Social Media Case Study: Goodwill Industries International Discusses Its Approach to Brand-Building

By on Thursday, April 12, 2012

Have you ever wondered how social media policies and engagement could enhance your nonprofit or association? And what others are doing in the field?

Last week I attended a great lunch presentation organized by PRSA-NCC’s Independent Public Relations Alliance, and our guest speaker was Beth Perell from Goodwill Industries International (tweets @GoodwillIntl). Beth  leads Goodwill’s communications and information management efforts and oversees the organization’s web development, media relations, social media and communications strategies. Here are my notes:

Sometimes it takes change to foster growth. Their organization’s social media emergence began after a new CEO arrived who was supportive of embracing new technologies. They took the time to set goals for their social media presence. Their CEO has even embraced Twitter for himself and he tweets personally @jdgibbons. If you’re having trouble getting your nonprofit or association CEO to embrace Twitter – consider what Perell said – he likes the pithiness of the format since it’s only 140 characters, and it gives him a different avenue to talk about what matters.

Going into social media is a lot like setting up a web page – you must post new content regularly. You can slap a page together and get a social media presence set up quickly – but if you don’t keep it current and feed it new content – people won’t come back. Be strategic in crafting goals and making plans to update your social media streams. Be frequent and reliable. They try to have at least one tweet and one Facebook post per day.

Autonomous organizations can face messaging challenges but let your mission guide you. There is a network of 165 independent Goodwills and each has its own Facebook page, Twitter handle and YouTube channel. Goodwill International does not approve or control all of their tweets, posts and videos – there movement is not organized for top-down control. When asked by my fellow PR experts how messaging could be consistent across the movement, Perell was pragmatic. Local Goodwills tend to offer highly localized information with coupons and sales. They will re-tweet some messages from local Goodwills. They focus Goodwill International’s messaging on the mission that drives all Goodwills – to provide job training, employment placement and other services to people who have disabilities, lack education or job experience, or face employment challenges.She said that they do offer advice and sample messaging to local Goodwills when they are doing a campaign. This lack of top down control might blow the mind of someone who hasn’t worked with an autonomous nonprofit movement, but it can work!

Focus on sharing your organization’s heart – its mission and how it is lived out. They started a “my story” feature on where people talk about how Goodwill helped them and impacted their lives. They have more than one hundred of these stories now built up on their site that they can utilize.

Organic growth means embracing social media and engaging followers/likers/fans. They are not focused on pumping up their follower or Facebook fan numbers. Instead they would rather egnage with the advocates that are already out there and build up their brand. There is a consistent population of people out there who just love Goodwill and want to support Goodwill’s efforts.

They encourage their employees to be part of social media conversations. They implemented a social media policy before verging into social media. Perell said that Goodwill International Industries wants for its employees to be on Facebook and Twitter – they remind people to be smart and live the brand – and realize that their employees can be some of the most passionate advocates they have in the twitter-universe and facebook-fiefdoms. They don’t block social media sites at work and have had no serious issues with employees on social media. Spokesperson duties are still handled through the main office, and employees can help push out a campaign through their personal social media accounts so long as they don’t represent that they are “speaking for Goodwill.”

Do things that are fun to engage your followers. It doesn’t always have to be about the mission, but it can be about having fun while fulfilling the organization’s mission. The day before the lunch, they held a Twitter Party on getting organized with Lorie Marrero, a professional organizer @clutterdiet and  #swinglinestaplers. I checked out the stream online and it looked like they had a lot of fun sharing organizing and de-cluttering tips.

The personal connection with your brand that you are building in social media can be carried into other projects. They are doing more with conscientious giving and working to combat the for profit clothing bin industry. They are working with major clothing manufacturers to add a line to clothing tags that encourage wearers to donate their clothing to Goodwill when they are finished with them. They are hoping to create a symbol for donations that will be as ubiquitous as the three triangle R for recycling. Just as there are things you recycle – there should be things you donate.


Goodwill Industries International’s website includes social
media sharing features and this great map showing their
“my story” impact

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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