Is an Online Community strategy necessary and relevant for UNICEF or other non-profits?

large__6384704645This is stage 3 in the decision matrix that I introduced in my last post. I think here an important question is on the agenda. As has been described in the decision matrix section, the answer on this question will mainly depend on the results of an extensive internal and external analysis that your non-profit will need to do.  As described in earlier posts, there are hundreds of examples of brands that already invested in online communities. There are not many examples yet of non-profit organizations which also invested in them.  I found it interesting to see what the community experts and managers thought about this issue. (This post shows findings that are very UNICEF-focused, but I am convinced the results can be interesting for other non-profit organisations as well)

I asked the community experts and managers two main questions:

  • Do you think that UNICEF Netherlands should invest in an online community, when creating long-term engagement with the young generation (18-30 years) is their goal?
  • If they decide to build an online community, what would be the main difference(s) to a commercially, company-initiated community?

I will give you some interesting examples of the answers that were obtained:

“Building an interactive, engaging online community would definitely help support UNICEF’s mission. Non-profit communities differ because the mission is different, but many of the best practices of branded commercial communities can be used for good effects. UNICEF has an advantage, in that the age group they are targeting is very inclined toward volunteerism and crowdsourcing activities. You also have a compelling mission that is ripe with opportunities for visual, video and eye-catching content” (Rosemary O’Neill, president and founder of SocialStrata – an community consultancy agency).

“UNICEF is in a great position to build a strong online community. The chance of success is much higher than a brand due to its existing membership base that shares a strong common purpose, and the goodwill of the organisation. You need to place a lot of emphasis on resourcing it properly, and have internal understanding about the goals and objectives of the community. I am convinced that UNICEF would benefit hugely from building such community” (Alison Michalk, co-founder and director of the Australian Community Manager’s Group).

“I think that UNICEF has an advantage in that your organization is likeable and people think the organization is sympathetic.  I think it is even easier for UNICEF than for commercial brands to engage people in an online community: people will understand that your community is not commercially-oriented, but that the underlying goal is: creating a better world for children” (Martijn Staal, online strategist and blogger).

“I am convinced that UNICEF could benefit from a brand community. From a marketing point of view it will: save time, save money and will offer new perspectives“ (Elien van Riet, community manager of several non-profit communities).

Richard Millington (blogger and well-known community consultant) agreed with these answers. In his answer he referred to an article he wrote on his blog called “Using Communities To Change the World: What Non-Profits Need to Change”. His opinion: “Most non-profit social media efforts are broadcast-focused and achieve little more than short blips of awareness. This is such a waste of the Internet and the self-organizing power the medium offers. My message to non-profits on social good days is to switch their social media managers to community managers. Focus on building communities of interested people around issues they care about. If you do this, you have a sustainable digital strategy with unlimited potential for growth. If not, you can best hope for short blips of attention.”

Patrick O’Kofee (founder of the iFroggy Network, a publisher of websites) agrees that an online community for a non-profit organization is pretty much the same as for a commercial organization: “You will need people to manage it, you will need to set guidelines and policies. You will need moderation and proper documentation of moves that moderators make. You will need someone to lead the community and manage it as a department head. You will need to engage, praise great contributors and highlight great content. Non-profit or profit, all of these things are true”.

Analysis and discussion of the results

What I can conclude from these answers is that in general the experts and community managers believe that UNICEF can highly benefit from an online community. And most of them think that a non-profit community is not that much different from a commercial oriented community. Some even say that a non-profit community has a higher chance of success. In my posts on ‘Why non-profits should invest in online communities’, I already highlighted the opportunity and importance of non-profits investing in an online community. It looks that my view on this is confirmed by the answers of the experts and managers.

In my next post I will move on to stage 7 in my decision matrix: “shaping the community frame: Focus, platform, content of a possible online community for non-profits”.

Until next time,

Anne-Sophie Gaspersz

Photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

Photography: SalFalko

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