Social Media Relationships 101

As we think about the use of social media in nonprofit organizations, the ever-evolving best practices, differing opinions on the future of the field, ROIs, SEOs, and a host of other acronyms used to analyze the effectiveness of our work, it is easy to lose sight of why we embraced it the first place… the people.

Social media use is all about relationships.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore those relationships in a series of posts using a model almost everyone is familiar with: dating. With this framework, we’ll examine the different stages of relationships in an attempt to get back to the basics of social media and focus on the interactions between NPOs and their online supporters.

Establishing, building, and maintaining relationships is difficult work, but before any of that can happen we have to prepare ourselves to enter the market.


Living the single life is all about appearances. When the time comes to hit the town, girls (and a few guys I’ve known) trade their tissues, baggy sweat shirts, and emotional baggage for an updated ‘do, a flattering (though appropriately revealing) wardrobe, and great accessories. We even spend a few extra minutes primping in front of the mirror to make sure we’re sending the right message to potential mates: “available, but not desperate.”

Lessons for nonprofits: You have to be ready to attract potential volunteers and donors. Take a long look at your organization’s online presence and ask yourself, “What needs to change?” Don’t be afraid to rework your appearance; brand your sites with the same look, feel, and information. Next, make sure you aren’t negatively exposing yourself to the world. Share your mission, values, goals, accomplishments, major gifts, and current projects, but don’t reveal your “baggage.” Strapped for funding? Don’t beg for it. Refrain from continually publishing posts asking for donations. Remember: desperation is not a good look for anyone.


(Warning: This example may fall into the “revealing-too-much-too-soon” category. If so, take this as an example of what not to do!)

In middle school I wrote an entry in my journal about what I hoped to find in my perfect mate. I included very profound criteria like “plays the guitar,” “is taller than me,” and “has a great smile.” Over the years I added to the list, but crossed very few things off. Despite the seemingly inane requirements, I ended up finding my perfect match.

Lessons for nonprofits: Know what you want in donors, volunteers, staff, and board members. Write it down. Refer back to your criteria often. I am fully aware that nonprofit organizations rarely have the luxury of being picky and I am not suggesting turning potential supporters away. Instead, I’m encouraging you to identify your target market and craft your brand, messages, and outreach strategies accordingly. If you know what you are looking for, it is easier to find it.


Your hair’s done, the heels are on, you know who you’re looking for, and now it’s time to go… but where? With a range of options from jazz clubs to honky tonks it can be difficult to know where to start. While we all have our go-to spots, in the search for love we have to be willing to “go where the fish are” and try new things.

Lessons for nonprofits: Know where your market spends their time online (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn,etc.). If you aren’t sure where that is… ask! As an example: one recent client surveyed current supporters and volunteers to get a feel for their online habits. Once identified, make adjustments to strategies and devote your efforts to making connections on their favorite sites.

Now that you’ve got that down… check back soon for the next installment in the Relationships 101 Series and “Let the Games Begin.”