Are There Advantages in Using Private Social Networking Software?

the value of community management in social networking software

Unless you have lived in the remote outskirts of the Alaskan plains, everyone is aware of the  widespread popularity of social networking.  The popularity of public social networking platforms like LinkedIn  has certainly inspired nonprofits to begin using Social Networking Software . However, a recent blog entry on Associations Now, IN DEFENSE OF THE INSULAR SOCIAL NETWORK, challenged us to contemplate the distinct advantages for an association in taking the time to build your very own private social network.

5 Reasons for Community Management Software 

First, what is our working definition of private social media software? We believe that Private Social Media is a community website created by companies (Ex. Associations) to allow individuals or groups to leverage the knowledge and experience of people in a network. Having said that, this brief blog will describe 5 main advantages we hear from our clients associated with using private social networking software. 

1. Community Content and Control

The association can control all aspects of the content, features, layout and rollout.  New program announcements, upcoming classes, & brand awareness can all be administered internally and pushed to the community of users based on your desire and segmentation. With content control, you can have direct feedback opportunities and focused information to build brand trust and recognition.

2. Build Private Communities For Security

Privacy is an important issue today and people are less likely to share information in the public domain. Therefore, with a private social networking software it allows organizations the capability to set up your own private community of users. Ex. The Finance Committee is able to have the outlet to share minutes and budgets with each other without fear of the information being available to others. These communities offer a safe, controlled, and moderated environment with backup and restoration of your data.

3. Store Front Value for Engagement

Let’s face it. As an association, your website is your store front. And, a Private Social Network on your website will only promote more engagement. If you are using Private Social Networking software which has been implemented for your organization it’s a great marketing opportunity and will be conducive to keeping members coming back and attracting more members to your site. As a result of being your own, your community site can be branded to your color scheme and themes which reflect your company’s ethos and products. Public Sites don’t often allow you the option of having your own graphics for your site. This can leave your site looking a little homogeneous, and not in the mood you want it to be in.

4. A Direct Ear to the Interests of the Members 

Private Social Networks allow you to be in control of the community and benefit from the community chatter. In other words, your organization can stay in tune with the content and comments which will allow your organization to be more in step with the hot topics of the organization and members you serve.

5. Integration with Other Systems 

With an integrated Private Social Network, you have the opportunity to leverage the integration with your Association and Donor Management Systems. For Example, if your organization sells training courses online or books, you can automatically have the system pull those like-minded individuals into a special collaboration group based on the insight derived from transactions by members online. With these integrated tools, you are able to provide another “touch point” besides direct mail which are focused due to the integration with your main constituent management system.

In my mind, there are many benefits to Private Social Networks. But, to be certain, there is no doubt a need for both Public and Private outlets to be a part of your social media plan.

Certainly, the scale of participation likely pales in comparison to the number involved on Public options, however, there is a compelling case to be made to launch your own.

If you have more ideas on the value of social networking solutions or would like help reviewing software options, please make a comment below or contact us.

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5 Key Factors Driving the Race towards Marketing Automation at NPO’s

Marketing Automation at Nonprofits is helping many win the race!

5 Key Factors Driving the Race towards New Marketing Automation at NPO’s!

In our opinion, one of the leading trends for nonprofit associations over the next few years will be to move beyond traditional methods of finding new members through “Outbound Marketing” such as email to full Marketing Automation platforms to be more competitive and remain relevant. In this article, we discuss some concepts and outline 5 key factors which may make the case for Marketing Automation Software at your Nonprofit.

Today, Marketing Automation has emerged as a class of technology to manage the entire life cycle of marketing whether that be Inbound Marketing or Outbound Marketing.

What is the idea of Marketing Automation?

The term marketing automation is used to describe any piece of software that helps business reduce the human effort needed to roll out an inbound and outbound marketing program, either by tying multiple elements together under a single platform or by streamlining efforts within a single channel.

What is Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing?

“Inbound Marketing” is the method by which your members or donors find you online mostly through various paid and natural search engine marketing efforts.

Outbound Marketing” is likely what your nonprofit has been focused on for many years. Outbound marketing examples include Newsletters, Trade Shows, TV commercials, radio commercials, print advertisements (newspaper ads, magazine ads, flyers, brochures, catalogs, etc.), press releases, cold calls, and email blasts.

In 2004, there were very few vendors who specialized in email marketing and even fewer vendors that could claim to automate anything beyond traditional marketing. Dialing on the phone and conference trade show events were top dog in the arsenal for the commercial for profit and non-profit organizations alike.

Therefore, it’s time for Executives of nonprofits and associations to get prepared and look forward in their respective race to succeed in engaging members and donors. That noted, the key drivers of an organization’s decision to feel the need to investigate marketing automation technology generally involves one or more of the 5 factors described below:

  • Business Intelligence:

    The need for membership and marketing reports that provide data for analysis, planning, and determination of return on investment will be required by more Association Executives & Nonprofit Boards in the future. We believe that the use of your data will set you free, because it truly empowers and organization to see where its strengths and opportunities are today and in the future.

  • Simplification:

    Everyone is trying to do more with less these days and nonprofits are no different. The need for Membership, IT, Development Officers, and Web Masters need to simplify the management and coordination of activities, such as marketing and website traffic.

  • Removing DDS (Disparate Data Syndrome)

    The need to manage multiple point tools like email marketing solutions, landing pages, google analytics, blogs, & association or donor management solutions need to be integrated to provide the insights you need and keep the staff sane.

  • New Member Recruitment:

Yes, associations and donor nonprofits should be prepared to compete even more with the mind share of for-profit and nonprofits in providing value. Therefore, lead nurturing and transfer or interested members to the appropriate parties is critical.

