Non-profits are using tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Foursquare to grow their base of support, and at a South by Southwest Interactive panel this morning, representatives of those companies spoke about what's worked and what hasn't.
One of the people attending the panel was Andrea Rado with the Hill Country Conservancy, a non-profit based in Austin.Rado says social media is very effective for some things, like when they needed volunteers during last year's National Trails Day.
"Jumped on Facebook and said, 'Hey if you're at Zilker Park, we need help in 10 minutes,' and this pack of guys came on their mountain bikes and they were like, 'Hey we were in the green belt and we saw you guys needed help so we came,'" she said.
But many non-profits say converting that kind of engagement into cold hard cash has been a lot more difficult.Make-A-Wish Foundation's director of brand marketing Petri Darby was on the discussion panel and says non-profits need to think about the bigger picture.
"The biggest problem right now is that people are asking the question of how to monetize your social media program first and foremost. What's the ROI (return on investment) on the financial side?" he said. "It really is about first connecting and engaging with your audiences and building relationships over time with them. Finding the ways that they want to get involved and support your charity instead of, 'What can you give me immediately?'"
The director of philanthropy at Twitter, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, says developing those relationships can help non-profits recruit so-called virtual volunteers who can advocate online.
"The biggest thing you can do is find good people out there to follow and start chatting with them on Twitter. Individual activists, you know? Everyone has the power and we're seeing that all over the world right now," she said.
Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in some of the pop-up fundraising campaigns at South By for Japanese earthquake and tsunami victims.One social media effort has already raised more than $35,000 for the American Red Cross.