Media and Nonprofits | A Worthwhile Partnership

For years, I immersed myself in nonprofit fundraising, paying relatively little attention to attracting the media to my projects. There never seemed to be enough time to do anything other than organize my campaigns, identify and solicit donors.

But as time moves forward, I have come to appreciate how media can help nonprofit organizations attract public attention to their good work, and lend credibility to their causes. Media coverage is something nonprofits can brag about. But one must consider how best to go about obtaining it.

When I moved to San Antonio in 2010, I became a regular attendee of Social Media Breakfast. There I met people from all walks of life attempting innovative approaches to advertising and to gaining media attention using social media. Everyone involved believed heartily that media attention was integral to the success of their ventures. And I learned a great deal (thank you, Jennifer Navarrete).

Karen Addis, APR wrote for GuideStar, “Breaking Through the Noise: How to Get Media Attention for Your Nonprofit” (July 8, 2013). She states the quandary well:

When it comes to pitching your organization to the media you are at a distinct advantage because everyone, including the media, loves a good story. That’s where nonprofits shine; they are never at a loss for powerful stories. The challenge, however, comes in getting a reporter’s attention for a story that often is not breaking news. In today’s competitive media market with fewer reporters to target that is becoming increasingly difficult.

I met Nancy Schwarz of Getting Attention! via NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. In her article, “Three Steps to Better Media Coverage” Nancy notes one can outsource media work, but the best is done “in house.”

Although media responsibilities are frequently outsourced to an agency or consultant(s), that’s not a must. …If possible, it’s best for a staff person to develop relationships with key media contacts. You and your colleagues are the subject experts and must be prepared to work directly with the press to ensure powerful, accurate coverage.

Nancy also provides helpful information you will want to read about crafting press releases.

Kathryn Hall discusses a contemporary approach to gaining media attention for npENGAGE in, “Five Way to Ensure Your Event Makes Headline News” (August 23, 2013).

The traditional press release has been eclipsed in the modern news cycle. Instead, we want to make it as easy as possible for journalists to see the news potential of your piece, and give a head start on writing the story you hope they will write. Include the following key items to make it easier for a reporter or blogger to develop your story into a feature, and increase the likelihood of it getting picked up.

Those items include direct quotes from “in the know” sources, original quotes that make your story read like news, and photos. “Great photos can help ensure your story gets picked up.”

Here in Austin, I have enjoyed attending a few gatherings of PR Over Coffee, a Meetup that focuses on how to gain the attention of media in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. Guest speakers include veterans of the media who disclose how they work (and they are not all alike, mind you), what they prefer in terms of communication, and other helpful tips for gaining attention.

A sometimes troublesome issue for nonprofits is the increasingly visual nature of communications combined with the failure of the email servers of the media outlets (barraged with email), to accept large image files as email attachments. One of the best ideas I have heard comes from Jan Buchholz of the Austin Business Journal: upload your images to a cloud storage platform, and provide a link to the image files in your email inquiry. Yes, reporters respond to visual imagery. Many of them are also confounded about how to develop meaningful stories without strong visual imagery.

Click to read The Social Media Reporter. I have discovered reporters sometimes follow me when I "cover" such events as Austin TechBreakfast. I enjoy that.
Click to read The Social Media Reporter for some helpful guidance. I have discovered media sometimes follow me when I “cover” such events as Austin TechBreakfast on Twitter and Instagram. The takeaway is, yes, you can become your own social media reporter.

Help A Reporter Out is a free online database that pairs media representatives with people who have information to share. I urge nonprofits to sign-up to become “subject matter experts.”

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is the most popular sourcing service in the English-speaking world, connecting journalists with relevant expert sources to meet journalists’ demanding deadlines and enable brands to tell their stories. HARO distributes more than 50,000 journalist queries from highly respected media outlets each year.

