What I Learned on Sesame Street: How to Generate More Support for your Nonprofit, Biz or Brand

Earlier this month, I visited Sesame Street. Yes, the real Sesame Street in Richmond, Va., served as the venue for Social Media for Nonprofits Conference at WCVE-TV, our local PBS station. I couldn’t help but think how Big Bird tweets, and how Mitt Romney’s campaign remarks about public television funding set the social media world on fire.

Did you see the parody Twitter account @BigBirdRomney has more than 13,000 followers and the real, verified @SesameStreet account on Twitter has nearly 762,000 followers?

At the conference on Sesame Street, social media gurus shared how nonprofits can better use social media to generate more support for their causes. Highlights included:

The Dos of Social Media

Social media can be a very powerful tool if used correctly. Here are some social media goals every business should strive for:

Engage and listen: Listen to what your audience is saying about your product, and carry on conversations with your customers. Follow and friend your customers—social media relationships are a two-way street, just like relationships offline. 

Build relationships: Don’t become so focused on ROI that you lose the relationship with your supporters. You wouldn’t be friends with someone in real life who only interacted with you when they wanted to ask for something—don’t be that person online.  

Be personable: If possible, don’t post anonymously. Use pictures of faces instead of logos, and use funny or emotional photos to engage with your customers.  

Develop an editorial calendar: Keep a schedule of upcoming posts, such as events, to keep your community informed.

The Don’ts of Social Media

As beneficial as social media can be, it can also be just as destructive. Here are some things to avoid when using social media:

Don’t spam for donations: You want to establish relationships with your customers/supporters so they feel appreciated. Blasts for donations (in the form of email, direct mail, etc.) are annoying and ignored most of the time. Instead, tell a story or show a picture of how donations help the community, which will reach people on an emotional level.

Don’t ignore controversy: Ignoring controversy doesn’t mean it goes away. Acknowledge the problem and do your best to remedy it or explain your choice. Ironically, the producers of Sesame Street found themselves having to navigate a challenging situation with Elmo earlier this year, and they did so as gracefully as they could.

Don’t focus solely on numbers: More followers usually means more exposure, but it’s also important to focus on the quality of those following you, not just the quantity.

Don’t be afraid to fail: Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Be innovative and try new things. If it doesn’t work, don’t use it again. But you might find a new way of using social media that boosts your sales and donations and blazes the trail for others.

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Brittany Burns “pins” healthy recipes on Pinterest and then runs out of time to cook, but she’s still a huge fan of Cookie Monster.