Social Networks Are Red Hot-Web Sites Are Diddlysquat

May 4, 2009       Mark Hrywna      

Nonprofits have plenty of room for improvement to their Web sites while their presence on online social networks is growing and expect to continue, according to two surveys released during the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco this week.

A survey examining nonprofit use of social networking as a marketing and fundraising channel was co-sponsored by Atlanta-based ThePort Network, Inc., NTEN in Portland, Ore., and Common Knowledge in San Francisco. A survey by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based ForeSee Results gauged visitor satisfaction to a variety of nonprofit Web sites.

Commercial social networks might be popular, especially Facebook, but “average community sizes remain small, and presence is relatively short.” More than 86 percent of respondents said they have a commercial social network while more than 30 percent said they have a house social network.

Facebook is easily the most popular commercial social network, according to the survey, at 74 percent, followed by YouTube (47 percent), Twitter (43 percent), LinkedIn (33 percent) and MySpace (26 percent).

While those surveyed prefer traditional marketing channels to promote their social networks, such as email lists, events and their own Web sites, they’re experimenting with new social media channels. Nonprofits are allocating “small but real sources, staff and budget to their social networks according to the survey.” More than half of those surveyed intend to increase social network project staffing over the next year and about 80 percent commit at least one-quarter of a full-time staff person.

“For now, there is very little real revenue generated on those communities via fundraising and advertising,” according to the survey. Less than 40 percent of respondents have raised money via fundraising on Facebook, but 29 percent raised $500 or less during the past 12 months. Only about 9 percent of those surveyed raised $500 or less on MySpace, followed by 6.6 percent on Change.org, 5.5 percent on Twitter, 4.4 percent on YouTube and 1 percent on LinkedIn.

About a third of organizations have built and manage their own house social networks. Among those, about 87 percent said their communities are comprised of 10,000 members or less. About a quarter of those doing it in-house reported fundraising, and a third raised $10,000 or more during the past year.

The average size of a community on Facebook is 5,391 members, with almost all respondents (94 percent) present for two years or less. That might not be so striking when you consider Facebook was launched exclusively for college students in 2004 and only opened up to the public in 2006.

Nearly all of Facebook communities (97 percent) are less than 10,000 members, with three very large communities of 500,000+ members. Discounting the three that skewed the average, Facebook’s average community would be 1,369 members. Only MySpace has an average community that is larger, with 1,905, followed by 291 on LinkedIn, 286 on Twitter, and 268 on YouTube. Change.org, a nonprofit-specific network, had an average 243 members.

Almost 94 percent of organizations reported using Twitter for less than a year. Of those on Facebook, a majority have had a presence for six to 24 months. Twitter is only about three years old, but nearly 60 percent of those on the network joined within the past three months, and 19 percent in the past three to six months.

For those without a presence on social networks, 44 percent said it was because of a lack of expertise, 21 percent specified a lack of budget and 13 percent did not believe that having a presence was a good use of funds.

The number of members and the amount of user-generated content were cited most as the “metrics that include in their definition of success,” at almost 69 percent each. Fundraising was the lowest ranked metric (16 percent) cited as an important variable in measuring the success of their house community.

Almost 1,000 nonprofit professionals were surveyed between Feb. 20 and April 15 about their use of commercial social networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. For complete results of the survey, visit www.nonprofitsocialnetworksurvey.com.

Nonprofit Web sites scored just below the threshold of what’s considered excellence in Web site satisfaction, trailing e-government, e-retail and automotive Web sites, and far behind online banking, according to a new survey.

“Trends in Constituent Satisfaction with Nonprofit Web Sites: Building Membership, Donations and Loyalty through the Web Channel,” included more than 2,000 respondents visiting a variety of nonprofit Web sites to gauge satisfaction with these Web sites.

“Our research shows that the Web site is a colossal area of opportunity for nonprofits suffering from decreased giving,” according to the report by ForeSee Results.

The nonprofit industry still has a ways to go to catch up with other fields in terms of their Web presence. Nonprofits scored a 73 on a 100-point scale used by the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). A score of 80 is generally considered to be excellent. Only online banking scored that high (83) in the study, followed by automotive Web sites (78), and e-retail, and e-government (both 74). “Private sector standards aside, even satisfaction with federal government Web sites slightly edges out satisfaction with nonprofit sites, which may be a sign that it’s time for nonprofits to advance to the next evolution in their sites,” according to the survey.

A satisfied visitor to a nonprofit Web site is:

  • 65 percent more likely to recommend the site to others;
  • 57 percent more likely to have a favorable overall impression of the organization;
  • 55 percent more likely to return to the site;
  • 49 percent more likely to donate; and,
  • 38 percent more likely to volunteer.

The top two reasons people gave for visiting nonprofit sites are news and events (40 percent) and to stay informed about the organization’s cause (40 percent), while almost one in five (18 percent) specifically go to make a financial contribution.

Key areas of improvement for nonprofit Web sites in general are functionality and the expression of the organization’s image online. Areas that have the greatest impact on a visitor’s likelihood to donate, volunteer and return, are site functionality and image, even more than content, navigation options or look and feel. Site functionality encompasses usefulness, variety and convenience of features while image includes how well the site reflects the nonprofit’s image.

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This article is from NPT Weekly, a publication of The NonProfit Times.

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