Ctrl+Alt+Delete: Rebooting Your Digital Community Building

By Jamie Millard and Lori L. Jacobwith

When it comes to building community and increasing brand awareness, some organizations hire communications, marketing, and engagement staff to handle these activities. And that makes sense — someone needs to be charged with keeping a close eye on the organization’s community growth.

But building awareness for your important work in an increasingly cluttered space can’t be the responsibility of just one person or even a department. When an organization embraces the culture of creating and empowering all staff to become “brand ambassadors,” authentic and exponential growth starts to happen.

This isn’t a new concept. Most organizations incorporate messaging training as part of the new hire process and encourage employees to “represent” when they are out and about at professional networking events.

However, when it comes to building communities online, often the first place an organization starts is with social networking accounts — creating organizational Twitter and Facebook accounts. And while yes, these are terrific tools, are they really the most authentic and engaging way to build communities behind the facade of an unknown institutional logo?

Instead what would it look like if everyone on staff, especially leadership, actively participated in furthering the organization’s mission online?

What if the executive director tweeted about the upcoming gala? If the program staff posted Facebook photos of the successful food drive? If the board chair posted on LinkedIn about the great, energizing board meeting they just attended? If the administrative assistant live-tweeted inspiring takeaways from a training?

When organizations embrace this holistic culture, the nonprofit begins to come alive online.

The reward for organizations that are “networked” as Beth Kanter would say, “is that you exponentially grow your reach and engagement.”

It can be tricky and a little scary to get staff other than the communication or fundraising staff invested in participating in online community building. Staff have to see a payback or reason to get engaged themselves.

  1. Staff have to see the impact of their voice being added to the conversation.
  2. Staff have to receive emotionally engaging information they would feel inspired to share with their community.

So where to begin? Here are some first steps to tackle as you embrace 100% staff participation in building your digital community:

  • Engage leadership – Commitment, excitement, and encouragement from the leadership around all staff using social media to promote the organization’s activities/mission online goes a long way. If this seems like an uphill battle, it probably means leadership needs some education about the platforms and more importantly needs to be shown the benefits (through metrics) behind the power of social media efforts.
  • Social media policy – Make sure the organization has a social media policy in place and that it is a positive, encouraging policy and not punitive. Check out this link for a comprehensive list of social media policies.
  • Education – It is extremely important that all staff understand exactly how and when to use which social platform. This will require training and education. If your organization has an employee that is a social media power-user, this person can lead the trainings. Maybe there are monthly brown bag lunches where staff can ask the in-house experts questions? Could the experts offer one-on-one trainings over coffee?

Building community takes many forms and is done for many different reasons: to raise money, pass legislation, connect with like-minded people, have fun, learn new things… and on and on. Amplifying those efforts online by embracing the resources and networks of the entire organization is just one piece of the community-building puzzle.

Here are four more steps your team will want to incorporate into your digital community building:

  • Scalability
  • Creativity
  • Urgency
  • Amplification effect

For examples and stories of how all of these steps are integral to digital community building join us at the NTEN 2013 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Minneapolis, Saturday, April 13 at 10:30 a.m. for “Ctrl. Alt. Del. – Rebooting Your Digital Community Building.”

Jamie Millard, client relationship manager for Fast Horse, an innovative, integrated agency offering traditional and non-traditional marketing services, specializes in understanding audiences and digital media strategies. Jamie brings a strong perspective on nonprofit communities having worked for Charities Review Council and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. She is the co-founder and volunteer executive director of Paper Darts, a literary arts organization, and currently serves as vice chair of the board of directors for the Twin Cities chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. Follow Jamie on Twitter @jjmilliard 

Lori L. Jacobwith brings more than 25 years of professional speaking, coaching, and training to her work with social profit organizations. As development director, executive director and president/CEO of various nonprofit organizations in Minneapolis and Phoenix, Lori has led staff and board engagement projects that exponentially increased community visibility and funds raised. In 2009 Lori founded the Ignited Online Fundraising Community to provide donor-centered fundraising professionals with training and coaching support. In 2010, she published her short book and ebook, Nine Steps to a Successful Fundraising Campaign. Lori’s passion is to create fundraising environments of ease and joy. Follow Lori on Facebook or on Twitter @Ljacobwith