Cave man (or woman) listening – a critical tactic for small non-profits

I love reading what’s happening at the forefront of 2.0, and about the comprehensive approaches and new tools that are being used by sophisticated non-profit biggies like the American Red Cross.  It’s like the early days of the Space Race.  (And I am not talking about a promotional event at Ikea.)  But here in River City, where many non-profits are small and don’t have dedicated staff that can spend part or all of their day surfing the ‘net, we have to find practical, low-tech ways to listen to what’s being said about our organizations and categories — because it is important.  If the American Red Cross is in the Space Race, those of us who work on or for small non-profits are in the Stone Age.  So I call this approach “Cave Man Listening.”

Beth Kanter today posted findings from a longitudinal study of college admissions offices’ use of social media for listening purposes.  54% of these offices actively listen, and most start with a humble Google search.  (And, yes, they do check out social networking sites to learn more about particular students.)

Of particular interest are the comments flowing in from Beth’s healthy readership.  Here are a few excerpts:

From Cortney, of the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center:

We generally search manually because there is not a high volume of discussion in the area that we serve.  We’ve been able to answer questions for people who want to donate blood but don’t know the rules, or who have misconceptions. When we found someone who’d had a negative experience at one of our facilities, we were able to respond to her concern and hopefully leave her with a good feeling about our organization.

Kate Bladow offers:

Although not under the auspices of our organization, I found out this week that a colleague and I both listen to social media channels on “legal aid” and “pro bono” for several reasons. (Interestingly, we independently started doing this and picked different channels – LinkedIn for her and Twitter for me.)   First, we want to know if anyone is reaching out and looking for legal aid. For those people, we can direct them to http://www.lawhelp.org where they can find legal information as well as referral information for legal aid and pro bono organizations.  Secondly, we can pick up on people who are talking about doing pro bono legal work, want to do pro bono legal work, or may need support while working on their pro bono legal case.  For my personal blog, I also listen. As one of our projects, my co-blogger, Matthew Burnett, and I aggregate access-to-justice news stories and post them to the @accesstojustice account on Twitter. By searching blogs, Twitter, Google news, and other places, we are able to capture quite a few of the stories and share them with a growing number of people. And we make certain to follow people who are talking about legal aid, pro bono, or other access-to-justice issues.

Marty Kearns wrote via LinkedIn Q/A:

I and my staff are listening on many different channels (rss, linkedin, facebook, listserves) we all pick up ideas, recommendations and connections via our listening chennels and we share them all the time with each other as staff and also blog on them to point our members toward resources we find.  We listen to let the network of our friends filter information for us. Saving us time and making us smarter.

Saul Kaplan of the Business Innovation Factory shared:

BIF’s current Nursing Home of the Future project has taught us a lot about how to include the voices of elders directly in our collaborative effort to design a better elder experience. We are integrating social media platforms directly in to our design process at BIF.

Cynthia writes:

I began using social media on a volunteer basis for People Helping People (www.phpnw.org)approximately two months ago because I wanted to convince others at the organization of its importance.  In that time, I have used Twitter, followed RSS feeds and commented on blogs. When I first began, I couldn’t find our website via Google search, and that has recently changed. Via Twitter I made a connection with someone who has just joined our Board. I’ve had an offer to write an article about one of our programs for a disability focused webzine.

Tune in tomorrow and I’ll offer my draft “Cave Man Listening” tips based on these posts and my own thinking and experience…

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