The importance of listening for non-profits

Thursday, January 21, 2010 | 10:29 AM


Kate Bladow shared some interesting insights in a recent series on Beth's Blog, How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media regarding the role of listening in the world of non-profit marketing. According to the non-profits with which Kate spoke, the role of listening in an organization can be the difference between engaging deeply with your constituency to achieve your org's mission and alienating them through spam or other irrelevant touch points.

I'll touch upon some of the highlights of Kate's series and bring to light some of the best practices she gathered from various non-profits, but you can get more detail about the concept of listening literacy from the blog series.

To begin with, Kate defines listening as "knowing what is being said online about your organization, field or issue." Basically, the act of going out into the social web - blogs, social networks, bulletin boards, Twitter, search engines - and picking out conversations relevant to your organization or cause.

The value of this exercise is that you can then use the conversations you encounter to improve your programs (even negative comments are an opportunity to improve) to identify misconceptions about your organization that you can actively work to change as well as finding opportunities to engage with your constituency in a relevant and meaningful way.

Some basic suggestions for beginning to listen online:

Organize your listening workflow by subscribing to relevant blogs, twitter and other feeds with a free RSS reader or get aggregated bulletin board content.

Set goals for your listening project.

Report back to your team regularly on your findings.

Identify keywords intrinsic to your organization and search for them on search engines and Twitter. Create a one-sheeter for your organization with the results to use in your marketing efforts.

Keep a list of words and phrases that people use to identify your organization and customize your messaging to match how people already identify your org.

Run a search engine referral report in Analytics or your AdWords account to see what users are typing in to find your org.

Check out social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon or delicious to see what terms people are tagging relevant to your org's content.

Check out Beth's list of free tools for listening online.

Kate Bladow is a Non-Profit Techie that works for Pro Bono Net by day and blogs at Technola by night. Beth Kanter authors Beth's Blog, How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, contributes to various books on the subject of technology in the non-profit space and in 2009, she was named by Fast Company Magazine as one of the most influential women in technology and one of Business Week's "Voices of Innovation for Social Media."