Nonprofits Made Easy: The Social Networking Toolkit for Business

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These organizations had an average of 4. To understand the ways in which organizations were utilizing Facebook posts, we looked at the distribution of post categories within each account. We also looked at ways in which CBOs leveraged the multimedia and relational aspects of the Facebook platform. As noted above, some organizations used the Twitter account of a higher-level unit of that organization. Of the 37 unique Twitter accounts, 36 were active during the study window and had an average of followers.

The 36 active accounts generated tweets for coding. The average number of tweets per organization over a day period was The median number of tweets was These organizations averaged 4. We next looked at the distribution of subject categories of tweets within each account.

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To complement the analysis of the content of the tweets, we also assessed ways in which CBOs leveraged the relational aspects of the Twitter platform. An important aspect of Twitter is the ability to share tweets from one account to another, thus enabling the spread of information. A total of 19 organizations linked to accounts active in our day window; 18 of these were unique. The average number of followers per account was The 18 unique accounts generated 86 videos for coding, with an average of 4.

The median number of videos was 5, with a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 5. The videos generated an average of Our study focused on the extent to which and ways in which CBOs utilize popular social media channels. Our results highlight opportunities for CBOs to better leverage the interactive features of social media as part of a strategic communication plan focused on engaging end-users.

Among CBOs utilizing social media, we found that many were using the tools in a manner that is typical of Web 1. For example, organization promotion was the dominant content type across posts, tweets, and videos in the study.

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At the same time, the usage of interactive features on social media sites was low, though organizations appeared to be taking greater advantage of the features available on Twitter. These results parallel recent findings from studies of state health departments [ 15 ], other nonprofits [ 26 , 27 ], health promotion programs targeting sexual health [ 36 ], and advocacy groups [ 44 ]. This highlights an important missed opportunity as user engagement can provide opportunities to develop and strengthen relationships, develop group identity, harness community intelligence, and motivate action [ 13 , 45 , 46 ].

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  7. One way to improve engagement is to provide offerings beyond advertising content, such as expert information [ 39 , 47 , 48 ]. This is also consistent with a study of corporate tweets, which found that tweets are more likely to be shared if they elicit emotions often containing humorous, political, or philanthropic themes [ 40 ]. Solicitation of user-generated content, such as prompting users to take polls, upload videos or photos, etc. In the context of strategic communications, CBOs need to think critically about whether, which, and how many social media tools to use.

    Coders detected much repetition of content between Facebook and Twitter, which can be effective if the audiences are distinct, but otherwise may be redundant. Assessing both the demographic profiles of various channels, as well as the penetration of channels among the target audience will allow CBOs to strategically target communications. Social media-related decisions will also be influenced by resources requirements given that effective use of social media tools requires regular content contributions and active monitoring [ 11 ]. Given the resource constraints that CBOs may face particularly local organizations like many of the organizations in this study , it is important that the decision to utilize these tools be made carefully as outdated and unmonitored social media outlets can harm the reputation of the brand.

    The results of the study also point to themes that may be useful in future assessments.


    Further investigation into the details of organization promotion is warranted as this category is quite broad. Also, given the interest in relationship-building as an important leverage point for CBOs, it may also be useful to delve more actively into sub-categories of content that support relationships. One example is content aimed at eliciting responses, such as questions posed to the community [ 25 ]. On the other hand, categories such as professional development, came up in our preliminary coding, but were rarely used during data collection.

    As noted earlier, as CBOs enter the social media space, it is important to consider potential communication inequalities. Social media are emerging as important tools for communication with the advantage of generating consumer engagement. If an organization does not exploit this new tool effectively, it is likely to be at a disadvantage; this has the potential to widen inequalities among organizations. At the individual level, the traditional communication inequalities are muted when it comes to social media use, providing great potential for bridging access to health information [ 49 ].

    While the use of social media for health interventions was beyond the scope of this study, such complementary activities may also be supported by CBO engagement with communities. There are some limitations that help place the results in context. First, this study looked at one subsection of social media use — the content put forth by CBOs.

