Wednesday, September 30

Encouraging For Nonprofits: Lee Aase & Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization and internationally renowned group medical practice headquartered in Rochester, Minnesota. And, according to U.S. News & World Report, it is ranked second only to Johns Hopkins.

As a leader in the medical community, it's no surprise that the Mayo Clinic has become a leader in social media. We even used its program as an example for hospitals in southern Nevada to consider, given Las Vegas-area hospitals' lack of presence online.

The Mayo Clinic is a fine example, especially since Lee Aase, manager of syndication and social media for Mayo Clinic, has accepted several interviews to share the benefits of developing social media programs for hospitals and nonprofit organizations. In addition to video, you can learn more about their program here and here.


According to Aase, the comparatively low cost and ease-of-use make social media an important communication component for every nonprofit communication plan. It is a sentiment recently shared by Seth Godin, who noted nonprofit organizations have been too slow to adopt social media and criticized them for placing too much emphasis on the "non" portion of nonprofit.

While Godin raises some good points, his logic is flawed. The lack of being among the top 100 anything online (Twitter or otherwise) is not an indication whether or not nonprofit organizations have effective social media programs. It only means that the potential target audience is less than everyone whereas Ashton Kutcher, Ellen DeGeneres, and Britney Spears have a larger slice of the potential to reach everyone.

Several nonprofit organizations do have fledgling social media programs in the works, including the March of Dimes, which will be partnering with BloggersUnite.org this November for Bloggers Unite: Fight For Preemies. There is also an independent filmmaker that we will be working with over the next three months to support several important causes related to veterans. (Details on both of these efforts will be released next week.) They won't show in the lists, but they will meet objectives.

What I Learned Speaking At NANO

Still, the March of Dimes and the filmmakers seem to be the exception. After taking a cursory look at the online presence of the top 20 nonprofit organizations (by funding) in southern Nevada in preparation for speaking to a handful of nonprofit executives at the Nevada Association Of Nonprofit Organizations (NANO), we discovered that with exception to the Nevada Cancer Institute, most nonprofit organizations here are largely nonexistent online.

They either have no social media program or have what can best be described as small pond social media efforts. A small pond social media effort usually consists of 100 to 200 people on a popular social media platform (regardless of where their supporters are engaged). The organization has a dialogue with its small group. There is nothing wrong with that (although some greatly diminish their ROI).

The United Way of Southern Nevada, for example, has several social media accounts consisting of a relatively small collection of advocates on each. They engage participants on these accounts, but none of these participants seem to have become advocates or evangelists who actively share United Way content beyond the small pond. And, when measuring online presence, it creates the illusion that they have a non-existent program.

In contrast, the Mayo Clinic excels in maximizing the adaptive nature of social media. For example, one of the many proven points that Aase shares in the Ragan video is how the Mayo Clinic employs social media as a media relations outreach tool and/or uses it to refocus media exposure that the clinic receives. The concept is one of several excellent communication tactics that have opened up via social media.

This touches on something else I learned from NANO members. Many nonprofit organizations may not be ready to engage in social media. The reasons may be varied, but the reality is that many do not know how to develop or manage a communication plan let alone a social media program. Most are best served only when they have the help of a communication champion.

Specifically, the communication learning curve for someone like Aase and the learning curve for a nonprofit administrator or executive director are not the same. And what seems easy to me, Aase, or Valeria Maltoni, is a completely new skill set to non-communicators. The same holds true for businesses.

For me, it has changed the way I present social media content threefold. First, social media is best viewed as an environment where people congregate as opposed to a medium unto itself. Second, the experiences people have with individual communication online are significantly different from organizational communication. Third, "dive in" advice tends to leave organizations with the "now what?" dilemma, especially for non-communicators.

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