Social Media as Strategy: Tools for Community Engagement and Development

In 2014 Sophia Lowe wrote Social Media as Strategy: A Tool for Community Engagement and Development (PDF).

It’s a great, practical read about how your human service organization can approach technology as a community engagement and community development tool.

It gets nicely beyond the hype and gives you a solid grounding in the strategic approach you and your organization need to take to move forward successfully with technology in your service delivery toolkit.

“Social media has become a new buzzword in nonprofits and other organizations – heralded by many as a new way to reach and engage marginalized populations and to support significant progress in community development, mobilization and social change.

This report explores the role and function of social media as a tool for community engagement, in order to uncover enabling social media strategies and interventions that can be used to engage low-income and marginalized populations. Drawing on an extensive literature review and community interviews, this report highlights the usefulness and challenges of social media as a potential strategy and tool for engagement. It highlights key considerations and approaches for utilizing social media for community development and for engaging with low-income populations.

This research finds that utilizing social media – or any other communication and engagement strategy – requires careful planning and consideration related to mission, strategy and capacity. In particular, this research finds that social media is no silver bullet, highlighting the importance both of nonprofit capacity in developing and running any social media strategy and of understanding how diverse communities access, use and engage on social media.”

Key recommendations:

  • Use strategic planning tools
  • Start with mission and strategy, then tools and activities
  • Develop service and support policies and expectations
  • Build into funding, where possible
  • Support internal capacity building
  • Build content and technical skills expertise
  • Make sure ethics and privacy are at the forefront
  • Take the time to develop plans for gathering data and evaluating services, and online engagement strategies
  • Coordinate information and support channels
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Use existing tools and outlets

Strategy, strategy, strategy

That’s what you’ll get when you read any good social media or technology in human service article. Having a strategy is essential to get started, do it well, learn from your forays into technology use, and refine your approach.

You need to be strategic because you’re serving people in your community. You want to get it as right as you can. Yes?

I think Sophia’s report is complemented very nicely by the work done by MAP for Nonprofits and Idealware. In 2012, they released Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services:

“People often think of innovation as futuristic, cutting-edge technology, but our research found that it doesn’t have to be—in fact, many Minnesota nonprofits successfully use existing technology to innovate in more subtle ways, implementing solutions that are often both low-cost and effective. We found a number of different examples of organizations using straightforward, inexpensive technology to provide higher quality services and create opportunities to do more with less.

But can other organizations replicate their results?

Through our survey of 180 Minnesota human service nonprofits, and detailed follow-up interviews with staff members from 13 of those organizations, we identified core elements common to those using technology to successfully innovate program delivery.”

Totally worth a read to learn what those core elements are.

In 2013, they followed up with Unleashing Innovation: Lessons and Stories from a Pilot Program (PDF):

“MAP’s next goal was to help more organizations unleash the power of innovation and improve the quality of services. We are delighted to share that we have arrived at a successful process. Equipped with the Framework for Innovation detailed in the Unleashing Innovation report, we tested an approach to help these nonprofits identify viable opportunities for innovation. Joining us on this adventure were a wonderful group of advisors (the Innovation Team, also known as the iTeam) and 11 nonprofits
comprising three cohort groups.”

The research and analysis in the report included key recommendations to foster innovation:

  • Start with your needs
  • Identify technologies already in use and familiarize yourself with available technologies
  • Pull in outside ideas
  • Start small, seek innovative uses of existing technology, and build on success
  • Get buy-in from staff and board

All of this requires a strategic approach

If you’re not quite convinced about the need for a strategic approach, maybe something specific will help.

Texting/SMS as a service tool is an idea you should be considering, if your clients want to receive information on their phones via text. But, what does that look like?

Idealware has you covered, if you want to do it right, strategically, and in a way that is both internally manageable and meets client needs.

In May 2017, they created a guide and workbook for you.

First, download and read Text Messaging for Nonprofit Program Delivery for the overview. Then, pull your team together and dive into the very practical How Can Your Nonprofit Use Texting for Program Delivery? A Workbook.

Guess what they say about how to approach it?

“Innovative ideas are possible without a lot of technical knowledge. There are four basic steps to unlocking the innovative potential with text messaging—or any other technology.

  1. Understand Your Needs
  2. Understand the Technology
  3. Need + Technology + Mission
  4. Keep Moving Forward”

You know, strategy.


For more case studies and great info, check out Idealware’s other great resources about texting/sms.


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