Top US Charities Leading the Pack in Social Media Usage

June 25, 2009 by Lisa Oshima | Research, Social Media

The University of Massachusetts (UMASS) Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research recently completed a longitudinal study on how Forbes Magazine’s list of the US’s 200 largest charities used social media in 2007 (their first year studying the topic) vs 2008.  The charities interviewed include well known names like Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Catholic Charities USA, Habitat for Humanity International and Easter Seals.  This research represents one of the first statistically significant studies of its kind, and it shows that in 2008, big non-profits were “leading both corporations and their familiarity with, usage of, monitoring of and attitude towards social media.” 

Of the organizations studied in 2008:

  • 81% said that “social media is at least ‘somewhat important’ to their future strategy”.
  • 89% use social media including blogs, pocasts, message boards, social networking, vlogs, and wikis (versus 75% in 2007)
  • 79% use social networking and video blogging. Social networking was up 47% in 2008 from what it was in 2007. Video usage in 2008 was up 38% over 2007.
  • 57% blog
  • 67% had an RSS feed of their blog (versus 58% in 2007)
  • 56% allowed email subscriptions (versus 23% in 2007)
  • 37% podcast
  • 16% use wikis
  • 45% say social media is important to their fundraising efforts

In the 2007 study, UMASS Dartmouth researchers found that the largest US charities were most familiar with blogging (62%).  However, in 2008, the top US charities surveyed were most familiar with social networking (70%, representing an increase of 21%).  There was also an increased familiarity with how to use video in blogs (65% of respondants saying they were familiar with this medium in 2008 versus 40% in 2007).  While “familiarity” and “usage” were unrelated in 2007, this changed in the 2008 study, with the charity execs interviewed saying that the technologies they were most familiar with were the ones they were using.

Perhaps most interesting of all of these findings is the way that the top US charities’ usage of social media to monitor buzz about their organization and supported cause compares to organizations in the Fortune 500, Inc 500, and Higher Education. According to the report:

“In 2007, 42% did searches manually using basic search engines like Google and appropriate key words. In 2008, that dropped to 36% while the number of charities automating their searches climbed from 34% to 42%.”

Compare this to how higher education and the Inc. 500 are monitoring their brands in social media channels, and large charities are significantly ahead (see graph below from the UMASS Dartmouth study):


According to the report, “Google alerts were the most popular automated searches.” I’d be curious to see which of the top charities are using more sophisticated social media monitoring tools – not just Google Alerts.  There is an opportunity for organizations of all types and sizes to reduce workload and generate more actionable insights from social media by using more robust applications like those I discussed in my recent post on 20 top social media monitoring tools.

While the 2008 report shows that the top US charities are leading the pack in their usage of social media, I can’t help but wonder how much longer this will continue to be the case as big companies like Dell and others increase their investment in social media upon realizing the significant dollar benefit that a well executed investment in social media can make.

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