Other People’s Money

In both the business and nonprofit sectors, the effects of social media and economic transactions is well researched. Bluntly: people can make money with social media. For instance, Digiday reports that “Pinterest accounts for 25 percent of retail referral traffic. (Rich Relevance)”. And as seen in this Shopify infographic, Facebook accounts for over 25$% of the referral traffic to the retail site.

According to Nonprofit Tech 2.0 Blogs, the nonprofit sector also generates a great deal of revenue.

The average social media donation is $59 and growing each year. . . . [And] Using Twitter during fundraising events can result in 10X more money raised online.

Make Money with Social Media

I’ve had the privilege of working some of the most generous nonprofit people since my digital communications career started. Beautiful organizations with passionate mission; folks who’ve experienced the pain and challenge of those on the margins, and want to contribute to the goodness of life; making a life of caring for the “other”. They turn injustice on its head, providing a voice to the silenced, resources to the oppressed, a face to the forgotten.

They are also a group of folks who aren’t often guaranteed a paycheck; they live from grant to grant, sustaining donors, and the annual Christmas campaign. I’ve interacted with many whose visions of care for folks are well researched, identifying the need, but have no money with which to do it. (Part of it is our cultural conception of how nonprofit work should happen, insightfully challenged by Dan Pallota  in his TedX presentation on social innovation and charity.) For those who’ve begun thinking about using social media as a significant part of their communications strategy, it often is seen through this financial lens. The conversation often looks something like this:

“We’re doing an event in [x] months and need more [participants/sponsors/donors/money]. W’eve only been posting to Facebook and Twitter a couple of times a week; can you help us organize it, and use social media to get us to our goals?”

“We’re coming up on the end of the year and need to make up our financial gap of $[xxxxx.xx]. We’re new to using social media; can you help us with a campaign?”

“As we grow, we need more donors. How do I use Facebook to increase our donations?”

The printing press or money press?

make money from social media

Coming out of the social media gate strong on a financial platform will turn people off; it’s spam, yes? Think about your own Facebook or Twitter experience: how do feel about a business that only tries to sell its own products or services? Why is your product important to me; what is the story behind you and your product? Or the nonprofit that is only active when asking for money: we don’t know their story, why they do what they do. What are the outcomes for the money you keep asking for? What purpose do they serve in my community? In either case, we remain unsure what makes the organization tick, and their passion for their efforts.


One of the misconceptions that both business and nonprofit folk bring to social mediums is a broadcast paradigm. With the “pray and spray” mentality, we just start talking on our blogs and Facebook pages about our products or needs, and hope that people will respond. But the cultural context has shifted, social mediums are social: relationships. And in relationships, time is an important factor in trust, knowing the other party well, gaining mutual respect, and building rapport. Although love at first sight does arguably happen, it’s not often the case. Translation: it takes time. And, as I inferred above, it’s a mutual characteristic. That means that the organization must respect its’ clients, participants, donors, etc., for any real relationship to develop and evolve. This includes cultivating new relationships: mutuality, trust, story, passion, etc…

Happily, some of these organizations began to see the longer arc of social media and its role in their organization and mission. The lure of thinking that social media will print your money is strong. “I can make money with social media!” It’s the new thing, the bright shiny toy that everyone is learning to play with. But, the technology isn’t about making money, nor is it about the technology itself. It’s about people. There is always someone on the other side of the screen.

So, when you’re asking folks to buy your product or support your cause, do they know you?