RVA Nonprofits & Social Media Survey Results

I have finally gotten to the point where I have enough time to post an update about the social media survey I conducted for my dissertation. If you have access to the Virginia Commonwealth University Library, then you can always go and access the completed dissertation there. Here on my blog, I am taking a bit of a different approach disseminating the results because I think they will be more useful to the #RVA nonprofit community. What follows is essentially the chapter four of my dissertation, and I will write more about the implications of the findings in another post. Before I get on with the results, let me provide a brief synopsis of this project.

The aim of the study is to understand the current status of social media use among nonprofit human service organizations by exploring and describing the social media platforms in use, associated practices with social media, the frequency of use, general satisfaction, and plans for the future use of social media. A cross-sectional research design was selected and a survey instrument was created for the study. Data were collected from 125 nonprofit human service organizations in the Richmond, VA metropolitan area that were identified from a sampling frame of nonprofit organizations. The sample size (125) was identified after pre-screening and cleaning the data. Initially, over 160 respondents participated in the survey, although many did not fully complete the survey, left a number of responses blank, or simply started and never finished.

This study represents one of the first of its kind to focus solely on nonprofit human service organizations or HSO’s. The study utilized a cross-sectional survey design to describe and explore social media use among these unique organizations. The study was guided by five general questions, which also formed the basis for the conceptual model (which I will detail in another post). The five questions included:

  1. What are the reasons HSO’s are using social media?
  2. What are they doing/using?
  3. How often do they use social media?
  4. What are the expected outcomes?
  5. What are the plans for the future?

The data for this study were collected using the email listserves of ConnectRichmond.org and the Southside Community Partners. The electronic survey was also posted to their Facebook pages and on Twitter using #RVA and #ConnectRVA to increase the visibility of the study. Individual emails were also sent out to 120 participants identified from several lists of nonprofit human service organizations over a 3-phase period. Once again, the theoretical basis for the study will be discussed in another post, but for now onto the results of the stud.

First, a quick description of the respondents participating in this study.

Nonprofit human service organizations were the target sample and the primary position of the respondent from those organization included Founders, Executive Directors, Assistant Directors, Program Directors, Marketing/Development Directors, Communications Directors, and others. Other was the largest category selected; however, a number of respondents specified Development or Program Director after selecting Other. The breakdown of primary position within the organization and the number of years of service is shown in the table below.

The Primary, secondary, and tertiary mission focus of the organizations were identified by the respondents to include: Education(1), Mental Health/Crisis Intervention/Health (2), and Youth Programs (3). Technically the last two were tied, and again the category Other was selected most frequently; however, respondents neglected to specify any mission focus. The bar graph below further demonstrates other mission foci.

The average annual budget was over 2 million dollars with the range being $2,500 to $42,000,000.  Despite the broad range, over half of the HSO’s clustered in the range between $0 and $700,000 (55.3%, N=68).

Moving into some of the technology related questions, the majority of respondents reported having a website that contains links to their social media profiles (82.4%). Over 16% (N=21) reported having no such links on their websites.

A majority of respondents indicated their organization has no dedicated social media staff position (81%, N=101), and the remaining HSO’s that do have such a position have a variety of titles for that position (as demonstrated below).

Next respondents identified the social media platforms in use. Unsurprisingly, the most popular social media platforms include Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn. The table below indicates the most frequently used platforms as well as the year the specific platform was created. Respondents identified other social media platforms such as Pinterest, Tumblr, and Ning.

The trend of social media adoption in HSO’s was also explored with the majority of organizations reporting social media adoption around the year 2008. The graph below demonstrates the various platforms and the adoption trend. It should be noted that although the graph appears to indicate a drop off in the year 2012, it is not actually what is happening. The survey was administered in February, and I suspect that if the question were asked again in December, the trend line would continue to increase or level off near the top.

The next thing examined was organizational policies regarding social media. Social media policies included whether policies existed and when they were implemented.  Almost 85% (N=106) of respondents reported no policy existed prohibiting the staff use of social media. When asked if there was a policy with guidelines allowing staff to participate in social media, 56.8% (N=71) reported no. Additionally, 64% (N=80) reported there was no policy encouraging the use of social media, 80% (N=100) reported that social media websites were blocked from access on their work computers, and 65.6% (N=82) reported no policy encouraging social media access through the use of an HSO’s computers.  Additionally, HSO’s had a policy on how to handle comments posted to the HSO’s blog, Facebook page, or other social media platforms with 54.4% (N=68) reporting no and 45.6% (N=57) reported yes. The graph below illustrates the trend for social media policy adoption.

