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Social Factor

Illinois chapter builds an online community
Author: Beth Marshall

In each issue of HemAware, we look at how local NHF chapters and associations are making a difference in their communities. We spoke to Aaron Flatt, communications coordinator for the Hemophilia Foundation of Illinois (HFI), about how the chapter uses social media to reach its constituents.

What do you do for the Hemophilia Foundation of Illinois?

I manage our Web site, and I am responsible for all of our social media activities. I also am the editor of our quarterly newsletter, Factor Net, and the local event manager for our Hemophilia Walk. My training is in public relations, marketing and branding.

Tell me about HFI’s Web presence.

We have a Walk Twitter, a general Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube accounts. The Flickr photo account is integrated into our Facebook as a tab, as well as on our Web site as a photo gallery. This simplifies the updating process, because we’re only doing it on one platform.

We’re in the process of redoing our Web site using Drupal, a free Web design tool that uses templates and a content management system, which allows nonprogrammers such as myself to create a Web site without having to write code. Our new Web site will be reorganized into sections, such as “For Women,” “For Men,” “For New Families,” “For Teens” and “For Latinos,” with content specific to that audience. So everyone who comes to the site will be able to easily find information relevant to them.

What’s your basic philosophy when it comes to engaging people on the Internet?

My philosophy is: “Content is key.” You can have all the bells and whistles you want on your Web site, but if your audience can’t latch on to what you’re saying, then all those fancy things on your site won’t matter. Conversely, and speaking as a nonprofit, if you can’t afford to hire someone, it’s most important to use your limited resources to maintain strong content to hold your audience.

The way I envision it, the Web site is the mother ship, and the social media outlets are your fishing poles to try to attract new clients and funders. The Web site, Facebook and Twitter are simply other ways to build relationships with people. When you connect with people through social media, you’re starting a conversation.

Do you use Facebook and Twitter for fundraising?

Our Walk Twitter feed was the first thing we created. We did a fun countdown leading up to the Walk, with an interesting fact about bleeding disorders each week. We listed how many people and Walk teams we had registered. Our media and business partners were very interested in that. Hypothetically speaking, if a business sees that you’ve got an event that has 5,000 participants, it is going to see it as a good marketing opportunity. You might not get 50 businesses interested, but you might get a few. And it gives you a chance to start that conversation and build that relationship.

How has social media benefited HFI?

It connected us with new people. Three days after we had our Walk Twitter feed up, we had three teams created. When we saw that, we asked, “Who are these people, and why aren’t they involved with HFI?” It turned out that a full third of our Walk teams were new families we had never had contact with before. They didn’t know how to find us, and we certainly couldn’t find them, until we were able to do it via social media.

What advice would you give chapters interested in using social media?

Take one thing at a time. Don’t be overambitious. Don’t say, “We’re going to be on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr because everyone is.” Start with having good information on your Web site. The people who come to your site are people who want information. They’re already looking for you; you don’t need to convince them to come over and check you out. What you need to do is get them to stay, and that’s where having great content comes in.

If you’re taking a first step, I’d suggest Facebook. Facebook is more of a family-oriented social media site, which matches our local bleeding disorder organizations quite well. You can promote your content and your events. Hopefully you’ll find people out there who’ve been looking for what your chapter can provide.