Online Reputation Management for Nonprofits

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Online Reputation Management for Nonprofits

By Monica Giffhorn, digital director at Kinetics Marketing & Communications.
Courtesy of Marketing Profs

Online reputation management (ORM) has become a hot term in the digital world. But, like the ever-evolving areas of social media, few nonprofits know exactly how to use it to their advantage.

A central challenge of most nonprofits is the need of skilled people who can read and understand the data resulting from online monitoring and the lack of well-thought-out strategies to build supporters. In other words, although a nonprofit intern, who spends 10 hours a day on Facebook and has been blogging since the age of 12, may feel the most comfortable online, that intern will not have the business acumen to develop and carry out a long-term, in-depth Online Reputation Management strategy.

Nonprofits that understand that Online Reputation Management is an essential part of a new integrated communications model will assign the task to someone who grasps the larger communication strategy. Such proficiency is, as in most cases, learned. No one knows how to create an effective print campaign, for instance, without listening to a mentor, reviewing case studies, analyzing data and learning nuances through trial and error. So, moving ORM responsibility down the lower rungs of the employee ladder is not the answer.

Online Reputation Management’s Top 3 Challenges

Nonprofits, and business alike, face three major difficulties when trying to monitor and guide their online reputations:

1. There is no standard for measuring social media or online reputation. It’s as if we were in the early days of the Internet, trying to measure visitors, hits and actions. And there are still, to this day, discrepancies between the three major online-audience measurement services. No wonder that, when trying to measure “engagement” and “pass-along value,” nonprofits, and businesses, are really at a loss.

At this early point in the measurement of social media, it is important to choose a trusted technology and stick with it long enough to see trending data. Foremost, measure where and how your strategies are working and where they can be improved. Also, drill down into the aggregate data to find the one-on-one content that will provide you with hidden gems of information.

2. Many nonprofits cannot decide where the responsibility for Online Reputation Management should reside. Placing responsibility in Marketing or Development makes sense, with their connection to brand management. However, ORM also crosses into public/media relations, even as the media landscape of revered publications and well-defined news channels of yesterday has morphed into a Wild West of sometimes anonymous blogs, video chats and powerful social media leaders.

Because of the time-sensitive nature of the communications flow, it makes sense that the responsibility reside with an online-savvy media relations spokesperson, with input from marketing and management. It also benefits an organization to consult digital experts who “live” in the online world and have learned from their experience.

3. Online Reputation Management is difficult to master because there are no rules in the creation of social media. The appeal of social media is that anyone with a computer (or smart phone) can post. The challenge is that authors can remain anonymous and there is no fact-checking.

Some nonprofits have had great success in finding one-on-one or one-to-many—conversations with supporters and attracting new donors and volunteers via positive “word-of-mouth.” Others have failed miserably by engaging enraged individuals in public debates and trying to control what employees can and can’t post online.

Having a well-defined plan for dealing with potential internal or external issues is vital, because problems can grow exponentially via social media. Some organizations have been successful in creating a detailed social media policy that both educates and guides all employees in using online media outlets, while aiding in avoiding pitfalls.

So, where does this leave us? The Internet is starting to feel like one world-wide high school cafeteria. There are the popular kids (like Apple), the friends of the popular kids (everyone trying to partner with Apple), the unpopular kids (BP right now, but new targets arrive hourly), the nerds (new tech start-ups), the cheerleaders (those who keep passing on the good news!) and of course the bullies (be careful about engaging them online; they live for a good argument in comments sections).

However, the worst option—in business as in high school—is not showing up. If you aren’t out there in the social media world, everyone else is, and a void is easily filled by the good, the bad and the ugly.

It takes courage to try new things, but the opportunities and potential rewards are great. Any nonprofit can even the playing field by planning well and acting quickly. The challenge is in translating your marketing strategies to the online world, building a meaningful relationship with your target audience and finding a compelling way to measure results.

3 Responses to "Online Reputation Management for Nonprofits"
  1. I think what you have to say about Online Reputation Management is right on target, Rosita. Thanks for the encouragement to try new things and blaze our own trails in social media! Our Foundation is fairly new to Twitter and Facebook, and we’re set to launch our blog tomorrow. So we’re rookies at social media, but we’ve always been committed to listen to and dialogue with people about how to improve health. We’re hopeful that with more experimenting and solid advice like yours, social media will become another way for us to make our connections broader, but more importantly, deeper. @kansashealthorg

  2. Your Comments Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I don’t think we can stress often enough the value of a good social media strategy.

  3. Jill says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article! I’ve recently read a book called “Me Paradox – Gaining the Social Business Edge” which touches on many of the topics you discussed in your article. Check it out at, great book for learning about how to protect your online reputation. Once again, great article! :)

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