By James D’Ambrosio

Social media and Internet capabilities have fundamentally changed how organizations communicate and do business: e-newsletters, mobile giving, texting, blogs, webinars, Facebook event and fan pages, Web analytics, SEO, Twitter job postings, etc. The associated cost savings has resulted in many companies significantly curtailing printed materials in favor of digital formats. In short, everything’s going digital.

In a blog related to his best-seller, “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business,” author Erik Qualman notes: 

A) 24 of 25 of the largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in circulation;

B) Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneres (together) have more Twitter followers than the population of Ireland, Norway or Panama;

C) Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passé…in 2009 Boston College stopped providing e-mail addresses to incoming freshmen;

D) Social media has overtaken viewing adult material as the No. 1 activity on the Web;

E) 80 percent of companies use LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees; and

F) 25 percent of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content.


The above makes a strong case for using social media. However, I’m keenly aware that many cash-strapped nonprofits cannot afford to hire communications staff, especially in this economy. If this is your situation, consider these alternatives:

♦ Hire a part-time person: 20 hours per week should be sufficient for a qualified professional to provide you with a foundation on several social media platforms suitable to your audience. A good professional will evaluate which platforms are best.  

Offer a social media internship through a local college or university. It’s a win-win: you get an enhanced online presence at no cost, and the student gains valuable work experience and college credit. Who knows, you may even identify a future employee.

♦ Solicit a PR firm to offer services pro-bono: Contact public relations firms specializing in nonprofit. They are often amenable to donating their time and expertise to help you set up/maintain social media accounts. In return, make sure to offer them recognition on your Web site, in printed materials, your newsletter, or annual report.    


Online messaging will only increase in the years ahead. Today, the majority of baby boomers and earlier generations almost exclusively seek information online. Without a strong online presence, you’re missing opportunities to  inform a significant segment of the population about your news and accomplishments, programs and services, advocacy and, most importantly, identifying and engaging potential new donors. What nonprofit doesn’t want that?

Going forward, a Web site is no longer enough. Find a way to create an online presence and keep pace with the inexorable movement towards digital communication. In PR speak, post or perish.


QUESTION TO READERS: How have you established your agency’s online presence? Any advice to others who still need to?

Public Relations and Social Media:Keeping a Balance

By James V. D’Ambrosio

The explosion of social media in PR messaging – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and numerous third-party applications – has resulted in increased efficiency, cost savings, and expanded reach for many nonprofits. However, it comes with a cost: the risk of dismissing a core truth about communication: face-to-face is the most effective. Public relations practitioners in nonprofit and private business still need to use interpersonal skills for interviews, workshops, presentations, press conferences and other functions. The following examples are illustrative:

A television commercial some years ago depicts a manager expressing dismay to staff over lost sales he attributes to lack of personal contact. He then distributes plane tickets to employees to meet clients in person across the U.S. While this likely won’t happen in today’s economy, it speaks to the importance of establishing meaningful relationships based on trust and credibility, something the written word cannot match. 

The banking industry provides another example. Why are so many new branches opening? Because banks have learned that when it comes to money, people want the confidence and trust that comes with regular personal interaction with people they know. So they invest $3-5 million for each new branch to serve their customer base.

Finally, PR pioneers Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee could not have imagined technology impacting public relations so swiftly and profoundly. After all, they were busy making the case that companies needed professional communicators to engage stakeholders (many PR folks owe their jobs and livelihood to them). Were a rapidly-evolving advancement transforming the field during their time, they too would examine it.

To be sure, social media is white-hot, here to stay, and a great business tool used by many.  But practitioners can benefit from taking a step back to see how much ‘face time’ they are actually getting with key stakeholders. There are some contacts that are far too important to become purely digital.   

What is your perspective on this issue?

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