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In today’s fragmented market it’s becoming harder to reach people using traditional marketing methods. There are more messages than ever and it’s more difficult to be heard and build relationships through the traditional channels.

There is more competition than ever in this economic climate. And for the first time ever, online advertising spend has eclipsed that of traditional media.

The online realm often poses significant challenges to the nonprofit sector. These groups are often so focused on the work that they do within their real life communities that they often don’t have time to step back and see the importance of social media. Additional challenges include a lack of in-house resources and technology.

GroundswellThe good news is that social media and the groundswell offer tremendous opportunities for building relationships, sharing media and moving from a pull to a push marketing strategy.

Groundswell, written by Charlene Li of Altimiter Group and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research makes a great case for social media participation across all sectors. It’s an important book because it clearly explains the social climates and trends. It’s not enough to simply know how to use the tools. To create a successful online presence we need to develop a strategy.

What is groundswell?

yellow pagesPeople have always depended on one another. We’ve always trusted word of mouth recommendations and advice from our close friends and family. The difference now is the way we’re sharing this information. Technology has entirely changed the way we interact with each other, and seek out and digest information.

People don’t turn to the yellow pages as they used to. What do we do when we’re looking for a new restaurant, a good spa, an inexpensive plumber or any professional services at all? We turn to review sites like Yelp or Urban Spoon, or post the question to our Friends and family on Facebook. Because who do you trust more than your friends for advice?


Social networking in Canada

There’s a misconception that the most active group of social media users are teenagers and young adults. And while this demographic certainly makes up a large portion of those using social media, 62% of people aged 35-52 are participating and 43% of the 55+ crowd are active on the social networks. And those numbers continue to climb rapidly. In fact, the largest growing demographic on Facebook is women over the age of 55.

These numbers indicate that social media isn’t a trend. The way we use the internet is changing and we really need to understand how to embrace these changes to develop a strong, professional presence here.


online donors


Online is the fastest growing channel for nonprofits. In 2000, $250 million was given online. In 2005 that number rose to more than $4.5 billion. And by 2010, over $20 billion was given online.

The number of people who give online increases yearly, as does the amount they give. Online donors are often younger, have higher incomes, give more the first time, and give more over time than offline donors.

And here’s something for charities to keep in mind: over 40% of donors always go online to do research before making a donation, either online or offline.


Facebook users Canada

This infographic really demonstrates just how many people in Canada are active on Facebook. Out of the 9 million daily users in Canada, 2.1 million of them are in BC. When you consider that each of those users posts an average of 3 pieces of content per day that adds up to a lot of shared content.

Facebook is one of the most powerful tools for charitable causes and social giving.

CausesCauses was launched as a Facebook campaign in 2007. It’s now the world’s largest platform for activism and philanthropy. Causes works by allowing their users create communities (they call these communities “causes”) on behalf of nonprofit organizations.

In 5 short years, they’ve grown to have nearly 6.5 million active Facebook users, and have raised over $40 million for 27,000 nonprofit organizations.

How did they do it? By harnessing the power of the groundswell: bringing people together, providing them with the tools they need, and letting the social nature of the web take over.


People used to use the internet to seek out information. For the past few years, organizations and businesses used traditional traffic generating strategies, such as email campaigns and PPC advertising, to drive people to their websites. The website was a safe focus because it’s where we can control the content that is displayed there. We can decide which comments are posted, if any, and we can choose to show visitors only what we want them to see. Essentially, it allows us to put our best face forward.

In the new website traffic model, every online is a publisher, creating, curating and sharing content. The new model sees the organization’s website as the hub that is responsible for pushing content out to reach as wide and varied an audience as possible. We create content, post it on our website and then push it out to our various social media channels. The social tools allow us to amplify our messages; the public is able to share our message with likeminded audiences.

Create content for your website and disseminate it through all of the social media channels where you know people already are. Get your content out socially to be shared, republished and commented on, creating a community of participation.


These 5 things make social media successful and powerful. Follow them and it will help ensure that people will like or follow you, engage with you, and share your content:


People love to be able to share what’s important to them. Sharing helps them connect with people who have similar values and priorities.


Gone are the days of one-way broadcasting. Think about going to a party. Would you walk in to a room full of people you’ve never met and start shouting over top of everyone? More likely you’d mingle around the room, listen in on conversations to find where you fit, and find a conversation that’s relevant and that you can contribute to.


When it comes to developing an online presence, it’s not enough just to say, “we put up a Facebook page – come and like it!” Your friends, followers and fans need to see that you’re actively participating, or engaging. This means asking questions, replying to comments, posting regular content, and looking at what others are posting online and leaving comments for them. Follow the accounts of organizations and people similar to you; like and comment on their content and chances are, they’ll do the same for you.


One of the things that organizations struggle with the most is content creation. To keep your online profiles refreshed, it’s necessary to create and post regular content. One thing you can do is conduct a content audit. Most organizations regularly produce a lot of content for different purposes. A content audit can show how easy it is to identify that content and repurpose it for use online.


