers are all likely to be “yes!”.

Instead, ask, “if you could talk to your 21-year-old self, what advice would you give?” or “If you were 21 again, what would you do differently?”. The answers will be varied; they’ll contain talking points that will lead to more questions and more talking points.

Keep it simple

You don’t need to think up dazzling forum talking points that will show everyone how clever and well-read you are. In fact, the chances are this would frighten off all but the biggest show-offs. Keep it simple. Ask questions or start conversations that you would ask your friends over a drink, or like to know people’s thoughts on at a dinner party.

There’s more to engagement than posts

Don’t be led down the path of thinking posts are all that count. Sure, having a healthy number of bloggers and posters is fantastic, but there’s more to engagement than this. Have members rate each others’ posts, upload photos, comment on blogs or even respond to images with images.

Trust your own interests

Unless you know it’s a complete diversion from the interests of your community, start conversations and write blogs about topics that interest you. You won’t be the only one interested and because you’re speaking from your own experience, it will come across as far more authentic. Community managers are allowed to be real people too, your members will appreciate it.

Careful with current affairs

Legal matters are a whole other guide and there are many books on media law available if you want to brush up. But remember these top level rules:

  • Don’t play with fire. Reporting restrictions of current court cases or investigations includes message boards, blogs and forums. Do not encourage debate around ongoing court cases, except with extreme care, because once you have pulled the tiger’s tail, it’s very hard to get it to stop the tiger typing when it crosses a legal line.
  • Defamation laws still apply to community platforms. If a newspaper prints a story saying a named known celebrity is a love rat, and it’s untrue, they are subject to the same laws as if a blogger on your site claims that their named neighbour is cheating on his wife.
  • Naming and shaming. It is not acceptable for any community members to talk about a named person (that they know or do not know) and tell untruths, or give away that person’s private information.
  • Clamp down on risky behaviour. You are giving your members a platform to communicate, to chat and to engage. They do not need (and should not want) to give out their personal email addresses and mobile phone numbers. Perhaps they just don’t realise how open communities are, perhaps it’s a testament to how safe and friendly you have made your community feel. Either way, you need to give gentle but firm guidance on personal safety and personal information. Eventually your community champions will take on the baton themselves and report unsafe behaviour, and set examples of good behaviour, all by themselves.

A sobering example: In 2008, a record payout was made to a social housing firm in Sunderland after seriously defamatory comments were repeatedly posted and published on an ‘anonymous’ news and discussion site, called DadsPlace (sic). Eventually, the owners and administrators of the site were revealed through detailed investigation and they were found to be responsible and made to pay £100,000 to the victim of the defamation.

Online communities aren’t places to allow dubious behaviour to claim sanctuary.

More on this next week in the ‘Moderation and safety’ section of our Community Management series

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Why user-generated medical content works


When people think of user-generated content they often think of the media or publishing. Videos on YouTube, spoofing TV shows or films, and content responding to and expanding upon journalistic or editorial articles abound. But UGC is certainly not limited to these areas. In fact it can work best on any topic where some individuals will have developed a specific interest in or knowledge of the area.

The medical industry is one that sees a lot of UGC. A search on YouTube finds thousands of videos of people talking about their illnesses, from cancer sufferers to people with bullemia. Support groups are flourishing and people are finding that sharing experiences and content online is sometimes easier than face-to-face. Talking about your experiences to video and uploading this to YouTube for others to respond to and comment on is probably easier than discussing it in real life. The internet and social networks probably offer access to a greater number of fellow-sufferers than even a local support group might offer.

Beyond support, people can use social media and user-generated content to help understand their illnesses. The supposed danger here is that people will self-diagnose and that this may be incorrect. At the same time, you’d expect that privacy issues would prevent any meaningful and useful exchange of ideas. But in fact, user-generated medical content is a vibrant example of how the social networking and online communities can be powerful for exchanging information.

A report by Jupiter Research in 2007 showed that 20% of Americans turn to others online for information about medical issues. They are clearly not shy of seeking or giving advice, even on more personal issues. They use sites such as OrganizedWisdom, a Wiki-style community, to share information they have and get information they need.

The concern over the accuracy of this information still stands, with worries about non-medical professionals sharing information that people use to self-diagnose. But research by the British Medical Journal in 2004 found that in the online support communities it studied only 6% of content was incorrect. If this replicated across all medical content online then it would probably be among some of the more accurate user-generated content on the internet.

User-generated medical content shows that people are willing to share and are accurate when they do so. Even in a more niche and potentially risky area such as medical advice and disgnosis, the quality and usefulness of user-generated content is high.