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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 11.6

HEFCE

Online Communications

Online communications are an essential part of any modern communications strategy.

The term is not limited to your institution’s website and e-newsletter but embraces all forms of online communications, from social networking sites to podcasts and online video sites. Online communication tools include:

  • Websites,
  • E-newsletters,
  • Social networking sites (e.g., Facebook),
  • Professional networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn),
  • Wikis,
  • Texts/SMS,
  • Instant messaging,
  • Twitter,
  • Slidecasts,
  • Online video,
  • Podcasts,
  • Blogs,
  • Micro-blogs,
  • Virtual worlds,
  • Google +,
  • Mobile applications (apps) and
  • Forums.

Online communications are important as they enable you to interact with your constituencies/audiences and for these audiences to interact with one another. They help strengthen the overall sense of community and are a quick, cheap and effective way of sharing information with a large number of people, wherever they live in the world.

Any online communications strategy needs to take into account the different characteristics of each type of communication tool and the fact that these tools are constantly evolving.

Your strategy for Twitter, for example, might be as a tool for driving people to look at your website. Your strategy for Slidecasts might be to use them as a showcase for the expertise of your institution and a service to support your alumni as they develop their careers.

Where to Start

Do some research (online, talking with your institutional colleagues and industry peers, informally surveying your constituents, etc.) to find out where your alumni currently have a presence online, what they are looking for from online communications and how they use these tools.

Get up to speed with the functionality and technical difficulties of each online communications site.

Review and update your data protection and privacy policies.

Take an institution-wide view of how you use social media (e.g., do you have a single Twitter feed or a feed for corporate news, a feed to support student recruitment and a feed for alumni relations).

Start to develop a strategy by prioritising those sites that you think are best placed to help you in your overall development goals. Partnering with your information technology and communications departments is vital.

Developing a Strategy

After reviewing the current situation and online communication options and beginning to prioritize these tools, you should consider the following questions to develop your strategy.

  • Which online communication tools will best reach your target audiences, support your cultivation and stewardship activities, and most efficiently help meet your short- and long-term fundraising goals (i.e., reaching current prospects while helping build a pipeline)?
  • How will you integrate your online communications and use them to direct people from one online communication site to another (e.g., how will Facebook relate to your website and how will you encourage Facebook users to link to your website to update their contact details)?
  • What technical expertise and capabilities will you need to manage your online communications?
  • What technical capabilities are your audiences likely to have (e.g., hi-speed broadband capable of streaming HD video or a dial-up modem that can handle only basic content)?
  • Who are your international audiences and how are you tailoring your communications to include them?
  • How much control do you want to retain over the content generated on networking sites and how you will moderate content if necessary?
  • How much capacity does the development office have for maintaining an online presence and updating your online information regularly?
  • How will you work with the IT and communications departments to support these activities?

Action Items
  • Research, analyse and prioritise the online communication tools best placed to help you achieve your development goals.
  • Leverage other online efforts of the institution.
  • Start small and build (as you determine what is maintainable).
  • Review regularly as online communications are constantly evolving.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Role and importance of alumni relations
Developing a fundraising strategy
Partnering with other advancement-related departments
Selecting the right communication channels
Alumni magazines and e-newsletters
How to engage the international community

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Rowley talks about online communications at his institution.