Nonprofit Organizations Lead the Way in Social Media Adoption

The nation’s largest nonprofit organizations have outpaced corporations and academic institutions in their adoption of social media, for the second year in a row, according to a new research study, “Still Setting the Pace in Social Media: The First Longitudinal Study of Usage by the Largest US Charities.” The study was conducted by Nora Ganim Barnes, PhD, senior fellow and research chair of the Society for New Communications Research and chancellor professor of marketing at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Eric Mattson, chief executive officer of Financial Insite Inc., a Seattle-based research firm.

This landmark study compares organizational adoption of social media in 2007 and 2008 by the 200 largest charities in the United States as compiled annually by Forbes magazine. The study provides the first longitudinal look at social media adoption among the nonprofit sector, and demonstrates that social media has become an extremely important component of the communications strategy for U.S. charities.

While Barnes’ and Mattson’s prior research has confirmed that the Fortune 500, the Inc. 500, U.S. colleges and universities and charities have all increased their adoption of blogging between 2007 and 2008, charities are “out-blogging” them all for the second year in a row. Their latest research shows the Fortune 500 with the least amount of corporate blogs (16%), the Inc. 500 with 39%, colleges and universities blogging at 41%, and charities now reporting 57% with blogs.

Other key findings in this study include:

  • In 2007, 75% of the respondents reported using at least one form of social media. One year later, 89% of these organizations are using at least one form of social media. Usage increased for every tool studied.
  • Social networking and video blogging are now the most common tools used, with 79% of charities using each of them. Use of online video increased by 38%; social networking increased by 47% in the one-year period studied.
  • In addition, the charities reported that they have begun to use Twitter.
  • When asked if they felt their blogs were successful, approximately 90% of charities with blogs said yes. This finding is consistent with studies in business and academia that have consistently shown those using social media are satisfied and feel it provides positive results.
  • Sixty-six percent of respondents in 2007 and 75% in 2008 report they monitor the Internet for buzz, posts, conversations and news about their institution. This compares with 54% of colleges and universities and 60% of the Inc. 500.
  • More than 80% of those studied feel that social media is at least “somewhat important” to their future strategy; 45% responded that social media is very important to their fundraising strategy.

“These organizations are demonstrating an acute, and still growing, awareness of the importance of Web 2.0 strategies in meeting their objectives,” Barnes said in a press release. “Many of the nation’s top nonprofit organizations have found a new and exciting way to win the hearts – and maybe even the dollars – of potential donors. For volunteers and donors looking to have a conversation online about particular aspects of the charity’s mission, this increased interaction can be significant. These nonprofits are clearly learning to use social media more effectively.”

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