And Other “Stupid” Questions You Were Too Afraid to Ask!

Photo by B Tal on Flickr

The “Be the Media” project led by the Nonprofit Technology Network and Beth Kanter starts today. The project will ultimately be the “go-to” spot for people who are both learning and teaching about the use of social media in the nonprofit sector.

Beth invited me to participate and I’m looking forward not only to sharing what I know through the project, but also highlighting its growth here for you on this blog and asking for your input on various questions and ideas as Beth leads us through the creation of the various modules.

This week begins with “Why Your Nonprofit Organization Should Be the Media.” Beth kicked off the conversation here.

But before we can get into why social media is so great for nonprofits, let’s back up a step and answer some basic questions that people have asked me quietly under their breath when they were fairly certain no one else was listening, usually after I’d given a talk on online marketing . . .

1) So “Web 2.0” isn’t software you buy from Microsoft? (Usually said with a slight deer-in-headlights look).

No. Web 2.0 is not a single piece of software, but a whole new way of looking at how we use the Internet. Now anyone, not just the fat cats or tech geeks, can put just about anything online and we can all discuss it, build upon it, and share it with each other. The power of the back-and-forth conversation and the collaboration that comes from that is what’s new and exciting about Web 2.0 over old Web 1.0, which was more about just putting information online. That’s still valuable, but it’s not the same as being able to talk about the information and debate its meaning with others across the street or around the world, all at the same time.

2) Do we really have to have a website? (Usually said by a face sagging from the sheer exhaustion of an already way-too-long to-do list).

You have to have some kind of online home base to work from. It can be a traditional website or a blog, but yes, you do need some kind of page that you can edit at will and where people can find you, without any special membership requirements. In other words, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are great, but I think every nonprofit should start with a site that anyone can visit without a username and password. If you are completely clueless, start with or Blogger.

3) Do we have to get on MySpace/Facebook? (Usually said with a profound look of worry about having to venture where all the younguns’ are).

Definitely not right away, and maybe never. It totally depends on who you are trying to reach. If the people you are trying to reach — your target demographic — are on a particular social networking site, then at some point, yes, you should work on being there too. But if the people you need to talk to the most don’t use those sites, then there is no need to make them a high priority. And it’s much more important to have your home-base website or blog in good shape than to start creating additional outlying pages that will be hard for you to keep updated.

4) Why should I be excited about letting some random person we’ve never heard of before raise money for our group? This is a nightmare! (Usually said with a look of great alarm after hearing me talk about online fundraising widgets like those individuals can create on Six Degrees).

This question is usually coming from one of two fears: (1) the person will go way off-message in raising the money and (2) the money will not actually be turned over to the charity.

Think about the best in-person conversation you’ve had in the last year with friends or family. Did you both have a script and did you both follow it exactly? Of course not! To realize the greatest benefits of social media, you have to let the conversation happen naturally, off script. Yes, you have to give up control of the message (which, honestly, you don’t have anyway). But why not embrace these fans and give them a little help, gently correctly any mistakes as you give them loads of praise for helping you? And people who use widgets from the established organizations like Six Degrees don’t actually see the money themselves — it goes through a processing company that cuts the check to the nonprofit directly.

5) I love the idea of using photos on our website or sharing through Flickr, but how do I get the photos off of my digital camera? (Usually said by someone laughing at herself for not being able to figure it out).

Your camera has some kind of memory card in it. That card is like a little hard drive where your pictures are stored and you need to let your main computer see that little hard drive. You can usually do this in one of two ways. First, your camera may have come with a cord that allows you to plug the camera into your computer through a USB or firewire slot. Or you can take the card out and plug it into a card reader that’s already built into your computer or that’s plugged into a USB slot. Your computer will give your memory card a drive letter. Find that, and then you simply copy and paste (or move) your picture files from that drive to your hard drive, just like you move any other file from one folder to another.

OK, with all of that out of the way, let’s have some fun talking about nonprofits and social media!