Transparency - Flickr Photo by AMagillMost nonprofits understand the potential power of social media to connect with both old and new supporters, advocates, and clients. But have you considered how social media like blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can be used to increase your organization’s accountability to and transparency with those same people?

Social media can help you improve your accountability in seven ways.

1. Real-time Communications

Social media is about the here and now. It’s the fastest way to share timely news with people, and when you use it that way, you demonstrate that you aren’t using the old “We missed the newsletter deadline, so forget it” excuse. People turn to social media for breaking news of all kinds, and they expect you to use the tools in the same way. Say there is a unexpected problem with an event you are hosting, such as a road closure that makes it difficult to get to your fundraiser. Twitter and Facebook are perfect ways to tell attendees about an alternate route.

2. Personal – Not Institutional – Voices

Social media is, well, social, which means that it works best when it’s used by real people at organizations, speaking in conversational, natural voices, rather than stilted official-speak. You are more likely to explain news more clearly when you speak in a conversational style and to take personal responsibility for what you post online when it is attached to you personally. It’s appropriate to have “official” Twitter and Facebook accounts, but it’s also good practice to let supporters know which human beings actually update those official accounts.

3. Responding to Negativity

While you can certainly put social media policies in place, the reality is that anyone can say just about anything about your organization in social media. The overwhelming majority of what people say about nonprofits is positive or neutral, but when the negative does appear, responding to it directly, calmly, and thoughtfully goes a long way. Many corporations are relearning the value of great customer service the hard way because their unsatisfied customers now broadcast their displeasure via social media. While we haven’t seen that happen too often in the nonprofit world, it’s not unheard of.

4. Show Behind-the-Scenes

Social media allows you to share little vignettes and “slice of life” stories from your daily work. That means it’s easy to take people behind the scenes and share what really goes on within your programs. Full-blown, in-depth descriptions aren’t necessary – simply give us a little peek into what’s happening by sharing a few moments from your days. You’d be surprised how what you find mundane in your work life is actually interesting to those who support your cause!

5. Ask Questions and Seek Feedback

Many nonprofits use social media to float ideas for comments, to gather opinions, and to let their supporters weigh in. It’s an easy way to demonstrate that you are listening to your supporters. Can’t land on a theme for your next event? Come up with a few finalists and put them on Facebook for a vote. Then use social media to share the results or other ways that you used the feedback you heard.

6. Invite Participation

Social media gives you more opportunities to allow your supporters to engage with your staff and your work. Can you encourage supporters to upload and share their own photos or videos with you, for example? Or to write a guest blog post? Also think about ways that you can use social media to open up your programs to those who cannot easily connect with you or participate face to face. We are all so busy these days, so think creatively about ways can people can participate in off-hours, but online, for example.

7. Keep Talking in Between Meetings

Social media can also be used in smaller, more controlled groups, like closed Facebook Groups for board members. Allowing board members to connect and converse in between board meetings can help keep your organization top of mind, while allowing board members to more fully discuss important issues outside a hurried board meeting agenda.

By focusing on using social media as a tool for increased accountability and transparency, as well as marketing and communications, your nonprofit can truly optimize its power.

This post is excerpted from an article I wrote for the National Catholic Development Conference‘s newsletter. If your readers are nonprofits, I’m happy to contribute to your newsletter too. Send me an email to start the conversation.