This Q-and-A is an edited transcript of my conversation with Danielle Brigida, digital marketing manager at the National Wildlife Federation. If you enjoy this interview, check back Monday for the second part of the conversation, in which she discusses her stance on location-based networks, handling controversial comments, nonprofit-centric social networks and much more.
Let’s start off by talking about goals. What are your goals as social media director for NWF and how do those align with the organization’s goals? How do the two come together?
The way the National Wildlife Federation works internally, is that we focus on revenue, reach and engagement. Obviously, we focus on our main goal, and that’s to get Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future. … I try and accomplish all those things with social media and I find that taking a business perspective does help, but really it’s almost relationship management for me. … Online there’s a very easy way to do [these things], because our average member, currently, is about a 65-year-old woman. And they’re actually joining all these social sites now, but originally they weren’t as present on them and so we were reaching new audiences. Now we’re meeting our current audience and reaching new ones still.
How are you measuring your success and what tools are you using?
I’ve created [my] position — made it up a little bit — and so I’m still working to systemize how we do things. Originally … I was working alongside the communications team, even though I was in a different department. And I was tracking a lot of our blog mentions and things like that using the social bookmarking site Delicious and tagging them with internal key terms. And that was useful until it became too much manual labor and we were getting mentioned more and more, and things just got out of control.
Now we’re using a combination of tools, both free and paid for. Some of them are reliable and some of them need to be checked up on. We’re actually in the business of looking at other paid tools. Right now, we are playing with Smallact’s Thrive, which is really great for Twitter and Facebook tracking. … I use a ton of free monitoring tools — everything from RSS feeds, SocialMention, IceRocket, BlogPulse and things like that And I actually pull them into a listening dashboard and that’s been really useful to just to find where we are, comments and making note of what’s getting a lot of coverage.
Every quarter, we put out a report. It takes a little while to compile. It’s kind of a neat mix of qualitative and quantitative information. It includes our growth with our main presences, so like a 6% growth on Facebook from this to this, but it also includes things like: what stories are getting shared the most on Facebook and what are some top tips people using social media can us and what’s the next big thing. That report goes over our learnings and our growth both qualitatively and quantitatively.
And then, on top of that, I kind of measure social media measurement in general and benchmarking in three ways. You can measure the obvious — you can measure how many followers you have and things like that, but I find that’s really the least important. What I find really important is how people are interacting with the content you share and the way you interact with them. That I measure in a couple of different ways. PostRank is actually something I really have come to rely on for how well our posts are doing. We use AddThis on our site — even though as a social media user I kind of hate all those “share this” buttons, I also know that measuring or taking a look at the stats from that can be fascinating. Because you think, “oh no one’s actually printing this out,” but a lot of people are. Or, “no one uses this social media site,” and a lot of people are.
What we’ll do with that information is decide where to act. For many months, our users were primarily just sharing our content through Facebook and that was pretty much it. Even though we have a pretty strong Twitter presence, that wasn’t where people were going. And so we added the Facebook “Like” button and that was purely driven by the fact that “wow, everyone who comes to our site shares through Facebook,” and that’s kind of important and we need to make it more accessible.
There’s a piece of conventional wisdom in the business world that social media means businesses need to become publishers — that you need original content to drive engagement. Do you think that’s true for nonprofits?
I think in some ways we’ve always been that. Our magazines have been, in a lot of ways, how we grew to the size we are. We have children’s magazines that are really great, we have unique content that we create. We have our membership magazine, which has always been pretty wonderful. And so I think, for us, it’s been that way. That’s how we are, because we are an educator, we are creating content. That’s just the way that is.
I don’t think everyone necessarily has to be that. Collaboration is really key right now. Maybe not necessarily in the social media world, but I love when on social media I can promote a smaller Facebook group or when we can work together and deliver value to more people. It’s definitely interesting. I know a lot of people are turning into publishers. Our growing pain is not so much being a publisher, but being an online publisher. Not all the “Ranger Rick” issues are online and that kind of thing is where I think we’re headed.
What are the hallmarks of good nonprofit content?
For us, it’s hard because we’re such a big-tent organization. The hallmarks, for us, would be our members love to hear about wildlife. Which sound surprising to everyone else, because they’re like “Yeah, of course.” But we cover a ton of issues — global warming/climate change, that kind of thing — and then the policies we work on are really wonky when you get into it, so sometimes it just refreshing to be able to look at what our people are sharing and what they’re responding to. When we send out an e-mail, what do they post from that e-mail onto Facebook? We’ve been a such a big-tent organization for so long, that realizing that “oh wow, these people are going to tell us what they want and we can actually listen and act on it.” That’s kind of a fresh way of allocating resources, almost.
Is what you’re gleaning from your members and from other people online driving what your organization does from a policy perspective?
No. Not yet. I would say this is years away. We’re influenced by the same things we’ve always been. Obviously, the research we rely on and our involved members, yes, to some extent do influence. We’re still at a learning curve where I read this stuff and I can pass it on and it does slowly influence us. When the oil spill hit and we were kind of on-call, we had a ton of volunteers doing stuff for us and we’d never trusted another — someone who’d created a video, let’s say — we never gave them the branding rights, and this time we just needed help so much that we kind of did.
I think social media, in a lot of ways, is making us more trusting and realizing, especially as a nonprofit when you have limited resources and funds, that you need to really bridge the gap between the people who are doing the work and the people who want to help. That’s where I’ve seen a lot of the benefits. But it’s not like right now we’ve flipped it around completely, but we’re at least more cognizant. We have such a diverse pool of members; it’s really fascinating because we’re so middle of the road. And so we’ve got extreme animal-rights people and we’ve got all these great people from different walks of life, but they’re very motivated to protect wildlife and that’s what’s neat about them.
The National Wildlife Federation has a main Twitter account, but you’ve also got dozens of employees who are on Twitter in various roles. How do ensure everyone behaves themselves online? How do you get them all to work together?
We do a couple of things. One, when I first started doing social media, I realized that I am not scalable. And I don’t really believe in having a social media department, per se — and that kind of goes against a lot of people. So I started training staff who either run a program or have expertise or really like the use of tools like Twitter and Facebook and things like that. I started training them initially and engaging them. And some of them run programs that speak to very specific audiences, like we have our Green Hour program and Be Out There, that speaks to parents, and then we have Campus Ecology, that speaks to students and faculty. So we have all these diverse audiences and wrapping them all up into NWF … you don’t lose something, but you don’t get that personal connection that I think social media is really great about — it’s a value that social media can provide if you let it. So we trained a number of staff and when you sign up for Twitter and things like that, I immediately know. I don’t even know how to explain it, but the way I listen and the way I monitor, if there’s a staff member that even tweets a link, I recognize and I add them to the staff list and I give them a call. I check up on them and see how they’re liking it. I act as an internal consultant in that way.
I also encourage them to sign up for Yammer. And that’s the way we wrap the communication around. They’re speaking externally, communication externally, but Yammer is like their feet on the ground. If they have an issues, they can ask, “What’s our policy on this?” or if they’re trying to communicate and they get a hard question. But it’s also a place where we can say, “Hey guys, we’re really trying to push people to this link. Can you retweet it in your own words?” It’s also to circle back and remember that we’re doing all this social media for NWF.
Image credit: BirdImages, via iStockPhoto