Nonprofits Outpacing Businesses and Academia in Social Media Use

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According to a new study by UMASS Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research, the nation’s nonprofit organizations are using social media more than any other sector, and rapidly outpacing academia and businesses in their use. The new report is the outcome of a study of the nation’s 200 largest charities in the United States based on a list compiled annually by Forbes magazine. The study examined these institutions to quantify their adoption of social media tools and technologies. Among the key findings:

-97% of charities report using at least one form of social media, including blogs, podcasts, message boards, social networking, video blogging, wikis and Twitter. This represents an eight percent increase over 2008 and a 22% increase over the 2007 study.

-93% of the top US charities now have a Facebook profile and 87% have a Twitter presence.

-65% of these nonprofits are blogging, making this group the most prolific bloggers of any sector — 22% of the Fortune 500 are blogging and 45% of the Inc. 500 are blogging, while 55% of college and university admissions departments have blogs.

-93% of the top charities monitored  social media for their names, causes or other pertinent information and 73% of US colleges and universities monitored buzz online about their school — while only 68% of the Inc. 500 monitored their brands.

This is the third year that the center has tracked the nonprofit sector’s social media use, and is the only study of its kind.

While I am not surprised that nonprofits have embraced social media so widely (after all, social media offers a number of low-cost, interactive mechanisms to engage with employees, volunteers, and donors) I am a little taken aback by how much they have taken the lead when it comes to pace of adoption.

So often, we hear experts suggest that nonprofits look to the business world for guidance on how to operate more effectively and efficiently. In light these findings—and the many powerful social media campaigns we’ve seen crop up within the past year—perhaps now it the time to flip that guidance on its head and suggest that businesses look to the nonprofit realm for guidance on effective use of social media.

What do you think? Should businesses and academic institutions take a lesson from the nonprofit sector with regard to social media use?