Social Media Planning and Evaluation for NGOs

I’ve been co-designing and c0-facilitating a number of workshops for the CGIAR and FAO over the past few years about knowledge sharing, and more recently, this phenomenon people call “social media.” Part of this work has been to  comb through resources and create some launch pads that are relevant to NGOs and non profits. I thought I’d share a few of them on this blog.  I’ve edited this one a bit more since the first writing.

Over time, most of this material will also be added to the every growing “KS Toolkit,” another collaborative resource I’ve pointed to frequently.

Simone Staiger, my frequent collaborator in these efforts, pointed out this quote and URL from Margaret Wheatley that is a good kick off for the topic.

In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas. If these changes remain disconnected, nothing happens beyond each locale. However, when they become connected, local actions can emerge as a powerful system with influence at a more global or comprehensive level. (Global here means a larger scale, not necessarily the entire planet.)

A wordle from Beth KanterSocial Media Strategy Planning & Measurement – What’s Working?

As people responsible for getting things done in your organization, you know the value of having a clear strategy and a way of evaluating if your strategy is working. With social media,  however, strategy is a compass, not a map, because it is a fast changing territory.

This topic is designed to give you some tools and ideas for including social media appropriately in your overall  organizational strategic plan and to measure its effectiveness.

Strategic Social Media Planning

You might want to look at the very useful “Social Media Strategic Planning Worksheet: from WE ARE MEDIA. Like any good communications strategic planning, social media strategy takes into consideration goals and target audiences AND the technology implications. This is the fundamental part that most of us are familiar with.

Bill Anderson (in a comment on this post, which was so good I’m editing it into the post) wrote:

I have three engineering like questions to add to the list that come directly from the late Neil Postman.

From an engineering perspective any technology, be it a tool, software, or processes and procedures, or new work practices, is a solution. Whenever considering adopting a solution consider asking the following three questions.

(1) What problem will it solve?
(2) Whose problem is it?
(3) What new problems are likely to arise by adopting it?

These three simple questions help me clarify my (sometimes hidden) assumptions about what I’m doing and why I think a particular technology is useful. I think they complement the set of questions you suggest in this post.

While it might be easy to say most of your constituents are not even online, some of your strategic audiences may be, such as funders, researchers and policy makers. So scan your audiences and look for possibilities.

Social media, however, is like a river you swim in. It is always flowing past, sometimes carrying us along, sometimes dumping us on the rocks of the shore. It is important to think iteratively of your strategy so you can adjust to changing conditions.   The advice  is to experiment often, fail quickly and learn, learn, learn to allow you to adapt your strategy. Think in 6 weeks or 6 months, not 3 year cycles. Keep an eye on the goal, but but ready to switch how you get to it.

Social Media Policies

Often people’s first questions are “how do we manage and control this stuff?” Organizations working with limited bandwidth want to block applications to prioritize internet use. Organizations working in more conservative parts of the world worry about what people will access if they start using web based tools.  The first thing to know here is that you can’t control all of this. So building on your core values and developing agreements is a sound strategy.

Some organizations find having a social media policy useful — as long as the policy doesn’t squash the initiatives right from the start! Always try and look at policies from two perspectives: control and emergence. Too much control and  you will miss the innovation and inventiveness that is a core benefit of social media.

Here are two articles that you might find helpful from IBM:

And a few more if you like to read…

What we have observed is that NGOs have been slower to consider their policies. This can be an advantage to the early innovators (few barriers) but may cause worry as leadership, not familiar with social media themselves,   want to overreact rather than thoughtfully consider policy.

Work Iteratively – Measure as You Go

The good thing about using social media is it is fairly simple to experiment, iterate or throw out an experiment that is not working for you. Think small, frequent experiments and low risk, rather than trying to build “the perfect system” and over investing in any one thing until you understand the value. For example, you may try a blog as an alternative to a traditional email newsletter. Track how many times a blog post has been viewed (using your blog software or a tool like Google Analytics). See how many comments you get when you post entries that specifically ask for feedback. (People are more likely to respond to open ended questions rather than traditional press releases!). Do a search to see who has linked to that post? (Do you know how to do this on Google, Yahoo or Microsoft search? What about the new

These are examples of  using quantitative metrics. For a great list of more metrics you might consider, see Rachel Happe’s blog post on Social Media Metrics. See what blog posts are more read and then start adjusting your posting style. Some people call this “social listening.” In the early phases of using social media, you are trying things out and “listening” for the response as indicated by page views, links, responses or even action by your target audience. To read more about this, check out Beth Kanter’s blog post about evaluating first projects.

Qualitative Evaluation

There is more than quantitative metrics for evaluating your social media ROI. As you know, communications is as much a qualitative thing as a quantitative thing. Some things are intangible. Like a funder reading a blog post that told the STORY of some work and begins to engage more deeply to support the project. Or the people who start following the messages you send out on Twitter and gain a deeper appreciation for food and hunger in the world and start making small changes in their own lives. These things require a deeper listening – finding stories, doing interviews with people from your target audience. For more on this, here is another blog post from Beth Kanter.

