I am involved in a rather spirited discussion thread on the Linkedin group Social Media for Nonprofit Organizations. The discussion centers around ‘What fees should a nonprofit expect to pay for social media consulting help?’
A legitimate question in the sometimes confusing world of social media consulting. Many organizations, especially smaller, low staffed non-profits, struggle with this. They face a double challenge – small budgets and stretched thin staffs. Then, they have to navigate the maze of social media ninjas, gurus and experts – all talking a good game that is often more about jargon than advice. It can make it difficult for a non-profit to start its social media participation because, well, they don’t know where to start.
One particular comment on the thread struck me:
Would I hire someone to manage my personal relationships (be a one way translator) with my best friends – for me – because I don’t have the time? Would I, would they, tolerate this intermediary to convey fully and completely,in either direction the authenticity, transparency, subtlety, care, support, historical knowledge of our shared experiences together – would they have the trust and loyalty that only comes with the knowledge of the sustained value we have delivered to each other over time – if all they did was to talk to each of us and not listen to either us … before speaking?
The obvious answer to this question is no. However, the question misses the point on the functionality of social media.
Yes, social media is a conversation. When we are on our personal Facebook pages engaging in a back-and-forth with an old friend we are merely using a new platform to facilitate an old conversation. The essential communication is still between two people.
The dynamic is vastly different when the conversation is between a donor/volunteer and a non-profit. This is not a personal conversation between two – operative word here – people. Social media allows a non-profit (or business) to appear more personable. But, in the end, they are still an organization with goals and strategies and tactics that separate it from the strictly human level.
The communication strategies they use are crafted by committee and designed to fulfill the image and mission of the organization. The ‘one voice, one message’ strategy is not left in the hands of one person.
Which leads me back to the question above.
If your organization has the financial wherewithal and staff sophistication to effectively manage a social media presence you’re probably doing that already.
However, if you’re new to the game, on a tight budget and working with a staff that is multi-tasking to the max – why wouldn’t you engage some outside assistance in getting your social media presence rolling?
Large corporations routinely hire outside Public Relations firms to handle their corporate image. Does anyone think that the PR firm ‘speaks’ for the company? Don’t quality PR firms work with organizations to make their clients look good? The best PR firms are invisible to the public.
Same holds true for marketing. How many non-profits use outside agencies to produce and organize their campaigns? The better question is – how many don’t?
Social media is a new platform with new rules of engagement that requires a different way of thinking. The trap is that social media seems so much more simple than public relations or marketing. How many people do you know that can craft an effective press release or design a stunning ad campaign? You would consider them experts in their field, wouldn’t you?
But when it comes to social media we’re all players (and Facebook is merely a stage, ba dum bump). We all understand social media because we all use it everyday.
We don’t worry about our personal brand when interacting on our own social network. We don’t have a personal communication strategy when we are exchanging vacation photos with friends. We don’t need to consult the marketing department when we ignore a friend request or a comment.
A non-profit does not have that luxury. If they decide to jump in they have to be ready to play and engage and respond and develop and….you get the gist.
The overarching question is about fees. What you pay depends on what you need and how well you negotiate.
The subtext is about whether you should use any outside vendor to manage your social media. My obvious answer is yes since this is what I do for a living. But, this is not entirely a self-serving response.
If you decide that social media is part of your growth strategy, your marketing mix and your customer response system then – by all means – you should engage a consultant.
Do your due diligence – talk to them, examine their track record, listen to their plans. See if they fit with you on a cultural level. Pick their brains.
The worst that could happen is that you learn something new.
Social Media Specialist