Social Media is free, which means that every Tom, Dick and Harry can set up a page to talk about his/her favorite cause, and they do. In “The Networked Nonprofit,” Kanter et. al., describe ‘free agents’ as a powerful force that could be channeled to advance the cause of the nonprofit.
Many organizations are not so sure. They feel these free agents corrupt the message, despoil the brand, divert attention, dilute resources, distract attention, and I could go on…
The lost opportunity is that these free agents could, in fact, serve a valuable function to highlight the cause or mission, identify constituents and move them through the ladder of engagement. Leveraging that vast resource may not be easy but it can be done.
Generally, organizations have no appetite for open-ended outcomes. Outlying events are so difficult to explain up and down the organizational hierarchy they become punitive and undesirable.
This is not true with individuals. Social media is appealing because it creates serendipitous connections between people and events. And those that standout from the norm attract both interest and attention.
How can organizations, with a top down structure, integrate their message from the bottom up, and also incorporate free agents, volunteers, staff and other constituents. It is more than asking or telling contributors to broadcast the national message, because it won’t get done. It requires creating a community where contributors can access the energy and know-how of fellow members. They require a place to learn, a place to practice and a place to share.
This applies to both volunteers and staff. The advantage is that free agents are motivated by their contribution, not compensation. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can help support your cause if given the means and opportunity.