I am on the HARO list and I have shared requests for information with my nonprofit colleagues, when I spot a reporter in need of an expertise the nonprofit can provide. I do hope the nonprofit sector as a whole will become more engaged with the media via the impressive HARO platform.

Kerri Karvetski wrote for Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog a humorous but genuinely insightful way to gain attention for your nonprofit cause through “newsjacking,” “Nonprofits @ the Oscars: How to Photobomb, Newsjack and Steal the Spotlight at the Academy Awards” (February 11, 2016).

Think you can’t connect with the Oscars? Let’s look at the issues explored in this year’s nominees: The Big Short -Financial reform; Bridge of Spies – Right to fair trial; Brooklyn – Immigration; Mad Max: Fury Road – Women’s rights (click to read for more ideas)

Yes, I have been known to “newsjack” for a good cause. You might consider polite “newsjacking” for other highly visible events with a strong online presence.

Before closing, here are a few thoughts about what I call “media stewardship.”

When you secure media coverage, do you thank the reporter by contacting them directly, and by following them on social media? Why not create a separate media coverage page on your website where you can thank the media for its attention to your good work, and list links to their individual stories – whether they be video interviews or write-ups – so your nonprofit website is linked to theirs, and they are recognized for their coverage. To create your media page and manage it over time, consider creating your own Google news alert. You will sometimes discover news stories have appeared, but the staff of your nonprofit may be unaware of them. The regular alerts help you keep track, so you never miss another one!

Engage Online Ambassadors

As social media becomes more prominent, “online ambassadors” have become essential advocates.

Earlier this year, Nielsen conducted a study to determine the types of advertising and promotion people trust most. Justin Ware summarizes key findings for Bentz Whaley Flessner in, “Nielsen Study Shows the Monumental Importance of Online Ambassadors” (January 23, 2013).

In brief:

“… if you want someone to know and trust your organization your best bet is having someone they know post something about your org online.”

Jenna Hanington has written for a corporate audience in Pardot, “The Importance of Customer Testimonials” (May 6, 2013).

“Think back to the last time you bought a pair of shoes, or researched the next book you wanted to read. Where did your search start? If you’re like any other consumer, it probably began with customer reviews. Why? Because reviews are candid. They’re not published by the company promoting the product; they’re not fluffed up with marketing lingo and meaningless buzzwords; and most importantly, they’re the words of people just like you.”

Click to read a fascinating study on Twitter use by Pew Internet Research Project (2012).

Do you have an online ambassador program?

My suggestion to nonprofit organizations is to include the role of “online ambassador” in the job descriptions for board and advisory board members who are active on social media. Can they set aside time once weekly, every few weeks, or monthly to share a positive experience, and to encourage their colleagues to support your nonprofit organization? This is a simple, but ultimately very helpful request to make.

Certainly, you would expect leading volunteers and donors to be community advocates and to say positive things about your nonprofit’s work and accomplishments whenever and wherever appropriate. If your advocates are also active online, consider asking them to set aside time to share their opinions and experiences online.

Justin Ware, whom I quote above, suggests nonprofit organizations engage in:

  1. Ongoing identification of potential ambassadors for both awareness building and fundraising initiatives.
  2. Stewardship of those potential and approved ambassadors through good content and smart online conversation management.
  3. A plan for contacting potential ambassadors and officially bringing them into the program.
  4. A strategy for leveraging the support of your ambassadors.

I couldn’t agree more.

“Simply put, a robust ambassador program could be the most important thing your nonprofit can do from a communications standpoint.”

Geoff Livingston wrote a clever article for Razoo: Inspiring Generosity, “5 Ways to Engage Online Ambassadors” (October 20, 2011). Somewhat unusually, Geoff talks about using social media to inspire major gift prospects and donors.

As I know first-hand from my volunteer work with NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network, not everyone has understood that older generations – and those inclined to make major gifts – are also interested and involved in social media, not just the “general public” (see my blog articles, “Baby Boomers and Seniors are Embracing Digital Media” and “Americans and Their Gadgets”).