Social media allows individuals to share a variety of information and resources through links to rich content. Content involves videos, images, articles of text, or audio such as blogs and podcasts. The content an HSO shares with followers varied with 88% of respondents identifying the top three as newsletters/information, links to our organization, and photos (N=110). Nearly 74% of respondents identified sharing links to specific information (N=92), and 64.8% reported sharing links to other organizations (N=81). A total of 14 respondents identified “Other” content that their HSO shares. The text responses included: Pins on Pinterest and Tumblr, training information, legislative information, fundraisers, press coverage, program information, class schedules, studio recordings of youth projects, and general announcements of events (N=5). The remaining categories and their frequencies are reported below.

The survey also examined social media goals of HSO’s.  Of the 125 respondents, 62.4% (N=78) stated no and 37.6% (N=47) replied yes. The respondents who replied yes were then asked to answer a sub question defining those goals. Of those who responded, 36% (N=45) reported the top goal for using social media was to “engage the community” followed closely by “promoting the organization or services” (34.4%, N=43). Respondents were allowed to select any of the six options that applied to their organization. The table below shows the goals respondents could select from along with their frequencies and percentages.

Moving into some more specific Territory, I was interested in understanding the reasons for using social media and what or who initially prompted the organization to use social media.

Seven options were available for respondents to identify the reason(s) why their HSO uses social media. Respondents were asked to select all the applicable reasons for adopting and using social media. The number one reason for using social media was to promote/advertise services or events (96%, N=120) followed by engaging with the community (92%, N=115). The least identified reason for using social media was to demonstrate transparency/accountability (48.8%, N=61). The graph below illustrates the total number of respondents selecting the particular reason(s) why the HSO uses social media.

The initial prompt for using social media question asked respondents to identify any and all of the 9 categories that prompted their HSO to begin using social media. Respondents selected enhancing relations with existing audiences as the top choice (72.8%, N=91) followed by rounding out their communications mix as number two (64.8%, N=81). The least identified prompt was to replace another communications channel used previously (11.2%, N=14). The graph below further illustrates the total number of respondents identifying what prompted the HSO to begin to use social media.

Respondents were asked to identify the number of updates posted to social media profiles in a given day. An update meant Facebook status updates, tweets, blog postings, or content that was generally shared via social media. Ninety-three respondents selected the range of 0-2 for the number of social media updates posted in a given day accounting for 74.4%. The second range of 3-5 accounted for 21.6% (N=27) of the respondents and 3.2% (N=4) selected the range 6-8. There was only one HSO that reported posting more than nine updates in a given day.

The time dimension asked for the number of staff hours distributed across the organization that are devoted to social media in a week. This was meant to include tweeting, updating, blogging, and the general posting or sharing of content. The average number of hours was 5.78 (S.D. 7.57) and the range of hours included 1 to 40. Only 19% (N=24) of respondents devoted 10 hours or more to social media in a given week.

The last few questions of the survey asked respondents to think about the acts involved in social media, such as commenting, sharing, or posting information, as well as the social media platform used by classifying the number of platforms into general categories. These categories included Social Networking sites, Video-Sharing sites, Image-Sharing sites, Blogs, and Location-Based social media sites. These questions used a Likert-scale to asses the general satisfaction or outcomes associated with using social media.

First, the survey asked whether experimenting with social network sites has enhanced the relationship between the agency/organization and stakeholders, constituents, board members, or the general community. Respondents were progressively less sure about the remaining categories as 37.6% (N=47) reported not knowing if video-sharing sites, image- sharing sites (40.8%, N=51), blogs (43.2%, N=54), and location-based social media sites (52.8%, N=66) enhance the organizations’ relationship with stakeholders, board members, or the community.  The complete list to this question is included in the table below.

Next, the survey asked whether social media offers the opportunity to interact with others. The majority of (89.6%, N=112) affirmed that social networking sites do offer the opportunity to interact with a variety of people and organizations (41.6%, N=52 Strongly Agree and 48%, N=60 Agree). Responses were generally more agreeable towards the type of social media when asked about interaction (see the table below). However, respondents remained uncertain about location-based social media and whether it offers opportunity for interaction (46.4%, N=58). It may be possible that respondents are unsure what location-based social media are, accounting for the large percentage of “Don’t Know” responses.