  • Efficient Use of Time:

You need to be a lean mean fighting machine at your nonprofit. Therefore, reducing the time to create, deploy marketing campaigns, or respond to on boarding requests or conference exhibitors for booth sales in real-time is paramount. In a recent research study done internally by Velocity, a leading outbound marketing firm, revealed the simple act of placing a phone call to a new prospect within a minute of lead generation can increase your likelihood of conversion by nearly 400%.

If you are a mid to large association, and you have outgrown your current email marketing solution, it may be time for your organization to get ahead of the pack.

Proceed With Caution

A quick word of caution, however is in order. As in any software evaluation, before you begin evaluating vendors, it’s imperative you take a look at your organization, your human resources, and your existing processes. Your nonprofit organization needs to spend time to identify the goals and objectives of your marketing automation initiative to be sure it aligns the directive of your board and members.

You may find it’s necessary to enlist the help of a skilled consulting firm which understands your industry. There are very good inbound marketing firms for the for-profit market. And, even better is enlisting the assistance of a firm which is focused on the nonprofit sector.

When you have determined your organization’s objectives, requirements, and opportunities, you’re ready to evaluate solutions and vendors. And, at the time, if you would like more information on complete marketing automation tools or just need to start with an email marketing service, please contact us.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Moving faster sometimes means using better tools. Marketing Software can do just that!



Should you build Membership or Donor software internally?

It's not likely a good idea to build software inhouse. Nonprofit can find good solutions.


Recently we have fielded a resurgence of questions from clients evaluating new association membership software options who want to know why “buying” software is better than building it in house. As a result, in this article I wanted to pose some questions to ask and ideas to contemplate before an organization ventures into this type of project.

Should You Build vs. Buy Nonprofit Software?

Software Terminology:

Let me clarify our terminology first. The term “Off the shelf software systems is typically reserved for software which is developed and specialized for specific applications (like associations), maintained, and supported by a software vendor that can be used with little or no modification. The software tends to be relatively less expensive as the cost of development can be spread over a large number of users.

The term Bespoke or Custom Software” references building custom software from the ground up based on the unique needs of the organization in mind. Granted, whether using Access, WordPress, or a combination of various software tools, if it’s not developed by a company with the same source code and scheduled releases it’s usually considered “Bespoke“.

The Case for the Discussion: 

Certainly, the larger the nonprofit is in size, the tougher the decision will be to opt for “Off the shelf software systems” versus “Bespoke or Custom Software” .  The smart way to approach this verdict is possibly through a series of questions. Here are 5 important questions to discuss and items to ponder before a verdict is made:

  1. What do we need the system to do?
  2. What are the cost and time limitations?
  3. Does the existing system need to be scrapped entirely, including institutional knowledge with the staff of using the existing system?
  4. Is what we need now what we will need in a few years?
  5. How do we avoid the huge expense of another overhaul in another seven to ten years?

Top pitfalls of building membership or donor software: 

You are starting from Ground ZeroIf you consider finding the right nonprofit software a daunting task, how would you like to undertake the project to actually develop one from scratch? A large investment in your time is required during the development process and a bespoke application will take longer to implement.

Your Not a Software Development Company: Once you decide to develop your own membership software database using Access, for example, you’re taking on the responsibility for not only the initial software development needs but the ongoing needs of the organization. The initial scoping out of the project, testing the software, updating the software, training your staff, and documenting the software are all items you must be capable of doing. If you pick the wrong developer you could end up with an application that is unstable, unreliable and full of bugs.

If you build custom software, you may feel like Gilligan!

You will be isolated so don’t be like Gilligan:  We believe there are valuable benefits in a community of software users with like-minded scenarios, feedback, and use cases. Think about the following benefits of being among a group of users rather than on your own software island like Gilligan and his faithful crew! A strong industry focused software system will likely have an active user group, like NiUG, the international association of iMIS users, which can help your organization find better ways to do things within the software, push for enhancements, & collaborate with others using the software.

Ongoing IT staffing needs: We have countless stories about associations hiring a developer (either internally or externally) who has left them without support, retired, or wrote the program with no documentation for the users or staff. When you buy a standard Association Management Software package it is specifically designed for the nonprofit association management space and you are entitled to the support from the company behind the product. That means you’ll have access to training, consulting, and research and development (i.e., new features and functionality) that you’ll never find in a custom program.

But, we are unique! I know there are exceptions:

Of course, there are exceptions. I have run across some associations that have been successful in developing their own in-house database software. And, I believe there are some situations where that makes sense. The idea that it could be customized to your specifications across the whole organization is compelling.

The consensus is “NO”!Building software today internally does not make sense in most cases!

In our opinion, there are very few cases where building internally makes sense anymore. Therefore, we believe leaving it up to Bob (using Bob to refer to leading industry software developers) is a better approach than trying to go it alone (like our friend Gilligan and his faithful crew). There are simply too many good nonprofit software options for this market to go at it alone.

We founded SmartThoughts because we believe that there are no doubt challenges in finding an “exact fit” software solution for your association today. However, thorough due diligence up front it will make the difference between selecting a truly upgrade-able software solution that will grow with your organization‘s needs, and a long-term commitment with a custom software developer (internally or externally) that‘s constantly bolting on new functionality to a patchwork quilt that never quite fits your organization‘s expectations or budget. We believe there are some good options!

If you would like to discuss this topic or review the list of options together, please contact us.  Until then keep SmartThoughts in mind. 

If you are looking for new software to buy? Call SmartThoughts!