#SOCIALMEDIA: Politicians & NonProfits Need Agility With Online Outreach

Republicans & Democrats on social media for 2012As the Democratic ‘nominee’ Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech last night in Charlotte, NC, a record number of tweets on politics were sent out − some 52,756 tweets-per-minute (tpm) being posted as he wound up. By contrast, Mitt Romney inspired 14,289 tpm, which was about half as many as reactions to Michelle Obama’s presentation two nights ago.

But what both parties know well is the fact that they must be ‘agile’ with their social-media outreach. They have to find ways to steer the narrative while many thousands of other voices also have the opportunity to steer that narrative. True, campaigns for the presidency take up far more online space than most any nonprofit, which is precisely why nonprofits can learn something from watching how the campaigns are trying to use social media.

I wrote ‘trying to use social media’ because it remains a pretty new way to communicate, and even experts sometimes struggle to keep the messages on message, which is why agility is so important as long-term goals are strived for and so many people post and respond online. Nevertheless, how far we have come since 2008, when John McCain really had no presence on social networks, and yet many reported on it as ‘the first social media election.’ Nowadays we take candidates’ spouses’ tweets as the expectation.

Which leads us to the latest buzzword about communication: agility. Like any buzzword, users of the term often leave its definition back at the gate and hope folks will simply be impressed by its use. Sean Nicholson takes a humorously jaundiced view of the term: “My latest favorite buzzword that is invading both the business and social vocabulary is ‘Agile’. As an ex-software developer, it makes me giggle a little when people use it incorrectly. It brings to mind those famous words of Inigo Montoya (from The Princess Bride) when his employer continually used the word ‘inconceivable’.”

But as Sean also points out, the word does have value, when used properly, for exploring use of social media. He lists the twelve points of the ‘Agile Software Manifesto,’ which certainly can be (and should be) as a foundation for how organizations use social media. Do please read the manifesto (it’s not long), but we would point to two statements that any nonprofit of any size should be ready to take on board.

First (2nd plank of the platform), “Issues arise in the social space frequently. Be prepared to address them and do your best to ensure that your communications and tactics are evolving as the needs of your audience evolves.” Do you listen as well as speak on social networks? Does your staff discuss ways to deal with new threads of conversations, whether in praise or not? If you are answering with anything less than an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ your charity will be forgotten when the issues around its hard work change.

Second (12th on the platform), “If there is one constant in social media, it’s change. Platforms change, rules change, players change, communities change, your headcount changes….be prepared for change.” Sure, your nonprofit has a niche and provides much-needed services. But does it function as if the needs of your constituency are static? Or as if your groove has turned into a rut? Refer back to the previous point! Agility is the quality of being able to think and move quickly and easily.


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