THE BLOG
06/10/2010 04:01 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Networked Nonprofits Focus on Results, Not Reach

If Allison Fine and I were to boil down the main point of our book to a single tweet, it would be: Nonprofits need to work less like single organizations and more like networks to leverage social media to solve complex social problems. Making the shift from an organization to one that works in a networked way both inside and outside of institutional walls is not a one-step process. It isn't as easy as changing a light bulb and our book provides a 12 step framework for making this shift.

In his post, The Networked Nonprofit: Beth Kanter And Allison Fine Tell Orgs How To Use Technology To Their Advantage, Jonathan Daniel Harris picked up on this point. However, he used an example (not from our book or interview) that compared the Twitter followers of two organizations.

Catholic Relief Services, one of the most prominent nonprofits in the country, for example, has just over 4,000 followers on Twitter. Compare this to the more plugged-in UNICEF, which now boasts well over 100,000."

In Harris' post, he quotes me as saying: "Nonprofits who are really smart are going to be listening on social media channels . . ." In the comments, the Community Manager from the CRS, obviously rocking the Google Alerts, responded:

While I will concede that there is always room for improvement, I feel the need to point out that comparing a Catholic agency with UNICEF is hardly an fair comparison. UNICEF's celebrity Goodwill Ambassadors like Mia Farrow, Orlando Bloom and Ricky Martin often have their own fan base on Twitter and ask followers to support UNICEF.

True, 4k followers on Twitter isn't breaking any records, but our audience appears to have chosen Facebook instead. Our rapidly growing page is now over 21,000 and is a community of extremely informed and engaged supporters who comment on our posts. Using Google analytics, we know they visit our website to read the stories we post on FB. We are also using YouTube more and integrating videos in many of our e-mail campaigns with great response.

I think to look at Twitter as the sole mark of an organizations tech and social media savvy is only part of the picture.

I agree that you can't look at a single channel either. But nonprofits need to stop using the numbers of followers or fans as indicators for success. Measure the impact. A lot of followers doesn't equal impact or even influence.

As Stefano Maggi points out, there's more to influence besides numbers, there is also affinity. Geoff Livingston put it another way: relationships matter more than numbers with Twitter following. We did an experiment to prove our point.

On Twitter, a more meaningful metric to guide strategy (on Twitter) might be re-tweets as an indication of affinity. It also helps to understand how networks work and apply that understanding to analyzing the relationships in your network, using social network analysis tools. Then you know who the influencers are and you can formulate and executive an effective strategy based on finding and cultivating them.

Numbers don't matter as much building relationships one person at a time. The bottom line is to focus on the results of your social media strategy, don't get distracted by meaningless metrics like the number of followers.

What do networked nonprofits use to measure success of their social media strategies? I think offline results! What do you think?