Traditional Media vs. Social Media: Which One Delivers More Upside to Non-profits

“We’ve always done it this way.”

That sentence is one of the fiercest enemies of progress and success, especially for non-profits. Unfortunately, when it comes to marketing and communications, many organizations miss out on some big opportunities to grow and thrive because they are hesitant to invest in social media at the expense of traditional media, such as direct mail, magazines, TV and newspaper.

Part of this reluctance to embrace social media is due to a lack of information. So what exactly is the difference between traditional and social media and what does it have to do with your non-profit? Take a look:


The number of people who use social media has skyrocketed in the last few years and it keeps rising. The number of people who go to social media for their news has gone from 39% in 2012 to 50% in 2013. On the other hand, there’s a downward trend in the number of people who go to traditional media for their news. Newspaper has gone from 29% to 28% and radio has decreased from 33% to 23% between 2012 and 2013.

Times are changing and your organization should probably take note. You can reach more people with social media than ever before and its quickly rising past traditional media as the go-to source for news and interacting with the world.

Data Collection

You can painstakingly plan, create and execute a traditional media strategy, like a direct mailing campaign, but it’s extremely difficult and expensive to know how many people tell their friends about your organization because of it, how many people renew their membership because of it or even how many people really even take five seconds to look at it. The opposite is true with social media

Non-profits can extract reams of data from their social media efforts. From how many people are looking at your tweets to the number of people (and their age, gender, etc.) who are engaging with your Facebook post, social media has it all. You can use this data to make your organization better, provide more value to your community and grow your non-profit. The best part of social media data is that it’s cheap. There are, of course, expensive tools that chart the most minuscule patterns, but useful data can be gathered for free from various sources, especially since Twitter Analytics became accessible for everyone in August.


Traditional media is a one-way conversation. You can put out an ad, an article or a testimonial in traditional media, but unless you gather your intended audience in a room or call them up on the phone, you’ll never know how they have reacted to it, if they have any questions or give them a chance to share it with their colleagues or friends.

Social media is different because it’s a two-way conversation. It allows your members or community to comment, reflect, share and further engage in any content you post. You can answer questions in a YouTube video comment section or encourage conversation on a Twitter post. Engaging your community increases value for your community and creates an environment of inclusiveness that makes people want to come back again and again.

Frequency and Timing

Time is often of the essence and social media understands that. You can post multiple times a day to various platforms to get your content out to your members or community. If something happens that suddenly that affects your members, you can take to social media to let them know. You can promote an initiative or event several times a week if you that’s your plan. The same cannot be said for traditional media.

There is a limited number of times you can publish material in traditional media and it takes time (not to mention money) to get in contact this way. There are are countless opportunities you can your members can miss because the timing of material in traditional media is even slightly off.


Many people are worried that social media is actually just a different word for chaos and risk. This fear is uncalled for. The truth is, social media gives you more control over a message than traditional media. You can explain yourself on social media, delete or edit a post, offer apologies, control who you follow and who follows you and moderate comments on almost every platform there is.

Traditional media doesn’t offer you the same luxuries. Once you send it out, you can’t take it back, you can’t moderate it and you can’t chip in with your thoughts or follow-up. Taking control of your message and your future is easier with social media than with traditional media.

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