Social Media is a hot topic in the nonprofit sector, and most non-profits know they need to use social channels to engage new and existing supporters.  But as excited as many nonprofits are about exploring social media, many also wonder:  How are we going to staff this?

I just trained 23 non-profit representatives on using social media, and I was regularly asked some version of the following:  Our staff are already overworked and underpaid and we can’t afford to hire anyone else.  We know we need to participate in social media, but how are we going to manage this?

A look at some of the knowledge gained by nonprofits and small businesses already using social media, suggests at least 3 benchmarks to consider in developing staffing plans:

 1.     The 2009 Nonprofit Social Network Survey Report sponsored by NTEN, Common Knowledge and ThePort, found that 80% of the nonprofits surveyed committed 25% of a full time employee’s time to social media management.  

When developing your organization’s social media plan, you may want to focus on social networking strategies that can be accomplished in 8-10 hours of staff time per week.  It will take testing and evaluation (followed by amendment of your plans) to figure out which of your goals can be met in 8 to 10 hours a week.  But if you plan with the 8-10 hours per week baseline in mind and then actually measure the staff time you are using, you will collect hard data to use with future staff planning. 

2.  Amber Naslund offers some useful staff benchmarking tools in her ebook Social Media Time Management   

Listening — to what is said about your organization and to what is being posted about your field — can take one staff member 10-15 hours per week.

Creating Content and Engaging with Online Users can take one to three staff members one to three hours per day.

Measuring Reach can take one person five to ten hours per week.

 You can use the above guidelines to decide how much of each activity – listening, engaging, and measuring — you want to undertake and assign staff  accordingly.  Naslund does argue that if you want to be serious about social media, you need to allocate a minimum of one hour per day of staff time to start.

3.  You also don’t need to allocate the same amount of staff time each week to social media efforts.  Consider the heavier and lighter times in your organization’s social networking calendar.  For example, if you have an event coming up, you might want to commit extra staff time before the event to promote it on social channels and some extra time after to engage new followers in your ongoing work.

If you are fundraising online, consider allocating extra staff to social media management when online donating is heaviest.  In 2009, 46% of all online dollars were raised in October, November and December.  December activity accounted for 30% of total online giving.  (Source:  Joanne’s Nonprofits Blog )

You might want to spend fewer staff hours earlier in the year and pack more staff time into the last half of the year.   You could also consider hiring a consultant to provide some extra help when your social media engagement is heaviest.

These are just a few concrete ways to estimate staff time needed for different social media strategies.  If you have helpful examples from your own nonprofit’s experience, please share them in the comments section below.