Social Media Is Scary!

Excerpt from “Courageous Communication: How Codependence Is Making Your Nonprofit Brand Boring and What to Do About It” by Maryanne Dersch (Stonebrook Publishing).

I’ve fostered a lot of puppies, and I know what a chore it can be to raise one. The Animal Protective Association (APA) of Missouri knows, too, and they did some courageous communications around that. They developed a social media campaign they called “Grown Ass Adult,” which heralded the benefits of adopting adult dogs: They know the furniture isn’t a fire hydrant, you don’t have to come home from work for a midday potty break, etc. 

On National Puppy Day, they hosted a Grown Ass Adult Happy Hour with local beer, a signature cocktail, and grown ass adult (human) food—with half-price adoptions for adult dogs and cats. This campaign was a rousing hit because it entertained and educated. “Adopt an Adult Dog” is not nearly as memorable. Yes, they used the word, “ass,” and I would have loved to have heard the discussions surrounding that. They took a risk, and it paid off!

That doesn’t mean you have to use questionable language in your campaigns. It means you need to take risks to get attention. I’m sure they got a few complaints, but I think the APA knows its image and its audience, and it marketed to them. When we get past our fears, great things can happen.

Social media can be a scary place, especially for our sweet, wonderful nonprofit organizations. It feels like being thrown in with the mean girls in high school who are overly important and overly critical. We read the comments to stories and think, “How can we ever play in these spaces? These people are horrible!” Our fear of criticism is so great we don’t think we can handle the scrutiny of the wild online world of social media. Or we play in such a small, limited way—being careful to stay safe—that we make no impression at all.

But it’s more than the trolls and negative comments. Social media feels scary because it smashes the constructed hierarchy of what we share, to whom, and how. Our polished images, proofed press releases, and carefully crafted statements are broken wide open, and everyone and anyone is allowed to comment. With social media, everyone has power because everyone has a voice.

The risk of not becoming more social is too great to let fear control what you communicate.

Our future donors, supporters, volunteers, and program participants are active on social media in one form or another. This channel of communication isn’t going away, no matter how much you ignore it or wish it would. You need to play in these spaces and be a part of these conversations.

Communications decisions should be made with rational thought, not with a dysfunctional fear that if we say, do, or respond to something, the organization will come apart at the seams.

In behavior change psychology, when the benefits outweigh the concerns, you will move forward. Think about that. The concerns don’t go away, but if you can find the benefits, you’ll have the courage to push through those concerns. THIS IS HUGE because many times we have no idea why we need to be on Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram or anything else. It’s one more thing in the to-do pile.

Steps for Being Social

1. Identify Your Fears

Concerns are always valid. If you know social media and roll your eyes at the stodgy higher-ups who poo-poo all this hashtag stuff, listen to them. Their complaints are simply a fear of the unknown. When I work with groups on communicating more courageously, we inventory our concerns and plan to address them. This is for social media, as well as any other change or new approach. This may come across as skepticism, but it is really fear. These people will fight the whole process and may even sabotage it if they feel their concerns aren’t addressed.

2. Create a Social Media Plan

Plans make people happy. They give things that seem out of control a sense of purpose. I bet that most of you who are reading this don’t have a social media plan. There are as many plans as organizations. They don’t have to be long or elaborate, but they do need to address your organization’s social media goals and strategies. 

3. Create a Social Media Policy

Policies, like plans, relieve anxiety because they give us some guidance and help us understand what’s OK and what’s not. If I were writing a policy, it would be, “Don’t be a jerk” or “If you wouldn’t say it to your mom or boss, don’t say it online.” But most organizations want more detail than that. Yet that’s really the essence of a social media policy. If people are afraid to post, you lose all that passion and energy of your staff, volunteers, supporters, and participants. Give them power and trust.

4. Kiss Control Goodbye

You can try to control your message, but it won’t resonate in the social media space. Social media values authenticity, transparency, honesty, and responsiveness—not carefully crafted, heavily edited, and super-boring messages. Create a plan and policy. Host trainings. Make sure your people have the tools to tell the story and the messaging to tell it well. And then trust them! You must let go of control and let things happen. The less control you need as an organization, the more your brand will flourish. Why? Strong brands have engaged supporters who feel ownership. That’s the most valuable supporter you can have.

5. Dive In

News has a cycle. A tweet lasts a few hours, a Facebook post a few more. Whatever you say, chances are, it will be forgotten soon enough. Create or encourage a culture that’s OK with experimenting and failing. Do what you can to relieve the fear of a policy, a plan, training, and messaging. And then go for it!

Excerpt fromCourageous Communication: How Codependence Is Making Your Nonprofit Brand Boring and What to Do About It” by Maryanne Dersch (Stonebrook Publishing). For more information, visit: Amazon

Maryanne Dersch is a nonprofit speaker, author, coach, and confidante. Half nonprofit guru and half social nut, she combined these traits to create Courageous Communication, a methodology that helps risk-averse nonprofits be more courageous communicators. She likes ultra-high heels, extra-large Diet Cokes, and short karaoke rotations. Her book,Courageous Communication: How Codependence Is Making Your Nonprofit Brand Boring and What To Do About It”is available on Amazon.Connect with Maryanne Dersch on Facebook, TwitterInstagram and at