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January 12, 2023

Part II: How Nonprofit Executive Leaders Can Help Navigate a Volatile Social Media Climate

by Dwayne Flinchum

by Dwayne Flinchum

This article is the second in a two-part series exploring ways that nonprofit executive leaders can direct and manage communications teams and operations as organizations navigate a volatile time in the social media industry.

The current climate of social media is confusing, and for good reason. The industry is in the midst of revolutionary change. In my last article, I shared how we are encouraging restraint in investments toward growing audiences on social platforms. In 2023, nonprofit executive leaders can hedge against the upheaval in the social media business environment by taking actions to invest in their brand more strategically.

The future of TikTok in the U.S. is uncertain, even as the app surges in popularity. Twitter is in disarray. Privacy policy changes at Apple have made it progressively difficult for marketers to identify and reach desired communities, reducing the effectiveness of advertising. Facebook’s image was tarnished through bad press and specifically, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but other factors have played a role in the loss of luster and audience at the once-iconic brand. According to Bob Alesio, Principal at Industrial Clicks, “It’s important to note that Facebook’s challenges are compounded by the platform’s diminished popularity among younger people. For years, Facebook has been wrestling with a growing perception that its platform is for an older audience. Hence, the Meta rebrand – and diversification through the acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp over the years, which are still very relevant among the younger set.”

Even as older brands fight to keep up, the social media industry continues to spawn new platforms, with new media brands cropping up to serve niche interests and audiences. “Gas,” an app serving teens and co-created by a former Meta product manager, rose quickly and overtook TikTok and BeReal to be the top free download in late 2022.

Communications affect virtually every operation of your organization and brand. Arguably, there is no other function that can add more value, faster, to an organization. Executing at a level of excellence can take an enterprise to the next level of recognition and business success. Conversely, continuing with a status quo or complacent approach can leave a brand mired in relative obscurity, or underperforming in a competitive environment.

While communications deliver on the mission-fulfilling needs of funded initiatives and programs, the most successful organizations understand the value of exceptional, coordinated communications that drive business value and achieve important equity goals. This includes elevating the brand and programs in ways to support large-gift donations and foundational giving, as well as establishing financial value in the brand through earning broad awareness and deepening engagement with desired audiences.

It is not a precise science or a direct relationship to ROI, but brands that are visible and vibrant will always stimulate growth in multiple ways. This includes successful membership recruitment, true peer and influencer partnerships, media relations, improved fundraising and more. I once helped lead the rise of an organization’s brand that subsequently introduced highly desirable partnership opportunities with large media companies – securing more than $10 million worth of annual, in-kind media donated to the organization. For executive leaders committed to growth, the logical question is how to invest: where do you commit your time, your communications teams and financial resources? What’s the right media mix to elevate the brand? How much should be invested in social media audience growth, especially during such a tumultuous era for these platforms?

Maximum Yield for the Investment: Cost-to-Benefit Analyses

Organizations have fed the insatiable beast that is social media, relentlessly creating and publishing content even as senior managers have become steeped in monitoring and reporting audience data. Investments in communications through staff and advertising budgets have steadily risen as the options for audience growth and distribution have exponentially grown. But clearly, not every method of distribution is performing equally or even delivering the desired impact. What is the ultimate ROI, year-over-year, of your investments through these owned media properties? What is the cost-to-benefit analysis of each event activation, campaign, livestream, email program, web initiative, and digital advertising spend?

With the changes that are sweeping through the social media business landscape, now is the time to evaluate the performance outcomes as viewed through all social channels – but most importantly, all other communications. It is imperative that you take the time to critically review your communications operations and teams in order to align, optimize and ensure meaningful, sustainable performance outcomes.

A Strategic Foundation

First and foremost, it begins with your enterprise strategy. This organizational roadmap is the touchstone from which every other operational plan is formed. From your enterprise strategy, we create a brand strategy – and from that brand-level of planning, we create communications plans that include press strategy, event strategy, partnership strategy and content marketing strategy that, holistically, map back to your mission, vision, and organizational business goals. Imagine a tiered architecture with each supporting plan in service to the higher strategy.

Often, the brand and communications strategies – and the level of messaging and content and application of brand – are the greatest opportunities for improvement, even as organizations remain preoccupied with meeting a perceived need to publish across as many channels as possible. What is the quality of your thought leadership, and is it reaching and resonating with desired audiences that are a priority to your mission?

What is your strategy for convening leaders to advance your mission and organizational goals?  Would a landmark report or a thought-leader summit (that earns quality press) be worth more than your investments in social media? How effective are your brand expressions and are they authentic and truly compelling? Have you given all audiences a genuine reason to believe in the cause? Have you proven the urgency in the case for support and the mission – and critically, is there a pathway to play a role in the solution? Begin first with the more differentiated, inspiring “why” – not the “what and how.”

Clearly, communications teams should continue to publish on social media organically, and on a certain cadence or frequency. However, while no one size fits all, we suggest a reset on channels and social media effectiveness before authorizing a significant spend on social promotions in 2023. Perhaps there are untapped methods such as programmatic display advertising, or media brands like Spotify, Reddit, Nextdoor or Pinterest that would yield important business value. Nonprofit organizations should still invest properly in their brand through social media community management, monitoring and managing every platform daily for hate speech, disinformation, foreign influence, conspiracy theorists, and comments made by alt-right (or alt-left) political groups that can tarnish the brand image.

As social media swirls in 2023, at least until pending legislation and new policies are enacted to address the chaos, leaders would be well-advised to rest their budgets and conduct a critical audit of communications to better understand what has worked effectively, what has not, and where to strategically place investments to achieve business goals.

*    *    *

Social Media Content Regulations: Imminent Government and Corporate Interventions

State Attorneys General are already driving bans, but legislatively, congressional leaders must take decisive action to regulate and ensure responsible content moderation at companies like Twitter. Television has long been subjected to the laws of the FCC, providing the necessary controls to benefit and protect the public through established, acceptable standards of broadcasting. Section 230 of the 1934 Communications Act provides websites that host content generated by others with immunity from liability and this includes social media companies. But in February, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments for two cases related to YouTube and Twitter’s content management. As a society, the ability to immediately publish and access unqualified information is presenting a revolution rife with challenges – and growing risks to public health. Beyond judicial and legislative action, the Biden administration should appoint a special counsel of experts to investigate and advise on solutions to combat this far-reaching public information liability.

On the corporate side, executive leaders in news organizations have an ethical and practical obligation to guide positive change that will be good for their companies and their customers, as well as the public. They should take a leadership role to convene and collaborate, establishing responsible new guidelines for journalism as it relates to the reporting of published social media content. One conspiracy claim or outrageous post on Truth Social or 4Chan can metastasize across talk radio, podcasts, television and digital news outlets in ways that are harmful.

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Dwayne has worked in the strategic planning and development of brand identity, media, marketing and communications initiatives for 30 years, leading image-defining engagements for global organizations. As founder and president, Dwayne oversees all aspects of our engagements, from planning and research to strategic consulting, brand building and evaluation. READ MORE