One of the main questions of the study sought to understand whether social media helps the HSO. This question used a Likert-scale similar to the above questions but with different categories. The categories are displayed in the table below along with their frequencies and percentages. Results are generally positive with most respondents strongly agreeing or agreeing that social media helps the HSO raise money (47%, N=59), increase donors (39.2%, N=49), increase membership (36%, N=45), increase new clients (42.4%, N=53), increase community awareness of programs and services (92.8%, N=116), increase trust and connections with the community (67.2%, N=84), share information (96%, N=120), collaborate with others (66.4%, N=83), and recruit volunteers (56%, N=70). The final category “Be more successful” was excluded as this category is also included in question 22. However, on this question 62.4% (N=78) of respondents generally agreed that using social media helped the HSO.

Another important question looking at general satisfaction with their HSO’s use of social media indicated positive attitudes towards HSO’s use of social media. Twenty percent (N=22) strongly agree and 52% (N=65) agree that social media has been useful in achieving the mission of the organization. In addition, 19.2% (N=24) strongly agree and 58.4% (N=73) agree that information obtained from social media sites is useful to their HSO. Social media was evaluated as being important to the HSO with 20.8% (N=26) strongly agreeing and 56% (N=70) agreeing. Only 12% (N=15) strongly agree and 35.2% (N=44) agree that social media helps the HSO to empower their clientele, while 27.2% (N=34) neither agreed or disagreed.

In regards to the amount of time, 25.6% (N=32) strongly agree and 46.4% (N=58) agree that the HSO should devote more time to social media than they currently do. No respondents disagreed with increasing their social media use in the future, which indicates they are likely going to increase use in the future, and 26.4% (N=33) strongly agree and 56% (N=70) agree that they plan to do so. Just over 31% (N=39) of respondents agreed that social media has been difficult to use effectively. However, 23.2% (N=29) disagreed with that statement and 20% (N=25) neither agreed nor disagreed. Finally, when asked whether HSO’s are using social media only because the community believes they should, 45.6% (N=57) disagreed and 18.4% (N=23) strongly disagreed with the statement.

The last area this study examined was the resources and capacity to engage in using social media. The survey used a question that was adapted from the Marguerite Casey Foundation Organizational Capacity Assessment Tool, which was originally developed as a self- assessment measure of organizational capacity (Guthrie et al., 2004). This tool was adapted for this study using a Likert-scale to measure an HSO’s resources and capacities to engage in the use of social media across ten different categories.

The self-assessment generally scored well in the moderate to high range in all but three of the categories. Respondents indicated low (32.8%, N=41) to moderate (35.2%, N=44) support from board members, low (30.4%, N=38) to moderate (38.4%, N=48) access to outside assistance for social media pursuits from either individuals or their social networks, and low (23.2%, N=29) to moderate (48.8, N=61) knowledge of how to use social media to meet strategic goals. The existence of a website and broadband Internet were assessed the highest at 69.6% (N=87) and 68.8% (N=86) respectively. The existence of electronic hardware such as a computer, smart phone, or tablet was also rated high at 56.8% (N=71). Approximately 54% (N=67) of respondents identified high capacity for social media use because the HSO has a written mission statement with clear expression or reason for existence, values and purpose, followed closely by 24% (N=30) who rated this criterion as moderate. Knowledge of how to use various social media platforms was rated moderate at 42.4% (N=53) and high at 40.8% (N=51). Support from the community was rated by 42.4% (N=53) as moderate, and no HSO rated none on this specific criterion. Generally, HSO’s responded with moderate (48%, N=60) to high (20.8%, N=26) capacity and resources to dedicate to the future use of social media.

Okay, so this was a lot of information and I am incredibly grateful to the RVA nonprofits that participated in the study. I will follow up with this post writing about the implications of this findings and some other ideas/concerns I have regarding social media use among nonprofit human service organizations. However, in a couple of sentences here is what all this actually means…

The data suggests that HSO’s use social media to promote their organization and or services and programs, and to engage with the community to enhance relationships. Additionally, the evidence suggests that HSO’s are generally satisfied with using social media. 

The next post will have a bit more of a discussion to it, as this entry really was the meat and potatoes of the study. Thanks for stopping by to read and I hope this information helps you and your organization in some way. If you have any questions or want to know more, feel free to leave a comment or you can contact me via Twitter @JimmySW.


About jimmysw
Assistant Professor of Social Work with a focus on Social Media, Social Work Education and all things technology.

4 Responses to RVA Nonprofits & Social Media Survey Results

  1. Pingback: Follow up to the RVA Nonprofits & Social Media Study « Jimmysw's Blog

  2. Pingback: Participatory Culture and Web 2.0: Bringing New Media Literacies to Social Work Education « Jimmysw's Blog

  3. Pingback: Social Media & Nonprofit Human Service Organizations | JimmySW

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