Social Gets Local: Annie E. Casey Foundation

Tiffany Thomas Smith, who works in the strategic communications and public affairs unit of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, has enthusiastically taken on the challenge of introducing social media to one of the nation’s largest and most respected philanthropies.aecf_logo

In this (very first) “Social Gets Local” post, an interview with GrayMatter Minute contributor @cameronbarry, she shares the successes and challenges of adapting new communications tools in an organization with a social mission.

Q: How has social media impacted your marketing efforts?
A:
The biggest change we’ve seen to date is in public relations.  Social media is where the journalists are. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are the new bridge to our media contacts and the answer to the question of what’s the best way to get in touch with them.  They also give us insights into the stories that journalists are talking about and covering. However, we’re about to launch a new social media campaign that I think is really going to change the way we communicate.

Q: What social media tool do you use the most?
A:
Twitter, where I have both my own account and one for the Foundation.  We also have a Facebook page and I’ve been working with my colleagues on the benefits of using LinkedIn, but between listening and posting and answering questions about what it is and why my colleagues should care about it, Twitter definitely gets most of my attention.

Q: How much time each day do you spend using Twitter?
A:
I worked with our IT department to install Twhirl on my desktop. Since then, I’ve been able to keep an eye on our accounts and post or respond quickly.  I can’t put an exact amount of time on it because it’s always kind of a low hum in the background.

Q: Do you consider your time on Twitter “time well spent?”
A:
That’s a lot like asking a PR person if there’s a value in building a relationship with a reporter if the story you pitch doesn’t come out right away.  In other words, yes, especially in maintaining and managing relationships with journalists.  The Foundation tends to keep a low profile and now, because I’m in regular communication with reporters, they remember us.  We don’t have to constantly restart the conversation every time we have a story to share. In the area of policy and communications strategy, we see more and more members of Congress using social media to take the pulse of their constituencies.  They’ve discovered that there’s more than one way to have a conversation and maintain relationships and we’re going to be taking a look at social media from the policy perspective as well.

Q: Is the leadership of your organization supportive of your use of social media?
A:
They are supportive and curious.  All foundations are on information overload, but as tools like Twitter get more and more mainstream media coverage, our leadership is realizing that we have to make an investment in learning about how to make good use of these tools to engage with all of our audiences.

Q: Do your colleagues use social media?  How and in what ways?
A:
Yes.  In addition to the basic networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, we’re also using social media to help our grantees across the country stay in touch with each other.  The Foundation awards grants to address specific issues and our grantees have been asking for help in setting up their own smaller social networks.  We use ning, an online platform for creating, customizing and sharing your own social networks.

Q: How are you gauging “ROI?”
A:
Right now, we’re being modest, but we’re getting smarter as fast as we can.  We’re still evaluating what success means, but we’re tracking how often bloggers write about us and how many tweets we get and of course, our website traffic. Our new social media campaign is going to give us a much clearer idea of how we can make social media engagement work for us.

Q: How is social media working for you on the…
Local level?

A: Our success is most visible locally, probably because I’m here in Baltimore.  I can see our message getting out via local channels, I hear from our grantees, the media can see our local programs at work….
Regional level?
A: We have offices in several cities around the country and from our headquarters here in Baltimore, we view a regional rollout of our social media efforts as a next step.  We’re going to take what we’ve learned here and share it with our offices in Atlanta, Seattle and New Haven so they can use social media to support their efforts.
National level?
A: Nationally, there’s a lot of internal recognition for our efforts, but extending our social media efforts nationwide is still a goal.

Q: What would you say to other area philanthropies about social media?
A:
I would say that social media engagement is totally worth the effort if you’re willing to take the time to build relationships.  Social media is great for taking the pulse of what people are talking about, thinking about and listening to. It’s easy to get insulated – we all have a tendency to think that because we want to say something, people want to listen, but that’s not always the case.  Social media encourages you to listen and it gives you the quickest return on being a good listener.

Q: What question do you have about social media that you’d like to ask your local community?
A: I go right back to the question of ROI.  Even with the phenomenal growth of social media, how are folks out there figuring out when it’s worth doing?

Click here if you’d like to be a part of Social Gets Local, a FREE local directory supporting businesses located in Baltimore, Washington DC and Annapolis that are using social media effectively.


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