Geoff notes:

“Successful social media-based fundraising in many ways is about democratizing development best practices. If you want to develop online relationships with people who care about your cause, use tried and true development tactics.”

Geoff provides a variety of creative ideas, from creating a social media advisory board to putting their names on a digital ambassador recognition “wall” on your website.

Ask your donors and volunteers to “cheer lead” online for your nonprofit.

In The UBER-Blog, Alexandra Cojocaru discusses “social media superheroes.” In, “The Emergence of the Social Media Superhero” (May 30, 2012, link no longer available online)) she remarks:

“Much like search engine marketing 10 years ago, social media has now become core to many businesses marketing strategies. With that has also come the emergence of individual roles that are more specialized and unique to social media.”

Alexandra discusses the traits of four key social media “personas”: the Online Ambassador, Social Evangelist, Digital Strategist, and the Data Junkie. I certainly recognize some of my distinguished colleagues in Alexandra’s descriptions, but I had not thought about engaging them online in such insightful ways.

As social media becomes increasingly influential and essential in our world today, don’t let the cart come before the horse, take the reins. Put social media to work for your organization!

Carolyn M. Appleton

Updated: June 10, 2013

Emergencies: Use Social Media

I was living in San Antonio when I first wrote this post on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog. I had been sitting in my home office reading Twitter on my laptop, when I noticed a few posts sounding the alarm about an emergency occurring in Boston. I was riveted to my computer screen, and I began searching for information online. This was the 2013 Boston Marathon terrorist bombing, where sadly more than 260 people were injured. Follow this link to CNN for a timeline of what happened in Boston back in April, 2013.

I have updated this blog post a bit since then. Social media has continued to play an essential and growing role in emergency communications. But back in 2013, I am not sure many thought of social media as an emergency communication and safety tool. Today, this is fairly common knowledge. Although some are still learning about potential uses of social media during emergency situations. And some organizations are reluctant to put much energy into social media, which I believe is a terrible mistake.

“So why might government agencies or other organizations not be ready yet to use social media as a platform for emergency management? Well, even though social media may be common among most people, updating social media accounts, let alone during emergencies and disasters, requires a huge amount of time, effort and understanding of social media. And with 74% of social media users expecting response agencies to answer calls for help within an hour, that’s a lot of responding in a very little amount of time. And time is always precious during an emergency.” -Sonia Paul for Mashable.

Social Media 4 Emergency Management posted helpful advice in a 2013 article called, “A Role for Onlookers.” “If you are in a jurisdiction that is dealing with an incident of national significance, you are busy learning the following lessons:

  • The world is watching and wants to help,
  • Rumors will run rampant because people try to live-tweet scanners and news broadcasts in crisis events,
  • Images and videos, no matter how graphic, will surface, and
  • The amount of information available will become a sifting and sorting nightmare, but
  • There is now little dispute that the use of social media can rapidly allow agencies to share information and employ the public as additional eyes and ears during significant events.”

Kim Stephens has developed a WordPress blog, idisaster 2.0. In, “Social Media and the Boston PD #Boston Marathon” (2015), Kim provides additional advice regarding the use of Twitter.

  • Valuable time does not have to be spent “wordsmithing” updates to social networks; it is more important to get the message out the door as quickly as possible and to make sure your point is clearly understood.
  • In a fast moving situation, it isn’t that difficult to understand how incomplete or incorrect content can get posted. However, if that does happen, it may be necessary to repeat the correction.
  • Situational awareness information can often be found from the social accounts of other city agencies or organizations.

Twitter was certainly the platform to watch during the Boston Marathon. It was while viewing Twitter that I became aware of the bombing incident in the first place. Kudos to the Boston Police.

