There are so many different online tools available to us, and new ones popping up every day. It can get awfully confusing, and as a nonprofit, you have to spend your money and your time wisely, while maximizing your results. So, of all the options out there, which are the most important?
Here’s a quick list of what I believe are the most important online tools you should be using for your nonprofit. Keep in mind, your specific situation might dictate something different. One of the most important things for any nonprofit is to determine which social networks to use based on what makes sense for YOU, and where your target audience is spending time.
1. A website
This may seem silly, but there are a lot of nonprofits that have no real online presence. So get a website. There was a time when having a website was a bit of a luxury as it could be rather expensive to build one. Not so much anymore. A functional, visually-pleasing website can be built for next to nothing.
Having said that, remember that the Internet is often the first place people go to find information about you. Not the Yellow Pages, not your ads–your website. If that’s the case, think of your website as the online equivalent of your brick and mortar presence. Take pride in it. Do you spend money on the upkeep of your building and facilities? Then you should be willing to spend the money necessary to get what you need. Plus, it gives you a place to accept online donations. A website is no longer just an online brochure. It can be a living, breathing hub of activity.
2. A blog
If a website is the hub of your online presence, a blog located on your site is the heart. A blog allows you to tell stories about your organization. It allows you to provide important information. It shows your clients and donors that you know what you are talking about. And it provides much of the search engine optimization (SEO) that is needed to get better placement in search engine results.
Of all the social networks out there, this is the one that I consider a no-brainer at this point. Over a billion people are on Facebook, and more than likely that includes a good chunk of your existing and potential audience. A properly built Facebook business page that is updated regularly with good, engaging content can be extremely effective. Plus, with the roll out of Facebook’s new Graph Search beginning, being on Facebook is even more important as a form of customer service and word of mouth marketing.
4. Location tools
If you are a brick and mortar facility, the most important location tool for you is Google+ Local, which used to be known as Google Places. You might even be there without knowing it, so you’ll need to claim and optimize your account there. Properly optimized, this gives users a chance to learn about you right there inside of their Google searches. Create your account, or find it and claim it, and then make it complete. Additionally, you might want to consider Foursquare, which along with Facebook and Google, gives your visitors a chance to tell others about you via check ins. Other search engines like Bing and Yahoo also have their own versions of location tools for nonprofits.
Again, for some organizations, these might not be important, but for others, they might be essentials. Only you can decide that for your organization.
You can create both an organization page and individual pages for your employees here. The real benefit of LinkedIn is the ability to connect with higher level donors. I often tell nonprofits that their higher level executives need to be on LinkedIn, and need to be connecting with other high-level executives and corporate donors. Many of those people, by nature of demographics, are more likely to be there than on Facebook.
Two things: video is one of the most powerful tools you have to tell stories. And YouTube is the second largest search engine (behind Google, and owned by Google). You can create a branded page on YouTube, and host your videos there for free. People can find them there, plus you can share them from YouTube to other platforms like Facebook or even your blog. Again, a big help with SEO. And shooting videos doesn’t have to be expensive; many organizations create effective and visually pleasing videos simply by using their smart phones.
I love Twitter, but have it as a secondary tool mostly because it’s a bit harder to use than other platforms. I believe that Twitter, done properly, is the most personal of all of the social platforms. It can be very effective as a way of dispensing information and communicating with your audience, but I often steer clients away from this if I don’t think they are ready for it. If you’re willing to commit to it, then bump this up to essentials.
4. Photo and Image Tools
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the case, it’s important for you to take pictures of your work, your staff, and others, and then share them online. The three tools that fit best here (and you can use all of them) are Flickr, Instagram, and Pinterest. Flickr is a great place to host your photos for free, while sharing them across your other online properties. Instagram can be used in a similar fashion, and has the added bonus of letting your audience take their own photos, and sharing them as well with an appropriate hashtag that connects the image to your work. And Pinterest is a whole different animal that is growing in popularity, and can be used to further spread your content, showcase your needs, and tell your stories.
There are plenty of other tools you can use, but if you start with these, carefully choosing the most important ones for your specific situation, you’ll be in good shape. But remember, once you commit to a platform, you need to follow through. Creating an account or presence and then not using it is not acceptable, and sends the wrong message to your audience.
Which of these tools are you using, and are there others that you believe are essential to your online presence?