As you get a sense of how social media is helping you achieve your communications strategy, you can begin to fold social media evaluation into your overall communications evaluation work. Keep what is working. Adjust the things that might be working. Stop doing the things that aren’t working. Just a note on this. Sometimes it takes both experimentation and time to find out if something is working. So don’t give up too quickly.

Examples of social media evaluation efforts:


  • What communications objective do you want to try and support with social media?
  • Do you want or need to have a social media policy?
  • What are the benefits, both tangible and intangible, that a social media strategy might offer? What value does our social media strategy provide to our organization or stakeholders?
  • What type of quantitative and qualitative information do we need to track to measure our success or learn how to improve our social media strategy?

Additional Resources:

18 thoughts on “Social Media Planning and Evaluation for NGOs”

  1. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for a terrific post, and all the pointers. I really liked the quote from Margaret Wheatley. It reminded me of an IISD report ( on social media and their potential impact on the goverance of the development sector which I came across recently. My favourite quote from the report:

    “whether you believe…that social networks are a key element in addressing the governance challenges at the heart of sustainable development depends largely on which of two competing sustainable development governance approaches you believe most accurately reflects the world… If you believe that sustainable development is a largely logical process achieved through planning and government policy-making, social networking sites do not fundamentally alter the dynamics of the political landscape.”

    On the other hand, if you believe in the emergence of new patterns, complexity and the need to adapt to circumstances, then you are likely to embrace social media for development.



  2. Hi Nancy,

    Like this very much – though am not sure how many people would consider the CGIAR and FAO to represent NGO experiences.

    I generally find the NGO’s I work with to be quite some way ahead of other organisations in terms of social media use. Especially the large campaigners like Oxfam, Greenpeace, Care, etc., and more specialised groups like ICCO and Euforic in the Netherlands.

    But I like the main thrust of this posting that social media also need to be understood and tracked and assessed; if we can ever find some time away from the frantic ‘social swimming’ needed to keep moving in a generally forward direction!



    1. Peter, your observation about the CG, FAO and other organizations is right on. They are each different. I think the larger and more bureaucratic the organization, the slower it is able to adapt, adopt and change. However, everyone has to wrap their head around the basics at some point, be it at the individual or organization level, n ow?

      However, I think the “swimming” is a consistent element across most orgs, in my experience. Frantic – for sure! In my heart I think we need to slow down and do things a bit deeper, and hopefully better, but in tight economic times, the pattern is to do the opposite and ask people to do more.


      It is really interesting to see how many organizations are now creating guides and resources to “Web 2.0” – I think we may be at a fertile juncture for some forward movement. But how many are ready for the more fundamental switch you suggest? Will only the small, fast or nimble change? I wonder – and this circles back to Peter’s comment.

      It is my belief (and experience) that development is about complexity and if we resist seeing that, we will continue to put good resources down the drain. Sigh.

  3. Nancy, thanks for providing the concise and information-packed posting. I especially liked the “strategy is a compass, not a map” approach. I have three engineering like questions to add to the list that come directly from the late Neil Postman.

    From an engineering perspective any technology, be it a tool, software, or processes and procedures, or new work practices, is a solution. Whenever considering adopting a solution consider asking the following three questions.

    (1) What problem will it solve?
    (2) Whose problem is it?
    (3) What new problems are likely to arise by adopting it?

    These three simple questions help me clarify my (sometimes hidden) assumptions about what I’m doing and why I think a particular technology is useful. I think they complement the set of questions you suggest in this post.


  4. Hi Nancy,

    “development is about complexity and if we resist seeing that, we will continue to put good resources down the drain. Sigh.” Amen to that!

    In fact, of the 8 online competencies you identified (btw, another great resource – thanks!), I think that being able to deal with ambiguity is probably the #1 challenge for a sector like development that is so entrenched in logical frameworks and is sadly often used to having to declare a project a success (almost by default) if it is to secure another round of funding from donors. David Snowden, in my view, has put the final nail in the coffin ( on rigid outcome based targets in sectors that would require an approach based on complexity.

    Now, how many development organisations are ready for a fundamental shift, or for the 10 rules of the radical innovators you referred to? Probably very few, mostly because, it seems to me, we are still too much focused on the features (attractive as they are) of social media, as opposed to the new business models they open up. As I argued elsewhere (, what we really need is the development equivalent of Google or Amazon – disruptive innovators that will force the whole sectors to change becuase they are predicated on a business model that embraces complexity and openness. Nimble, agile start-ups a la Kiva will hopefully show the way to more traditional players.

    What do you reckon, science fiction :-)?



  5. Giulio, I’m glad you mentioned your WorldBank article. We are using it as discussion “fodder” today on a call about social media in development organizations as part of a CGIAR workshop. I’ll be interested to see what kind of feedback and reaction we get.

    What if we started focusing on the STRATEGIC features of our organization? What kind of wake up call might that be?