“The Boston Police … seemed as prepared for the communications breakdown as they were for the actual emergency response. Using social media — mainly Twitter — Boston Police was able to spread its emergency notification messages literally across the globe in a matter of minutes; and, thanks to the help of the media and concerned citizens from all points on the compass, that message was multiplied at an exponential rate.” -Paul Rothman for Security Info Watch (April 24, 2013).

On a personal note, I would suggest one way people can help alleviate disaster situations – if you are yourself safe from harm – is to “share” reputable information from disaster management agencies on your own social platforms. Amplify their impact! Follow the local police and fire departments, FEMA and Homeland Security on social media, for instance. They are on top of emergency situations, and the information they are sharing online can be re-shared to the benefit of your friends, family, neighbors and the entire community.

Emergencies 2

Additional Resources You Might Enjoy

I enjoyed working with TechSoup on a Nonprofit Disaster Planning and Recovery Program during the second half of 2019. Designed for Texas nonprofits impacted by Hurricane Harvey (but applicable to any nonprofit), the project was funded by a grant from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. To access a number of helpful resources for personal and organizational planning, follow the link.

Fire

  • Zoe Fox for Mashable, “Why Social Media is the Front Line of Disaster Response” (May 21, 2013).
  • Global Disaster Preparedness Center notes in Social Media in Disasters, “The term ‘social media’ refers to Internet-based applications that enable people to communicate and share resources and information. The emergence of this new communication channels represents an opportunity to broaden warnings to diverse segments of the population in times of emergency. These technologies have the potential to prevent communication breakdown through reliance on just one platform and thereby to reinforce the diffusion of warning messages but also present policy makers with new challenges.” 
  • National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. “National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership based organization that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery —to help disaster survivors and their communities.”
  • If you live in Texas and you would like to get professional training on how to deal with emergencies as a concerned citizen, you might like to join TEXSAR: Texas Search and Rescue. And, to receive alerts in Texas via text, email or phone, you might consider WarnCentralTexas and CodeRED. I also follow the local fire departments, police departments, FEMA (national and regional), and the City of Austin HSEM: Homeland Security and Emergency Management handles on Twitter.
  • Jessica Stillman for Inc., “Digital Disaster Preparedness: 10 Apps to Download Before a Disaster Strikes” (2017).
  • April Wilson has written an insightful article for Business2Community that highlights the important role of social media in the Boston Marathon tragedy, “Going Viral With Social Media: #RunForBoston Case Study” (July 19, 2013).
  • ScienceDirect has posted several resources in, “Socializing in emergencies—A review of the use of social media in emergency situations” (2015).
  • WebMD has posted, “5 Emergencies: Do You Know What To Do?” (n.d.).
  • WikiHow, you will find simple but excellent advice on, “How to Report an Emergency.”
  • Concerning corporate activity online during emergency events, I want to share an opinion. I was on Twitter @CAROLYNAPPLETON when the Boston Marathon attack occurred back in 2013. I kept noticing Twitter posts about something being wrong, which led me to news reports and then to television. But social media companies need to monitor their platforms carefully for images that would be disturbing to viewers. During the marathon events, I got onto Tumblr for instance, and someone at the marathon was literally posting photos of victims with their limbs blown off prior to the emergency crews arriving to help them. I can definitely see how emergency responders would benefit from knowing exactly what is happening and where, but not the general public! I do not know if this is available, but emergency response agency personnel might consider posting a handle or a link to a secure online channel that is easy to access via anyone’s smartphone and via social media, so these kinds of photos and videos can be uploaded securely for the benefit of the overall emergency response effort.
  • Auto-posting: I would also say to anyone auto-posting on social media via a professional sharing platform, turn it off during an emergency. There is nothing more jarring than seeing cheerful ads popping up when people are suffering during an emergency. Humorous advertisements fall flat, and viewers can get a negative, “I don’t care about your emergency” opinion of your company or your nonprofit. “Look, we’re having a gala!” as someone’s legs are being blown off is truly an awful and jarring messaging combination.

Thanks to Adobe’s free image library for the photographs illustrating this article.