Non-Profits Leveraging Digital Marketing: An Interview With Joleen Ong, Marketing & Publications Director – NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network
I had the great pleasure to meet Joleen Ong, Marketing & Publications Director – NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network – at a recent TMMPDX.COM Happy Hour (don’t miss the next one on Tuesday February 25th at the Nines Hotel). I only had the chance for a short conversation with Joleen, but wanted to learn more about her and The Nonprofit Technology Network, so I followed up with the interview below.
NTEN is building a community of non-profit professionals that share best practices and insights on issues faced in the non-profit world. While NTEN is a technology focused community, it is not just for IT types. As you’ll hear marketing and communications professionals make up a large part of the NTEN community. Marketers, whether in the for profit or non-profit environment, must be technology savvy, so it’s not surprising to hear about the marketing presence at NTEN. If you are involved with non-profits I highly recommend you explore the valuable resources at NTEN.
What is The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN)?
NTEN is the largest community of nonprofit professionals that put technology to use for their causes. We have over 50,000 members in our community that network with each other, and share best practices on common nonprofit organization topics – from social media, to online fundraising strategies, to purchasing software, and more.
While a lot of this shared learning takes place online through our online communities, publications, and webinars, we also have in-person classroom events such as our Master Classes, local technology meetups, and signature Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) — this year it’s in Washington, DC on March 13-15. In fall 2014, we’ll roll out our inaugural Leading Change Summit, which will take the core learnings from the NTC to a more advanced level and target nonprofit leaders.
Who are your members? What roles do they serve in their organizations?
Each year we conduct a community survey to learn more about the individuals and organizations in our community. According to the 2013 survey that we published in October, the two largest constituencies among the NTEN community are IT staff, and marketing/communications staff in the nonprofit sector. This has been the case for several years, but we have also seen an increase in members that serve in other roles and departments, such as programs, fundraising, and leadership.
Why are they joining NTEN? What are they looking for you to provide?
Prior to joining NTEN, I was a member, so part of me is speaking from experience. Our members are looking for support from a group of peers that are going through the same thing as they are. Nonprofits are always working at capacity with limited resources, and it’s a huge challenge to keep up with the latest technology trends, which as we know, change quickly. Shared learning is a huge opportunity to fuel the needed continuous improvement, and NTEN is in a unique position because its community is really active.
My assumptions were recently validated when we started filming testimonials from NTEN members and attendees at our events. Every testimonial included euphoric expressions, such as, “I found my tribe,” or “I found my people.” As a marketer, you have to appreciate this consistency.
How active are digital marketers in the NTEN community? What value are they looking for from NTEN?
Digital marketers are very active in our community — they really know how to get the word out! As mentioned before, marketing/communications makes up one of the two largest constituencies in the NTEN community, and as a nonprofit association that focuses on technology, everything tends to be digital by default.
In terms of the value – there’s a lot. Marketing is all about reinventing, adapting, and optimizing strategies to get the word out and increase visibility. An active community is one where marketers can really thrive with shared learning and networking opportunities – and this is precisely the value that they’re seeking when they join NTEN. Even though NTEN community members work on a wide variety of topics and issue areas, it all boils down to marketing fundamentals: identify target audiences, strategic timing, and compelling content. The common denominators throughout are process and strategy.
What is your role at NTEN?
I’m the Marketing and Publications Director at NTEN, where I work to increase the visibility of NTEN’s work, as well as to oversee the flagship publications such as the NTEN Change Journal (subscribe, it’s free!). Key to ensuring the integrity of NTEN’s work as an association is to ensure that we accurately understand and represent the needs of our community. That’s why channels such as the my.NTEN.org community and social media are really important.
I think the difference between for-profit marketing and nonprofit marketing boils down to purpose. Nonprofits don’t have shareholders, they have board members and donors, and are ultimately accountable to their beneficiaries. That’s why content marketing is key for nonprofits, we don’t have products per se, but we have stories of our impact to demonstrate the value that we bring to society as a publicly-funded institution.
How actively does NTEN manage its community? What form does that management take?
Our community is over 50,000 strong and we have around 8,000 paying members (whether organizations or individuals). We’re constantly looking for ways to reflect back and amplify their achievements – from our Member News roundups to recruiting them for case studies or featuring them as speakers on our webinars.
At NTEN, we have a Community Development Manager, Julia Smith, whose job is to support our 25 local meetup groups, many online groups on our community platform (my.nten.org), handle our social media channels, and otherwise do whatever she can to be a liaison between the community and the staff. Even though “manager” is in her title, we really see Julia as a keen observer, a facilitator extraordinaire and an active participant in the community. She’s down in the virtual trenches working with our community to understand what is going on, and conveys it back to our team.
For example, one of our online community groups is called CommBuild. Every Tuesday from 1pm to 2pm ET, anyone who’s interested in online community building at nonprofits or social good organizations is welcome to join in the tweet chat (follow @CommBuild or search for hashtag #CommBuild to learn more). This is just one example of how we try to participate actively in, rather than “manage,” the community.
How does NTEN use digital marketing? What channels is NTEN active on?
Everything we produce is available online so our marketing is essentially digital, although we do have print materials as well. As a nonprofit organization, our ad budgets are limited, so we focus on building partnerships with different media platforms and organizations to help increase our visibility by swapping services.
NTEN actively participates on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus (we have a page for NTEN and also try to keep the #nptech community going there), and lately we’ve been having fun with Instagram. We also have our own community platform: my.nten.org.
What advice would you give non-profits about using social media? What are the pitfalls they should watch out for?
Social media is just another channel to communicate, so it’s all about the process through which you plug that in. Nonprofits should establish their organization’s identity and personality before you go on these channels, as each of these channels should be representative of your organization’s voice. I really believe in Big Duck’s ‘brandraising approach’ – check out their pyramid on their site: http://www.bigducknyc.com/nonprofit_brand_marketing_strategy_and_logo_design. You’ll see the part that social media plays in the overall branding process – at the ‘experiential level’.
The biggest pitfall is to spread yourself (or your staff) too thin by committing to too many channels. All of these social media channels will take time to manage, and it’s important to establish your goals and objectives for each channel, just like you would in any strategy. Too many times, we see nonprofits open up accounts on social media, and then they rarely post. It’s better to be strategic and commit to managing the channels that you realistically have time for.
Have you seen any good digital marketing or social media campaigns from your members recently?
I love the multi-channel approach that Invisible People has been doing to help change the way we think about people experiencing homelessness . Everything about it is personal, and it really helps its audience to build connections with the people that are being filmed. They also make good use of channels such as YouTube, Flickr, and Instagram – receiving up to 10 million social media impressions per week.
My favorite part of the campaign is the disclaimer that they put next to their videos: “Caution: Some content may be offensive. Our hope is you’ll get mad enough to do something.” The videos really live up to those expectations.
Thanks to Joleen for taking the time to answer these questions. Since NTEN and TMMPDX have similar focuses – technology-driven non-profits building communities to share best practices, industry insights and support peers – I am excited to share their story with you today. Are there other similar organizations you’d like to highlight? Please mention them in the comments below.
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