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With the number of new social media tools being developed at the speed of "send," it can be challenging - and a bit daunting - to know how to begin utilizing social media as part of your communications strategy.

While daunting, social media does have its benefits. When well-executed, social media can enable you to engage in a two-way conversation with a community of colleagues, establish yourself as a thought leader within a particular field, stay on top of breaking news and current trends, and spread the word about your work to a vastly diverse online audience.

To help get you started, we've listed below a number of fundamental 'tools' in today's social media world, as well as several things to consider before you make these tools part of your strategy. Keep in mind not every tool needs to be used, and some tools may be a better fit than others depending on your objectives. Many of these tools require you to create an account to participate.

We've also included resources on best practices for how to effectively use these tools, integrate them into existing communications efforts, and measure their success.

More common social media tools include:

Social Networking Sites





Facebook allows individuals or organizations to create their own virtual profile, and connect with others in real-time.  With more than 600 million users worldwide, Facebook is the largest social networking site, making it a popular tool to use when trying to reach a vast number of people.

Many organizations have a “Page,” similar to an individual profile that is used to share upcoming events, information, links, etc.  There are also pages dedicated to various causes, which individuals or organizations may join.  In this aspect, individuals may use Facebook to see others that are connected to similar issues.  As such, Facebook may be used for both personal and professional use.

Use Facebook to:

  • Post photos of staff, events, etc. to give consumers a visual representation of your organization
  • Post comments on current activities, upcoming events, and other timely information
  • Link to current articles to demonstrate industry knowledge
  • Individuals can “Like” an organization or a cause and see others who are connected to these issues
  • Build a volunteer or fan base by tapping into the vast network of Facebook users


Twitter allows people to send 140-character messages to a list of followers.  Twitter can also be used to receive information from news outlets, or others in the field that you choose to follow.

Use Twitter to:

  • Pose a question to get instant feedback
  • Disseminate quick, timely updates to your followers
  • Tweet from a conference or event to share the presenter’s tips with others, link to resources referenced by the presenter
  • Receive breaking news by following local, national news outlets
  • Monitor trends by searching for conversations by key word: a “hashtag” (#) is commonly used to indicate a conversation in a specific category


Known as the “professional networking site,” LinkedIn allows you to create an online profile in a format that is similar to a resume.  You can connect with others who have profiles on the site to build an online rolodex or sorts.  Since the site is public, others may view who you are connected with, and vice versa, which is the main networking function of the site.

This site also allows you to participate in a number of groups that are categorized to specific industries or fields.

Use LinkedIn to:

  • Get connected with other colleagues, peers, and thought leaders in your field
  • Search your list of connections to see who they know that you would like to know or connect with
  • Raise the profile of your organization by sharing insights and ideas through discussions within various groups
  • Pose a question to a group and get instant feedback


Video/Photo Sharing Sites





YouTube is an online site that stores millions of videos in an easy-to-view format. Videos are limited to 15 minutes in length.

YouTube provides a way to provide a visual representation of your organization, specific programs or services, etc. in a compelling manner.

Use YouTube to:

  • Create a channel for your organization to house multiple videos
  • Post a video of a special event, conference to share with those who could not attend
  • Post a video of a training session you wish others to emulate
  • Share a link to your videos on other social networking sites

Flickr Icon


Flickr is an online site that stores millions of photos, allowing users to categorize and share content.  Flickr provides a way to share a visual representation of your organization with key stakeholders.

Use Flickr to:

  • Post photos of special events, conferences, trainings, etc.
  • Tag photos with captions that include your organization so they are easily searchable on the Web
  • Share a link to your photos on other social networking sites


Content Gathering and Disseminating Tools




RSS feed

RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication.’  An RSS feed is a format for distributing and gathering content from sources across the Web, such as news outlets and other blogs.

An RSS feed creates an easy way to receive current information in one place, eliminating the need to routinely visit a particular site. 

Use an RSS feed to:

  • Create an RSS feed for your organization’s blog, newsletter, or other information source to send updates to a listserve so they can help spread the word for you
  • Sign up for an RSS feed from news outlets and other organizations in the field to stay informed of current trends


A blog is an online journal used to express an opinion, open a discussion, and encourage feedback in the form of comments from members of a community or interest area. 

Blog posts are generally quick and to the point, brief but snappy, critical or even humorous. 

Use a blog to:

  • Create another outlet to serve as a voice for you or your organization to share news, or updates
  • Update your community about a recent event or ask for volunteers for an upcoming event
  • Comment on other blogs to share your thoughts or opinion to gain exposure as a thought leader in your field
  • Include a Blogroll (list of other blogs) on your own blog.  These blogs may include your blog on theirs, and help attract new viewers.


The leading blog search engine and directory, indexes more than a million blogs. The site acts as a source for the top stories and current trends by tracking who and what is most popular in the Blogosphere.

Use Technorati to:

  • Search for blogs on similar topics to find content and fellow bloggers who may support your blog
  • Spread your content around the web by getting your blog included in Technorati’s directory

Online Community Groups




OneHub enables online collaboration among groups of individuals through customizable workspaces that allow you to share files, manage projects.  While there is a free option, this is a subscription-based tool.