    Data describing audience usage as well as CBO organizational characteristics and perspectives on the use of social media will be needed to provide a full picture. Collection of this data was beyond the scope of this pilot study, but the detailed description of CBO use of channel features can inform future work. As seen in a study of large nonprofits, strategy, organizational capacity, governance structures, and environmental factors all may play a role in the use of social media tools [ 50 ]. Second, the communities under study were not selected randomly.

    However, these communities were selected for the initial project as they represent a diverse range of population and environmental characteristics. Third, there are no publicly available lists of CBOs conducting health promotion locally, so we may have missed some eligible organizations. However, we used a range of search strategies and leveraged local knowledge to develop as comprehensive a list as possible. Finally, our data were collected between November and January and there may have been variation in content and frequency of posting based on the timing of the data collection in relation to holidays.

    We attempted to mitigate this challenge by assigning the data collection schedule randomly and using a day window for data collection.

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    Despite these limitations, the study has a series of important strengths. First, we are unaware of published studies describing patterns of social media use by CBOs engaged in health promotion and the study provides useful preliminary data. By understanding patterns within local organizations, we can identify opportunities and strategies that fit available resources for local organizations. Second, by including organizations that engage in health promotion, regardless of their overall mission, we have captured a broad range of CBOs that may contribute to health promotion in community settings.

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    Finally, we focused on a broad, complementary set of social media exemplars that were popular among the organizations in our study. Future research should examine the relationships between organizational characteristics and social media use with an emphasis on the motivations and perspectives of CBO leaders and staff as well as the needs and preferences of the intended target audience.

    As with any new tools, there are not only tremendous opportunities, but a great deal of debate regarding how best to use social media to engage with audiences. By taking better advantage of the interactive and engagement-oriented features of these tools, CBOs can utilize social media as an important complement to existing communication efforts. Given that social media use is growing rapidly and across diverse population groups, it is an ideal time for CBOs engaged in health promotion to consider the investment as part of their broader strategic communications plan.

    By developing new relationships and strengthening existing connections, CBOs may be able to use social media to increase their impact on the health of the communities they serve. SR and KV conceived of and designed the study. SM and MR collected the data.

    Nonprofits Made Easy: The Social Networking Toolkit for Business

    SR analyzed the data. All authors engaged in data interpretation and manuscript development. All authors read and approved the final manuscript. SM is an undergraduate at Harvard University. MR is a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and was an intern at Dana-Farber during the data collection phase of this study. Investigators: K. Finally, we would like to thank Rebekah Nagler, PhD, for her guidance on codebook creation and assessing inter-coder reliability. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. BMC Public Health.

    Published online Dec 5.

    Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Corresponding author. Shoba Ramanadhan: ude. Received Mar 25; Accepted Nov This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Background Community-based organizations CBOs are critical channels for the delivery of health promotion programs. Methods We assessed the social media presence and patterns of usage of CBOs engaged in health promotion in Boston, Lawrence, and Worcester, Massachusetts. Results A total of organizations were included in our census.

    Conclusions Much of the use of social media tools appeared to be uni-directional, a flow of information from the organization to the audience. Keywords: Community-based organizations, Social media, Health promotion, Content analysis. Background Community-based organizations CBOs are essential, but often underutilized, channels for health promotion efforts [ 1 , 2 ]. Table 1 Socio-demographic profile of three study communities, — Census data [ 33 ]. Open in a separate window. Web presence assessment As the first step in data collection, coders looked for a web presence for each CBO and then searched for Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube accounts.

    Content analysis methods - overview Content analysis is an analytical technique that relies on the scientific method to quantitatively summarize messages [ 42 ]. Units of data collection For Facebook, the unit is each post generated by the organization. Codebook and coding form A page codebook was developed to define the following measured variables for each unit of data collection. Category of content Definition Fundraising Content that serves as a solicitation, e. Human interest Content that tells a personal story about a given health topic or public health initiative. Material for professionals Content that is targeted at health professionals, including job postings and professional development.

    Miscellaneous Content which does not fit into any of the other categories. Non-informational Content that is meant to maintain connections, but serves no informational, promotional, or persuasive purpose, e. Organization promotion Content that advertises or builds the image of the organization sponsoring the account.

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    Cross-promotion Content that advertises or builds the image of another organization, e.