  6. Hi nancy, very useful to have this written down in one post, tagged it!
    In our booklet we are trying to make a distinction between the type of organisational processes you want to fit social media in: is it marketing, organisational learning, HRD, or another process? (could be core business too).

  7. Bill, your three questions are so great, I’m going to edit them into the post above.

    Joitske, those are some good ways of looking at purpose. Thanks!

  8. Hi Nancy,
    thanks for letting me know. I am flattered (!) and curious about the feedback, too! please let me know 🙂

    totally agree that talking about strategies would the ideal place to start. This is why I really like, e.g. the approach of the social by social game ( Starting from the strategic vision of a different future, and then working out how social media can help you getting there.

    Having said that, probably this is too much of a jump for most organisations. This is why business processes (as Joitske suggests) is probably, tactically, a more probable entry point. Dion Hinchcliffe has just posted a really nice post on the shift from a product to a “social process” mentality (



  9. Here’s a hot new community or social networking site called which will become in the near future. For now, come and join the and invite your friends from any email address.

  10. Thanks Nancy for this great summary and roadmap to experiment with social media. I think a lot about metrics lately and blogged about more quantitative metrics here:

    I think alone by analyzing the interaction or contribution we can sense a lot of the level of engagement. I am often surprised to see how little website maintainer take a look at their statistics. “Yes we look once in a while”. Although it allows to constantly improve a website and make it working for your target group. I also think it is a constant trial and error and one needs to be able to learn. Each community seems different and acts different.

    But I think tools such as user voice can help a lot to make websites better working. Unfortunately only a minority of website has this beta approach of constantly improving. Not rarely it is once established and that’s it. Unfortunately too often applications are difficult to be restructured and are left to programmers.

  11. Nancy, talking about listening, I discovered this post only a few days ago 😀 To partial excuse, june has been frantic!

    on with the topic now… lots of interesting inputs, both from the post and the comments. While I agree with most of what is written here, walking the talk has left me a bit more disenchanted about potential, and a bit wiser about what really happens.

    In my experience, context is a better starting point than the big questions on objectives. Supporting a specific process or one goal at a time (as Joitske put it) is just enough to start, learn the basics and decide whether and how to move on. This also gives better clues to the ‘uninitiated’ on what tools or approaches relate to what they need to achieve.

    Asking right away the big questions about strategy can be very demanding and eventually off-putting, when there’s hardly any evidence or experience in a specific sector.

    Sometimes a clearer goal emerges as we experiment with things. The process of doing and learning helps us think about what we want to achieve.

    Another myth of thinking strategy right away is finding examples and looking for similar experiences before making decisions. This can turn out to be a waste of time: by the time you find something useful, you have tried things out and learned your own lessons.

    So, personally, I’m all for the pragmatic approach: start small (a la Beth Kanter), build some evidence, refine and decide how to go on (and *whether* to go on… let’s not underestimate the power of not-doing).

    Because context is so important, it’s hard to generalise about metrics. For example, in an organization like the CGIAR, one key point we make for the adoption of social media is increasing visibility of information as a way to increase impact of the research. The assumption is that the more people find your valuable information, the more likely it is to have an impact (of course, impact doesn’t end here, but the web can only do a few things for you…).

    A sound approach to traffic analysis may go a long way toward measuring the value of social media in relation to the increased visibility objective. Toward this goal, engaging readers/users of this information in conversations can be important (if for example, a scientist participates in some sort of network activity), but if the measure of success is the ratio of comments to blog posts, I’d say number of page views or downloads of a paper is still more meaningful.

    If we’re talking about social media in support of team collaboration, then traffic may not be as important as number of registered users, number of documents/pages edited, number of contributions… the latter would be important in the case of, for example, collaborative editing of a joint paper or a policy document. Assessing the value of the collaborative project should be qualitative, and focussed on the final output (was the policy document approved, well received?).

    Sometimes, the contexts and the objectives are really small. If we don’t start seeing some success and lessons learned on small, practical tasks, with a clear end (and deadline), it’s going to be very tough to advocate for change in the way the international development sector thinks about communications, advocacy, participation, collaboration, etc.

    After one has a few, significant lessons and successes, then it will naturally become necessary to go up one notch and have a coherent strategy and a set of policies.

    And eventually, there’s only so much these tools can do: the cultural change towards collaboration or sharing takes time and different means to happen… sometimes, running a blog instead of a big site is just a cost-effective way to publish on the web, not necessarily the beginning of a revolution…

    In conclusion, I only partially agree with the fact that the business processes are tactical entry points, but given my experience, it’s the only thing I can say that it’s working. In general, we need to be smart enough to understand well in advance if the context in which we’re working is suitable for the big vision+reverse engineering exercise, or the “start small-think big” approach or the guerrilla approach on small tasks/objectives, or a combination thereof.

  12. I think people don’t understand the importance of social media. It is not about creating accounts over the social web, it is about engagement. I think it is important the when media planning, social media should be incorporated in a more mainstream manner

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