Use OneHub to:

  • Set up a shared space for multiple people to access
  • Share files, post comments or discussions


These groups allow individuals to participate in online discussions.

Use Google or Yahoo Groups to:

  • Connect with others to ask/answer questions
  • Organize meetings, conferences or social events
  • Collaborate on projects or presentations using customizable wiki pages and file storage sections
  • Browse the group directory for other relevant topics and find others in the field working on your issue


Before using any of these tools, here are a few things to consider:

  • Align your social media strategy with your communications strategy. 

Start by assessing your communications goals and reviewing your designated online community.  Does it make sense to have a social media presence to reach this community? Will a social media platform be the best vehicle to deliver your message?  Whatever social media tools or strategy you use should align with your current communications strategy. Think of social media as an extension to your current communications tool box – new tools, but the same message.

  • It’s all about the conversation. Social media allows more interaction and conversation to take place between the sender and receiver of information.  Using social media, therefore, can provide a way to get feedback and new ideas into what really interests your audience.
  • Find your people.  Next, where online are the people you want to connect with?  What online groups or forums do they participate in? What platforms do they use to communicate and engage with one another?  This will help narrow down, or prioritize, the social media tools you use.
  • Listen first, speak second.  Before diving into the social media conversation, listen first to gauge the tone and context in which the audience is communicating with one another.  You will need to tailor your messages accordingly.  Identify thought leaders or ambassadors who are active in the social media world and follow them to get a feel for what leadership “sounds like.”
  • Content is King.  Remember this valuable rule of social media.  Make sure you have something worthwhile or valuable to say before you engage. 
  • Reuse content.  Once you have something worth putting out there, use all the available social media tools at your disposal – post it to your Facebook page, send a tweet, link to/from your blog, etc.  Repetition through multiple communications vehicles will help increase your chances of engaging the people you want to be part of your conversation.
  • Be aware of social media etiquette. Sometimes it’s not always appropriate to comment on another individual’s blog post with a link to your own.  And remember that tweets, comments, and other forms of online communication will live longer and are easier to trace than verbal communication.  So post, comment, or tweet carefully!
  • Measure your social media success.  Just as you would measure the effectiveness of any other communications campaign, you will want to measure how well you have communicated your message or engaged with key constituents and stakeholders in a conversation.  Several methods include:
    • Counting the number of individuals or organizations who have “liked” your organization’s page on Facebook, or followers you have on Twitter;
    • Counting the number of comments and unique visitors you receive on your blog;
    • Tracking the number of times a link to your web page, blog, etc. has been shared ;
    • Searching for how popular your blog may be rated on Technorati
    • Measuring the tone (positive, negative, neutral, etc.) of the online conversations in which your organization is mentioned (there are some free resources that do this, or others that are more detailed and require a fee – see list of resources below).

Looking for more help? Here are a few resources to help you develop and measure a social media strategy:

The presentation by Nedra Weinreich, “New Media: Understanding (and Even Using) Communications’ New Frontier,” offers a good overview of social media and it’s relevance for researchers. Nedra’s blog is also a good resource.

Twitter: Yes, You Can! This webinar provides an introduction to Twitter and the mechanics of using it. Our special guests, Amy Berman (@NotesOnNursing) and Vinny Arora, MD, (@FutureDocs) also share their experience using Twitter to advance their work. For the slides only, go to: TwitterYesYouCan2.pdf is a blog by Hartford grantee Vinny Arora MD, MPP on using social media to advance her career.  Vinny’s blog focuses on medical education, health care news, and policy, with tips for medical students and residents.

You can find several tutorial videos on how to use Twitter on YouTube:

Nancy Schwartz’s Getting Attention blog offers a number of articles to help nonprofits use social media.

The We are MEDIA project is an online community of people from nonprofits interested in learning and teaching about how to create effective social media strategies.  The site features a number of tools and best practices for using social media.

The Proactive Report is a public relations–focused social media blog that lists daily articles, tips, and case studies showing how technology is changing media consumption and the patterns of communication and behavior online.

Mashable offers a number of practical articles on using social media.

Several tools that measure social media include:

Social Mentionsimilar to Google Alerts; finds brand mentions on any particular channel like blog/micro blogs and gives you a comprehensive idea of how the brand is perceived by users. 

Radian6a subscription-based service that allows you to listen, measure, and engage with consumers across a range of social media tools.

Google Analytics – a free way to track the number of visitors to your web site. It also tracks where visitors come from and most popular pages.

Twitter Search – specific search just for Twitter mentions.

The Hartford Online Communications Resource depends on the active participation of the foundation’s grantees.  If you have tips on using social media in your work, please let us know so we can share it on the site and make it available to the rest of the Hartford network. 

Click here to email your ideas.

To view a number of the Hartford Foundation’s own social media tools, click below

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Make sure your social media strategy falls in line with your overall communications strategy.


arrow Take the time to become familiar with some of these tools before using them as part of your social media plan.

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