2012-05-24

Co.Exist

3 Old-School Organizations For Good That Have Mastered Social Media

You hear a lot about hot new social strategies, but some of the oldest social good organizations in the country are making big strides to be at the vanguard of interacting with their constituents online—to very good effect.

Tech startups seem to get all the attention in the social media space. But there are some amazing 100-plus-year-old organizations that are adapting and changing with the times. Although they have thousands of chapters and employees, the three giants discussed below have been nimble enough to learn new social media tools and impact their communities like never before.

I’ll look at Goodwill first because the organization just launched a new mobile app. Goodwill Industries’ primary mission is job skills training, and their site offers links, training services, and stories of people who have been helped.

In 2009, Goodwill only had 200 fans on Facebook. Then Arlene McCrehan, Goodwill’s senior director of online media, worked with Katie Delahaye Paine, self-proclaimed "Queen of Social Media Measurement" and started measuring their traffic and engagement and adjusting their strategy accordingly. At the end of 2010, Goodwill had over 22,000 subscribers on Facebook and on Twitter, they earned 4,200+ followers. Both groups have shown strong growth ever since.

Recently, Goodwill has also launched fashion trunk shows and online sales, as profiled on NPR. And now, under the consumer-focused brand "Shopgoodwill," the organization has 2,245 followers on Twitter. They also support The Good Life Blog, which is all about finding fantastic fashion at Goodwill stores.

Many local Goodwill chapters are exploring the possibilities of social media as well. Goodwill of Greater Washington participated in our Give to the Max: Greater Washington online giving competition and their executive director promised to walk down K Street dressed as the Goodwill mascot if they raised $5,000. Not only did they meet the goal, but supporters had a good time and felt connected to the nonprofit in a new way. Games and competitions in which supporters can get some sort of emotional payoff are incredibly engaging on social media. These payoffs can be anything from a donor seeing their picture and name on a list of "top fundraisers" to feeling like they have a personal connection to members of an organization. Those new "friends" are much more likely to remain in the Goodwill community and support the organization when they need it.

The United Way—another rapidly changing organization—has 1,800 local chapters in 41 countries, and pools fundraising and support for a diverse coalition of nonprofits to address education, income stability, and health. To help unify its brand, in 2008 United Way launched the "Live United" campaign, with volunteers and celebrities wearing white "Live United" T-shirts featured on their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages. This focus on a visually driven "United" identity was immensely helpful in establishing a social media presence.

In addition to a national blog, most chapters maintain their own blogs (many of which were profiledhere). Local chapters work hard to engage and inform their communities, listening, commenting, and sharing guest blogs.

The American Red Cross’s use of social media has been absolutely remarkable. The numbers speak for themselves. The ARC uses its Facebook and Twitter channels to thank donors and volunteers individually, post photos and news from disaster areas, honor volunteers and staff, deliver the heartfelt thank-yous of those who’ve received aid, and report back from areas it has served. They don’t always take themselves seriously though. I particularly enjoyed a recent poll from ARC asking followers what disaster they felt most prepared for. The winner? Zombie apocalypse, with 656 votes. Tornado came in a distant second with 124.

ARC has lived and breathed social media best practices. The Red Cross is taking social media to a new level by creating a new social media digital operations center, which helps them use social media to react to disasters more quickly and efficiently. This new system can monitor tweets to identify locations with specific needs, helping the ARC target staff and relief, and quickly connect community members with the best possible resources.

These institutions each have a mission that is as relevant today as when they were founded, and they’ve made powerful use of new social media tools and techniques to serve their communities in new and innovative ways. Hats off to all three. For more information on top nonprofits and their social media use, check out Craig Newmark’s fantastic infographic on this subject.

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4 Comments

  • Nstencel

    I think it's great that older organizations like these are taking advantage of newer communication platforms.  I feel like organizations that are ignoring social media are truly missing out on a way to reach out to their online audiences, and those who ignore them are not going to do well in the future.  The American Red Cross is certainly building a much stronger organization by communicating with the public this way. In times of crises people look online for information and they will always trust the information being posted by the ARC. Overall I think what these organizations are doing is great, and I can't wait to see what they do in the future. 

  • Anita Loomba

    It's so great to see non profit organizations leverage social media. The key success factor for social media is connecting and building relationships - which can be so beneficial for non profits. It also increases brand awareness and engagement. Great article. 

  • Ifdy Perez

    It's great to see nonprofit orgs leveraging the power and reach of social media to better serve their communities. As a zombie fanatic, I love what the Red Cross did! Props to 'em!

  • Gloria Huang

    Hi Lesley, this is Gloria from the Red Cross social team. Thank you so much for highlighting our work online! I also found the results of our preparedness Facebook question to be rather entertaining . :) The fun part was that even though zombies may not seem particularly mission oriented for us, the poll was a great way to start some conversations about preparedness in general! After all, preparing for the zombie apocalypse is not terribly different from preparing for a tornado or hurricane. 

    Thanks again!