How to Develop Content Your Constituents Will Want to Read

This week I tweeted about an article by Lisa Sargent which described how nonprofits can learn from how the Wall Street Journal develops content for many different formats / channels.  Lisa relates how nonprofits can follow a similar process to distribute content to interviews, press releases, website articles, enewsletters and other donor / marketing  communications.  Since this is an issue organizations often struggle with, here’s some additional thoughts:

  1. Not all information will be appropriate for all formats.  Replicating content across different media without any adjustments won’t be effective.
  2. Generally, the shorter and more targeted, the better.  The only place where long messages seem to work well is in direct mail;  especially if you’re developing content for the web, you need to get the information across quickly and concisely.
  3. Accumulate stories / testimonials about how your nonprofit serves your constituents. Actively seek feedback from your audience so you will regularly have fresh content to draw from.
  4. Show your donors how their help has made a difference.  Do this by regular reports about what their contributions have allowed you to accomplish.
  5. When you use content in different ways in different channels, reference them to each other.  Link a tweet to a website page which provides more detail.
  6. Find out what others are saying about your cause (e.g. use Google Alerts), then link and expand upon these ideas in your communications (as I do in this blog).
  7. Maintain an integrated communications calendar of when you will update various channels – and keep to that schedule so constituents know what to expect.   See Aspiration’s Online Communications Publishing Matrix if you need help.

Developing interesting and engaging content takes work, but by staying in touch regularly with your constituents, they will be more responsive to your occasional requests for financial support.

What Content to Post in Each Channel?

With the emergence of social media options such as Twitter, Facebook, and now Google Buzz to join the web site and email marketing, nonprofit organizations now have a cornucopia of communications options to stay in touch with constituents.  But which channels are best to use, and what messaging should go in each?   To address this dilemma, Tech Soup recently featured Aspiration’s Allen Gunn in Integrating Social Media Into Your Website.   A few highlights:

  • Consider where your constituents are most likely to be, and start publishing on those channels first
  • Even if you’re not ready to use them, set up accounts with consistent names on multiple social media sites – don’t forget about media sharing portals YouTube and Flickr
  • Provide information about other channels on email newsletters, blog posts etc.
  • Add channel links to organization email signatures
  • When deciding which channel(s) to use, consider whether you’ll be primarily sending, e.g.event announcements,late-breaking news or alerts, donation asks, scheduled communications or infrequent updates

To help prepare an overall communications plan, Aspiration provides a useful publishing matrix.  Gunner also recommended utilizing a social media dashboard using tools such as iGoogle and NetVibes (see Aspiration’s public dashboard) so you can keep track of how others are talking about your organization online.

So what content to use for what service?  We’re still learning, but my recommendations are:

  1. Web content and email marketing still come first.  If using other channels, make sure the messaging and images are consistent.
  2. Update blog content at least weekly;  include links to information you’ve already published on Twitter or Facebook
  3. Post in Twitter or Facebook several times daily, including retweets of others’ posts that will be of value to your followers.  Facebook generally has a more ‘personal’ touch, but always remember to stay focused on your organization / brand.
  4. Google Buzz? Too early to tell.  This seems like more of an effort to keep users in Gmail and as a response to other services than as a new value added product.
  5. Make it easy for constituents to find your other channels by referencing them on your web site.  For example, see the ‘Connect / Join / Follow Us’  links at Environmental Defense Fund , Witness, and Aspiration.
  6. Listen before you speak. You may have heard this advice when speaking with colleagues or with your spouse;  the same applies online
  7. Make sure you have something of value to say. If you’ve followed #6 by reviewing colleagues’ blogs / public content, you’ll have plenty of ideas to choose from.  But don’t just repeat – add your own spin.

Collaboration and Management in Cross-Departmental Web Projects

At today’s Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects conference, I facilitated a session on Collaboration and Management in Cross-Departmental Web Projects.  We focused on techniques to implement successful projects which involve staff from multiple areas within an organization, most who don’t directly report to the project manager.

Some major points:

  • Although many projects involve web sites or other technology implementations, project management is more about ‘soft’ skills in winning cooperation from team members who are often assigned to a project while having to manage their already overburdened task list
  • Nonprofit organizations rarely embrace project management principles as set forth by the Project Management Institute, nor do they develop internal structures such as a project management office.
  • Assigning a team or task force across department lines can be utilized as a way to give team members an identity separate from their usual work responsibilities.
  • The basic definition of project management should include an informal toolkit of ‘soft’ tools such as finding evangelists to help drive project progress, ways to win stakeholder cooperation and addressing organizational culture challenges.

More details on this session and other discussions held at the conference can be found at this wiki.  Thanks to Allen Gunn of Aspiration and Laura Quinn of Idealware for organizing this event.