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Social Media: The Next Frontier

Fri, October 28, 2016 1:48 PM | Laura Parshall

NEDRA's own Social Media Committee co-chair, Stacey Vial McDonnell, may be biased, but she thinks that social media is absolutely vital to prospect research. In this article, she makes her case, and gives some great tips for making use of this rich source of information.


Social Media: The Next Frontier

by Stacey Vial McDonnell


If you have a smartphone, you are probably already using social media. You may already have personal accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or maybe even SnapChat to keep you caught up on all the latest news or what your best friends are doing. But did you know there is a world of social media beyond your personal accounts? Beyond the babies, pets and vacation photos, waits an entire world for you and your organization to capture. Is your nonprofit organization using social media to its best advantage?  Read on to discover tips and tricks on to harness the power of social media.


What Can Prospect Research Do?


According to a 2013 study by LinkedIn, about 90 percent of mass affluent consumers use social media. In this study, mass affluent consumers were defined as individuals who have investable assets between $100,000 and $1 million. Additionally, a 2011 study published in the Wall Street Journal states, “According to a survey of millionaires from Fidelity Investments, 85% of respondents use text-messaging, smartphone applications and social media. One third use social media professionally, with 28% using LinkedIn.”  The average age of the respondent of the study was 56. Considering these studies were at least three years ago, it is safe to assume the usage of social media among high net worth individuals has only increased in recent years. 


Speaking of those babies, pets, and vacation photos… What if you could provide your Major Gift Officers with personal, detailed information on highly-rated prospects which you simply cannot obtain from looking at an SEC filing or a Dun & Bradstreet document? When your donors post significant details about their lives on their publicly available blogs or twitter accounts, for instance, the prospect research team at your institution can be there to transmit that information to your fundraisers. Information like hobbies, interests, and even dislikes – things that can make or break that critical connection with the prospect and your fundraiser and institution. 


Social media is not only great for those tidbits of information that you can’t find elsewhere, but also for the most up to date information on a prospect. Think about all the times you’ve checked on a donor’s business information on a company website. The company’s website still says the donor works there, but you know for a fact the donor has left the company. Social media to the rescue! What is the first think you do when you change jobs? Update your LinkedIn profile. Your prospects are doing the same thing. LinkedIn is a fabulous resource for not only up to date career information, but a detailed career history as well. 


While I believe that social media in prospect research will only become more prevalent as we move forward in our field, we do have to keep in mind the ethical concerns.  Being transparent in how we move about in our online presence is important. Creating an alternative name or username in order to log in to a social media account to find donors or prospects is not considered ethical. Use your best judgement and integrity on social media.  Remember, donors are willingly and publically putting their information out into the world via social media—but sometimes they also may not be aware of privacy settings. Finally, it’s imperative that, as with every facet of your prospect research work, you hold yourself and your organization accountable when using social media.  


What Can Your Organization Do?


Does your organization already have social media channels? If not, what are you waiting for? You could be missing out on an excellent way to communicate and connect with your donors and constituents. Getting started can be overwhelming, but an initial audit of what you want to achieve via social media and your organization’s goals for the project is the best place to start. See what social media channels work best and are the right fit for your organization. Only take on what you know you can handle and what outlets you know will resonate with your intended audience. Now is also the time to evaluate and improve current social media accounts in order to streamline the approach. Having a concise and meaningful social media strategy can really put your organization’s best foot forward with donors. As prospect researchers, once you have a social media program established, it’s important for you to help identify who is an active participant on your organization’s accounts. You already know those who are active within your social media have a connection to your organization, and you never know where you will find your next major gifts donor. 


As you’ve seen before on NEDRA News, we here in the prospect research industry are big on #researchpride, so reach out to other nonprofit organizations, industry leaders or prospect research shops to see how they have managed their social media platforms for inspiration and advice. 


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