Nonprofit Social Media Needs Strategy & Passion

Jared Perdue, Soles4Souls Volunteer, visits New Vision Orphanage in Haiti (Photo Courtesy of Soles4Souls)

Editor’s Note: I’m so happy to have a guest post from Rebecca Cicione, Social Media Specialist for the nonprofit Soles4Souls. Rebecca is a New Jersey native living in Nashville, Tennessee. She graduated from Rowan University in 2011 with a degree in Public Relations. Her passion lies in working with both the nonprofit and music industries, as well as cultivating productive relationships between the two. She’s got great insight into how she does social for S4S . . . great tips for any nonprofit trying to reach the millennial crowd.

Who knew that after college, I would be paid to research social media trends and develop content for Facebook and Twitter posts? I surely didn’t. In fact, I thought that people who called themselves a full-time social media professional were seriously overstating their role. Boy, was I wrong.

It turns out that my love for MySpace, YouTube, and Google in middle school served me well. Growing up with a passion for learning how to effectively use these media outlets (which have grown to include LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, WordPress, Foursquare, etc.) enabled me to think about social networking as an integral sector of marketing and raising awareness for social justice causes.

Social for Good

Working at Soles4Souls, Inc. is a gratifying experience. We are a charity that exists to provide relief and hope to the victims of abject poverty and natural disasters. We provide footwear, clothing, and other necessities to individuals both in the United States and internationally. My job is to manage all social media accounts, our college chapters, a micro-giving campaign and every other social awareness program I can get my hands into. I use our social media as a customer service tool, as an advertisement, and as an effective method of reaching out to those in the community who are searching for a place to donate their extra shoes or clothing.

Online Evolving to Real Life

Not everyone recognizes the tie-in between social media and real, offline action. But it most definitely exists. One of my favorite examples of this happened a few months ago when an individual wrote on our Facebook page and asked if we had any extra shoes to send to a tent city in Lakeland, NJ. We chatted a bit and I forwarded her to our outreach coordinator. We connected with the man running the tent city and sent him shoes to distribute to the residents.

The same real life actions occurred during our Hurricane Sandy response. We used a graphic on our social media, website and email blast to give an overview of the hurricane story and ask for help. And when companies widely recognized brands donated product, I added their logos. People began commenting and asking where they could donate shoes and clothing and what local areas needed help the most. Real life actions prompted by social media proved invaluable in this situation.

This rolls over to our own team as well; one of our newest hires found us from a tweet that someone retweeted. In addition, we are currently participating in an upcycling program due to another random Twitter connection. It all comes together and ultimately, helps change the world. But these cases wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have someone overseeing Soles4Souls’ social media efforts.

The Importance of Storytelling

In my 14 months here, I’ve learned that the most important aspects of my job are actually storytelling and customer service. Not only am I a gatekeeper for the organization, but I’m also a professional storyteller. I blog four days a week and follow weekly themes for each post. The best posts come after a great interview with an employee, donor, or shoe recipient. Conveying these stories and photos to the online public draws them to the heart of the organization.  Once they’ve “liked” or “followed,” I consistently provide them with positive feedback, updates, answer any inquiries, and continuously build relationships. These steps ultimately lead to offline actions–whether it’s a shoe drive, fundraising event, or international distribution trip.

We hosted a one-day event called Barefoot4Them in early October. Each participant received a Barefoot4Them ID card that hosted the name, photo, and story of a child without shoes. In the months that led up to the event, I processed thousands of registrations and encouraged people to use social networking and real-life action to make a difference.

And they sure did. On 10.11.12, photos on Facebook and with the #Barefoot4Them hashtag on Instagram and Twitter came pouring in. I saw photos of the people I converse with regularly online walking around town or sitting at their desk barefoot. Three of us went to a large corporation in downtown Nashville to interview a few of their “barefoot” employees. One man’s demeanor changed after reading his Barefoot4Them ID card aloud in front of the camera. This was more than for the sake of adding another hashtag to the Internet. It was real life. Once we left, he abandoned his car in the parking lot and walked three miles home . . . without shoes.

It’s this kind of action that shows me that my job is having an impact on the community and abroad. We live in a digital age that’s oddly influential and incredible. But using social media tools effectively means enabling your activists and fans to take your message from online to offline. All it takes is a strategy and passion.