Nonprofits still trying to find their way on Google+

Mashable recently published a story about the struggles that top brands continue to face on Google+.  However,  the struggles of these traditional social media powerhouses pales in comparison to the challenges that nonprofit organizations are facing with the new platform.

Although segments of the nonprofit industry have embraced social media and digital marketing as a integral part of their organizational marketing and development plan, a majority of nonprofits struggle on a daily basis to wrap their arms around the basics of social media.  As organizations struggle do define a basic direction and develop content for Facebook and Twitter, social media’s newest platform in Google+ has essentially been ignored.

Nonprofits, like all organizations, have proven hesitant to adopt a strategy for Google+.  Doubts over the longevity of the product, coupled with questions over what content to post are leading a vast majority of nonprofits to simply build dormant profiles or ignore the platform all together.  Below you will find some highlights of how nonprofits are operating on Google+.

Different Approaches

Few Early Adopters:

The Chronicle of Philanthropy was the first nonprofit trade publication to adopt Google+ when pages were released.  The Chronicle’s strategy with Google+ was simple but brilliant:  Help promote the nonprofits on Google+ and they would in turn be reaching out to their target audience.  Just a few days after Google+ Pages were released, the Chronicle shared a circle of every registered charity they could find with a page.  The initial circle of 170 nonprofits  was reasonable at the time.  However, a month has passed and today that initial list of nonprofits has not even doubled.

Still No Profile:

The slow adoption of Google+ can best be highlighted not by what organizations are using Google+, but rather by which organizations are not using Google+.  Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a social media powerhouse among nonprofits, has yet to build a page profile on Google+.  Other organizations, such as the Children’s Miracle Network, have followed suit with a “Wait and See” approach.

Simply A Placeholder:

Whether they are working to protect their brand name or struggling with content development, several national charities such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (Google+ Profile here) and the American Lung Association (Google+ Profile here) have created empty Google+ Pages.

Not Even On The Radar:

Since the launch of Google+ Pages, I have met with the leadership of four different nonprofit organizations to provide consultation and review the organizations’ social media and digital marketing strategies.  In each case, I was never asked or prompted to discuss Google+.  For a majority of organizations struggling to handle a single social media outlet, Google+ simply isn’t on the radar.

Two Major Challenges

Demographic Challenges:

The lack of basic insights available to marketers is proving to be a major challenge in an industry driven by metrics.  More disturbing though are the basic audience demographics that many nonprofit marketers are discovering about their Google+ followers.  After preparing and forwarding a monthly top-level metrics report, I walked into my bosses’ office and asked if he had looked at the report yet and asked him not to get excited by the number of followers we had acquired on Google+.  After encountering a  puzzled look, I informed him that our base of Google+ followers was made up of:

  • 1/3 – Fellow nonprofits and nonprofit marketing professionals
  • 1/3 – Followers located outside the US marketing goods or services

Additionally, I denoted that nearly 70% of our followers were young males; an overwhelming number of whom were marketers (appreciated, but not historically the chosen target audience of children’s charities).

Our demographics are largely in-line with the overall demographics of Google+.  The challenge for nonprofit organizations is how to create content that will appeal to an audience that is so different from are typical following.

What To Post:

Content generation is by far the largest challenge that nonprofits face with social media.  As is, Google+ amplifies this challenge among NPO marketers.  Although I manage multiple NPO social media accounts and have implemented solid strategies to assure content generation, I have only taken one organization to Google+ and am unsure of which direction I will go.  Unlike Twitter which has proven effective in our advocacy efforts, and Facebook which has helped us build a strong, highly engaged community of followers, Google+ has proven to be perplexing.  As a result, a month into my Google+ venture, I am still determining how to test, how to measure and what content I will create for the platform.

Regardless of size or experience, Google+ has proven a challenge for nonprofit organizations.  At this time, there is no one person or group with a solution, but one thing is for sure:  Time will Tell…If Google+ is just another “Google Fad” or if Google+ develop into a platform of highly engaged and motivated users.

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