Review sites hold a tremendous amount of power today. Google any business or organization and it’s likely that someone somewhere will have written about their experiences. LinkedIn harnesses the power of personal recommendations. Don’t be afraid to ask clients for testimonials, reviews and recommendations to post on your website, or ask them to post on external review sites. Facebook has essentially become an external review site; any time you like a business’s page you have the option of writing a recommendation for them right there.


STEP 1: Planning

It’s not enough just to use the social tools available. In order to see results you need to develop a plan.

In Groundswell, Li and Bernoff have broken the planning process down into a 4-step process.

Groundswell P.O.S.T.


Before you do anything you need to identify your target audience. In marketing we often call this developing your avatar. It’s important to find out things about them such as their age, where they live, family size, hobbies, etc. From there you can start to look for this person online. Are they on Facebook? Do they like blogs or do they stick with major magazine or news sites? Do they like to comment and share? Or are they observers? If you can figure this out then it will be much easier to figure out how to engage these people in conversation.


By now you know who it is you’re trying to reach. The question to help you identify your objectives is, “What kind of relationships do you hope to build with your clients or donors?”


“There is no point in rowing harder if you’re rowing in the wrong direction.” –Kenichi Ohmae

To identify an appropriate strategy, answer the question, “How will you build and develop these relationships?”


Once you know who you’re trying to reach and why, it’s time to look at which technologies you’ll employ to help you get there. There is a wide range of ways to connect; because every organization is trying to reach a different audience and has different objectives, no two strategies will look the same. Just because your competitor is using Twitter effectively does not necessarily mean that it will fit for your organization.

Step 2: Listening

Before you make any move, get online and listen to how people are talking. Learn how they think.

But how do you listen? Market research isn’t anything new. But the way in which organizations can engage in market research has changed altogether. You can pay for research or focus groups but in reality, there’s a whole group of people already giving you what you need for free. They’re on Twitter and Facebook, writing and commenting on blogs. It’s easy to monitor these streams. And while not everyone you’re trying to reach may be participating in these spaces, chances are you’ll get a large enough cross section to get a good feel for the environment.

3 reasons you need to listen

  1. By listening you can keep up with trends and understand what people want. Listening will help you find out what kinds of questions and challenges people have, and then you can jump in and offer to help them solve these problems.
  2. Listen carefully and you’ll soon be able to identify the influencers in your niche or industry. I guarantee that there are specific organizations, bloggers or individuals that everyone is already listening to. Identify these people and try to connect with them via whichever social platforms you’ve chosen to use. Social networking is all about relationships and reciprocity. Even competitors often share each others’ messages and content; do this and it will show not only that you’re trustworthy but also a thought leader in your niche.
  3. Avert crises. The biggest concern organizations have about getting started on social media? “What if they say something negative about us?” People love to talk about their good experiences. And they love even more to share negative ones. If you’re engaged online and monitoring your name or keywords, you’ll be able to respond quickly and appropriately to both negative and positive feedback about your organization. The truth is, people will talk whether you’re in the room or not. You might as well be there to stop the buzz before it gets carried away.

Monitoring tools

There are lots of ways you can monitor what’s being said for free. Set up Google Alerts for your organization’s name as well as industry keywords. Do the same with Twitter or Facebook searches. Look for tags on bookmarking sites like Delicious or Reddit.

The free options are all quite effective but often the streams will get muddied with irrelevant search results. There are a lot of great paid services that will sift through the online mentions for you and present you with a clean report.

Step 3: Jump in

Now that you’ve gotten to know your audience and figured out some of your objectives and strategies, it’s time to jump in and get involved. Here are some of the tools you might wish to pursue:


Blogging is a great way to build trust with your clients by demonstrating your professional knowledge. It’s a chance to establish you as a thought leader. Position yourself as a resource that people can count on for reliable advice, market trends and to answer their questions.

Decide what purpose your blog will serve. What type of content will you post? How often will it be published? Who will be responsible for curating and reviewing the content?

Develop a marketing plan so that people will be able to find your blog. Search engine optimization goes a long way to helping people find you through organic searches, but it’s a process that can take a few months to start having an effect. Think about online press releases, content advertising and social linking through your other online profiles.

Find out what others in your industry are blogging about. Read and keep up on their blogs. Leave comments with links back to your blog.

Be honest. This is a great way for your audience to get to know the people behind the organization.

Video and photo

Video and photos are a fantastic way to connect. They draw on our traditional ways of learning through storytelling and seeing people’s faces really connects much faster than reading text. If you do blog, consider including video interviews in place of written posts; including a transcript of the video will help boost your site’s SEO.

Social sites

Every single social platform has benefits and drawbacks. Think about your identified objectives. Just as no two strategies will be alike, no two organizations will necessarily need to use identical tools. When you’re setting up your profiles, make sure that your content compels people to react. Keep in mind that when you have a low fan base at the beginning, people may be more reluctant to comment, like or share your posts. Give it a few months and you’ll start to see it snowball. Word of mouth is the true definition of the groundswell and this is where social networking really shines.

The groundswell is here. It’s happening and you can’t avoid it. Have fun with it. Develop a strategy and review it regularly. Start small – get comfortable with one tool at a time and expand as quickly or slowly as it makes sense for your organization. Be real. Social media is fantastic because it lets people see the human side of your business.

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