Today Facebook boasts over 1.7 billion active users monthly — nearly 24% of the world’s population. The dramatic rise of social media has presented nonprofits with increasing opportunity to bring awareness to a cause, engage supporters, and garner donations. Wide-scale publicity campaigns can be launched on a reasonable budget using social media: My Hero, a smaller nonprofit focused on art and technology, recently was able to reach 1.6 million Facebook users with a $3,800 budget. By first introducing their audience to digital storytelling, followers were encouraged to create and share their own videos with the global community. This success can be scaled further, with campaigns from established organizations such as UNICEF reaching over 15 million. Earlier this year Facebook released an in-depth guide to help nonprofits get started. Similarly, Twitter now offers detailed analytics, allowing nonprofits to monitor their effectiveness and traction.
However, it is still important to recognize the challenges and limitations involved in managing social media platforms. Producing constant updates can require an extensive time commitment, as many organizations now hire full-time social media managers and interns to handle this daunting task. While paid outreach can yield impressive results, self-promotion has proven to be far less rewarding, yielding a meager 3% growth in outreach. While we have seen the enormous success of the ALS Association in raising $115 million through the viral Ice Bucket Challenge, this experience is by far the exception rather than the rule. For the vast majority of nonprofits, the financial benefits of social media remain to be seen.