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Next Conference: Past Conference: September 22-26, 2013

Advisory Board Spotlight: Sara Falconer

Advisory Board Spotlight: Sara Falconer


86 days until SMW February 22-26 Conference in Hamburg, Jakarta, Lagos, and New York. Learn more here.

If supporting a brand is supporting a lifestyle, then supporting a not-for profit is supporting a dream. The ability to focus on social media has many advantages for the not-for-profit sector especially allowing cash-conscious organizations free access to global powered marketing tools that before had never been available. Social Media for Social Good has become the coin-phrase for these efforts and SMWTO Producer Eli Singer had the opportunity to sit down with Advisory Board Member Sara Falconer to discuss her role at WWF-Canada and about the current state of social media for Canada’s not-for-profits.

Sara Falconer is the online content and community manager for the global conservation organization WWF-Canada. She has a BA in Media, Information, Technoculture and Film from UWO, and an MA in Media Studies from Concordia.

Sara is in high demand as a strategist, consultant and conference speaker. She was the Community Manager for the 2011 Social Media Week in Toronto and now serves on the SMWTO Advisory Board. She teaches social media marketing, blogging and social media for social change at George Brown College.

In what little spare time she has, Sara reads comics, plays bass and is a freelance journalist with over 15 years of experience covering community news, the environment, and human rights issues.

You currently work at an international not-for-profit organization. What is different about digital messaging nationally vs. internationally? What sort of practices do you implement in your daily work to reach the audiences you target?

WWF is a large and incredibly active organization. On any given day our national communications team has to review environmental news coming in from our offices across the country and around the world, and determine our highest priorities so that we don’t overwhelm our supporters with updates. In our social media channels, I try to strike a good balance between highlighting international issues, supporting our national campaigns, and telling local stories about our conservation work. While my focus is on communication with Canadian audiences, we also have international supporters that follow news from Canada closely, and can lend their voices to our work. We also keep in touch with WWF offices in other countries, to support each other’s campaigns and to collaborate on our international campaigns, like Earth Hour.

Our focus areas are climate, water and people. As you can imagine, tracking and responding to conversations on such broad subjects – not to mention a name like WWF – is a huge undertaking. To keep on top of it all, both Hootsuite and Sysomos are indispensible to me. When I receive reports that have filtered out most of the wrestling references, it’s a good day.

How are not-for-profit organizations innovating in their use of social media? Are any industry specific?

In some ways, I think that not-for-profits have led, and continue to lead, the way for organizations in social media. As fundraisers, we know the importance of storytelling and building long-term personal connections, so it wasn’t a stretch to bring these approaches into a new medium. We might not always have huge numbers of followers, but we tend to have real and meaningful engagement with our audiences, which can be much more valuable when we want people to take action.

People often cite the example of the Red Cross’ “rogue tweet,” with good reason – it’s hard to imagine a corporation responding to a social media “crisis” with such authenticity, perspective and humour.

Not-for-profits in social media tend to talk to, support, and even share strategies with other organizations, which are technically “competition” for both fundraising dollars and attention. To me, this openness is one of our greatest strengths.

What, in your opinion, is the next big thing in social media for not-for-profits?

Now that we’ve built a solid foundation in social media, I think that we’re going to find more and more effective ways to fundraise using these tools. The bottom line will never be our only measure of success in this space, but there’s a lot more potential than in previous years to turn this online support into funds for our work. It will be interesting to see what web-based and mobile services emerge to facilitate these transactions as the public gets more comfortable with the idea of donating through social.

In your work, what is the biggest challenge that you face, and how do you overcome it?

This is going to sound a bit silly, but our biggest challenge right now is our rate of growth. We have over 96,000 Facebook fans, and 22,000 Twitter followers – that’s a LOT of conversations every day. We used to have to beg for blog posts from our conservation experts; now we can get several per day. I’m definitely not complaining! But it’s a lot of volume to manage.

WWF had enough foresight to bring me in on a full-time basis to meet these needs, over 2 years ago, and I’m currently expanding my team. We understand that you have to allocate proper resources to achieve our goals. Many organizations are still tasking their social media to overworked communicationss teams or interns to do in their “spare time” – easy to guess what will fall to the bottom of the priority list first! So I’m very lucky to have that support from the organization.

What is the one thing you are most excited for in the 2012 festival?

I’m excited to see how people bring the five sub-themes to life – I think this is such a cool concept, and a way to bring some extra creative thinking to this event in its third year.

What are three bits of advice you have for NFP attendees at this year’s festival?

  • Volunteer! It’s an excellent way to make new contacts and get the behind-the-scenes scoop.
  • Register EARLY! Sessions fill up super fast. Don’t miss the Artez not-for-profit session – they always offer new insights and amazing people to meet!
  • Follow #SMWTO closely – you’ll find out what sessions have openings at the last minute, get words of wisdom from sessions you miss, and connect with all of the other awesome attendees.