Finding Your Organization’s Voice By Listening

With non-profits working even harder to do more with less, it becomes even more important to find out if your stakeholders – volunteers, donors, prospects – are actually hearing your messages.   Do you know when, where and how your stakeholders want to hear from you?

The number and variety of communication channels have increased exponentially in the past five years, as have the expectations of our audience.  Prospects, donors, and volunteers expect to be able to engage in a vibrant, multi-pronged conversation about the things they care about.  It’s your responsibility to be part of that conversation.  Not as a megaphone, but as a genuine contributor – listening, asking questions, learning and sharing what you know.

The first step to doing this well is to find out where your stakeholders are, and what they are saying about you.  In a word: listen.

There are many different tools available to help you listen.  The first, and often most overlooked – is to simply ASK people.  Put an article in the newsletter, a feedback form on your website, or create a simple online survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang.

Determine what keywords people use to search for you, and for the issues you address.  Search those keywords and see where the active conversations are taking place.  Set up Google Alerts to have links to conversations, articles and blog posts based on the top 10-15 keywords sent to your email, or use an RSS Reader such as Google Reader or NetVibes to further organize your listening, and reduce your email clutter.  Identify the most influential people in those conversations, and begin to follow them as well.  Other tools you can use include Technorati, Boardreader, Backtype and Delicious tags.

Start with the keyword searching, and build from there.  You won’t be able to adapt all of these tools overnight, but listening is the most important first step into deepening your capacity to interact with stakeholders in a meaningful way, and help ensure that your communications are shared in a place and way where people can and will listen to you.

For additional ideas and resources, check out Beth Kanter’s Social Media Listening wiki, Mashable.com, or NTEN’s We Are Media wiki as starting points.

– Debbie Marchione,  Senior Consultant, The Alford Group