Written by Karla Estefania Luz Oliva
Social Media as Ally for the Third-sector Branding (nonprofit)
Continuation of blog post part 1 published on 28th of April.
So far this document has covered the conceptualization and relevance of the third-sector as well as the necessity of third-sector branding and the challenges that are involve in this. The last part concerns in how social media practices has favored the branding of the third-sector. Since there are various definitions of social media, first a specification of the way in which this concept is used in this research is required. Papasolomou & Melanthiou (2012) points out the definition of The Chartered Institute of Public Relationships as “the term commonly given to websites, online tools, and other interactive communication technologies which allow users to interact with each other in some way, either by sharing information, opinions, knowledge, or interests” (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012, p.319). Although, social media is commonly associated with online spaces which enables individuals to perform two main activities: interact and share information; Kietzmann et al. (2011) make a valuable contribution detailing seven functional ´blocks´ of social media to help marketers to make sense of the different levels in which social media can be applied in the most effective way depending of the brand strategy and the nature of the organization; this framework includes the two functions that most of authors mention which are sharing and interaction (in the form of 3 blocks: relationships, conversations and groups) but also comprises three more usages of social media identity, reputation and presence. The graphic representation of this framework can be observe in the Fig. 1 the Honeycomb of social media.
This framework is particularly useful in the context of the third-sector branding due the fact that as mentions previously this sector is characterized for a vast variety of organization types from charities to cooperatives, each one with very specific stakeholders and ´causes´. It is also suitable as a guidance that can be adapted to this sector due the fact that many organizations belonging to the third-sector already used social media as a mean of communications as pointed out by Arroyo, Baños & Van-Wyck (2013) that among the NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) 93% use Facebook, 74% Twitter, 66% YouTube, and 32% Flickr (Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, 2012).
The advent of social media represents an unprecedented era of opportunities for third-sector organizations to communicate and interact with each type of stakeholders in a differentiated way on a global scale and with low costs (Lovejoy & Saxton, 2012). This represents the opportunity to overcome one of the main barriers in the third-sector branding which is the complexity to interact in a certain way and with specific messages to each group of stakeholders, the communication is different if the organization provide information to a donor or to a beneficiary. For instance, Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) has to core stakeholders 1. The general audience to create awareness of the health risks involve in smoking, which can or cannot being smokers and; 2. The active smokers who are most likely to avoid the negative strong messages of this organization, in this case a more persuasive communication is needed (Roper & Fill, 2012). Currently, Ash display this two types of messages (for the society in general –nonsmokers and smokers- and for active smokers) in its social networks. However, there is not a clear target nor a strong message because the posts are interspersed in the same online space as show in the next image, in which the images in red are directed for the general audience and the green ones are targeted for the active smokers.
Although Ash is worldwide organization and have the support both of the government and civil donations, it also has a well constituted organizational structure with an specialist in campaigns (see Ash team), still the communication strategy has gap in consistency, content and attractiveness. Dean Russell, the head of digital marketing at Precedent Communications has expressed that in spite of the use of social media in third-sector organizations is common in the most cases a poorly planned online communication strategy is showed (Wiggin, 2009). As mention previously, the third-sector has a great challenge in adopting a brand-orientation and social media can be the perfect ally in this quest for its scope and low costs but only if is used strategically, managing social media with inconsistencies is as bad as not having any (or worse), as Stuart & Jones (2004) argue even the organizations that decided not to embrace fully the marketspace are affected.
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