Actionable Listening: Learning from Watching Other Nonprofits | Beth's Blog

Actionable Listening: Learning from Watching Other Nonprofits

Digital Strategy

Actionable listening on social media channels means transforming a “river of noise” into insights that are actionable.   That is, you gain insight, can make a decision, or do something.   Listening can help your organization craft conversation starters, figure out how to best start engaging,  identify social content that you can incorporate into your content strategy, identify potential brand ambassadors,  or address a potential crisis early in the game.

Earlier this week,  I was facilitated a peer learning conversation about ways to make listening actionable, particularly on Twitter.   One of the participants observed that Twitter is an efficient and easy way to see what other similar nonprofits are doing in social media spaces and get new ideas.

So, here’s a  recipe on a fun way to do this.  It takes about 30 minutes.

(1)   Brainstorm a list of respected nonprofits in your field or area that might be on Twitter.   Use the “Find People” and type in the organization’s name or use advanced search with keywords.     You might get lucky and discover an organization in your field that has set up a Twitter list of fellow nonprofits.     For example,  the San Francisco Symphony has a list of orchestras.

(2)  Select 10 to analyze further.    Use an excel spreadsheet and compare their Twitter accounts side-by-side.   You will want to look at both quantitative and qualitative information.   For numbers, include follower, following, and list counts.   Next, include the date of last Tweet.    For qualitative, ask yourself:

  • Are they only talking about themselves?
  • Are they engaging with their network?
  • Are there any great ideas you can steal?

Cut and paste the url of a Tweet that you think is a brilliant idea.

(3)  To make it fun,  analyze each Twitter using Klout.   Note their influence scores.    See who scores higher and ask why.  Take a look at the content analysis tab- specifically which of their tweets are getting re-tweeted.

You should have a couple of good ideas.

How you learn from watching your colleague organizations on social media spaces?

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19 Responses

  1. Becky says:

    By “engaging with their network” do you mean more than just calls to action? Like direct mentions, thanks for RT etc?

  2. Great exercise also to do collaboratively. A question you could ask also is to collect 10 tweets that you admire/triggered something for you

  3. James Young says:

    Great post, Beth. I especially like that you call out forming a content strategy that is augmented by listening. Reactive engagement via listening is really useful, but it is only half of the game. Being able to write engaging content is easier when you know what topics are hot, what kind of language and keywords you need to infuse into the content, and who they top voices are.


  4. Anis Salvesen says:

    Thanks for including the link to Klout in your post. I like reading your blog because it’s entertaining to read, and I also learn something. Now to see the Klout scores of my favorite tweeple…

  5. Hey Beth,
    This is a great way to learn. I also like to look at lots of other nonprofits Facebook pages to see what types of posts are encouraging conversation, likes and such. I track for my nonprofit how much conversation each type of post has created and that has let me know that people want good news from us, instead of event info or even questions to ponder.

  6. Harry J Tucci Jr. says:

    Great ideas here!! I really like the way of filtering through so much of the daily noise out there. Just wonder what happens if your exercise fails and you find nothing of use from the other non profits you studied. Would you then redo your list or dig deeper?

  7. Megan Berry says:

    Hey Beth,

    Thanks for including Klout in your post, we’re always interested to see how people are using our influence reports, and love to hear you find it valuable. Please get in touch if you ever have any questions. Thanks!

    Marketing Manager, Klout

  8. Holly Ross says:

    Beth – I love that you’ve made this tidbit so tangible and concrete. When I was in Boise last week talking about listening, I talked about not just listening to what people were saying about YOUR organization, but doing a little competitive research. I have a “Coopetition” dashboard, for example. Lots and lots of NODS in the room when we talked about that. This exercise should really get people on their way!

  9. Beth says:

    Harry: You ask a great question. If no one is talking about your issue – then that’s a good advantage. (Or else you’re not searching on the right keywords) If no one is talking about your organization, then you need to start engaging and you have a good baseline.

  10. Holly – your coopetition dashboard is such a great idea. When I’m working with clients, I create a “social media competitive analysis” for them and look at what their so-called competitors are doing with social media (interesting ideas, conversations, applications, campaigns, social website, social platforms, etc.) but also what potential collaborators are doing with social media.

    I love the idea of marking great tweets. I also think, like Zan mentioned, marking great ideas/conversations that folks are having on other social spaces helps an organization to understand what successful engagement is and how that organization might want to engage with others. In other words, take the model and put it on all of the social channels.


  11. Joe Garecht says:

    Beth, great points. I would add one:

    When you’re working with social media, don’t mistake “activity” for “work.” I have seen lots of development webmasters and fundraisers who thought that spending 20 hours on Twitter per week was doing “online fundraising.”

    Turned out, when the numbers came in at the end of the year, that these folks were creating lots of activity, instead of doing lots of work. My best advice is for fundraisers who have social media responsibilities to follow Beth’s advice, above.


  12. Jason Inman says:


    As always you put social wisdom into understandable words and pictures.

    What tool do you use most to create your mind maps?

    I think it’s great to not only learn from other organizations but to start engaging them and make friends. Include them in a follow friday, point out what they do well even tell your donors about things that they are doing that your organization may not be doing. Definitely make a huge deal of it whenever you partner with another NPO. It’s my opinion that donors appreciate humility, generosity and community.

    Great tidbit!


  13. John Haydon says:

    Beth – I love how this exercise focuses on what NPOs already know (but don’t know that they know) instead of telling them what’s good content and what’s not.

    “Are there any great ideas you can steal?”
    “Note their influence scores. See who scores higher and ask why.”

    Nonprofits know their cause – they’re passionate about it already. Because of that, they can leverage their ability to “thin slice” (to use a Malcolm Gladwell term) what works and what doesn’t on Twitter.

  14. Beth Kanter says:


    I used the “smart art” templates in powerpoint. I used to use mind manager and inspiration – but these days I find the powerpoint drawing template really useful to structure thinking.

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