By Guest Blogger Parijat Deshpande

About one and a half years ago, I was unfamiliar with anything having to do with social media. Facebook was something I actively avoided and Twitter was just a name to me. Professionally, as a therapist, I wanted to stay as far away from social media as possible and personally I felt I had no need to explore this world.

However, when MySahana, the South Asian mental health nonprofit that I founded, was formed early in 2010, much of my research on how to run a nonprofit kept pointing back to social media as the way to reach my audience. The more I read and talked to others in the field, the more I became increasingly convinced that this world I had successfully avoided for so many years was going to be my biggest asset in establishing my nonprofit.

Now, one and a half years after the founding of MySahana, the organization has a Facebook fan page, a twitter account and a LinkedIn group as well as accounts on numerous social bookmarking sites. It has been an incredibly informative journey and I have met unbelievably amazing people along the way that I never would have connected with had I not taken that step into the social media universe!

Each of our main social media outlets has provided us with unique strengths and opportunities.

Facebook: Facebook was the first place that MySahana was featured. MySahana’s fan page quickly built as I encouraged my contacts to ask their connections to support us. It afforded us a strong platform off of which I could introduce the brand new nonprofit. From our web statistics we have also seen over the last year that most of our readers come from Facebook where it is also easy for them to share articles that they enjoy.

The downside of Facebook has been that most users prefer to take a more non-engaging stance. For a nonprofit like MySahana that addresses mental health, which is a highly stigmatized topic in the South Asian community, we receive very little feedback, comments or likes on our fan page, leaving us with web statistics as our primary form of feedback. It could also be that Facebook is a more personal account and people may not want to leave comments where they cannot be anonymous.

Twitter: After having immersed myself into Facebook, I assumed Twitter would be similar. I learned quickly that Twitter has an entirely different set of rules that goes beyond having a character limit on what you say.

Twitter followers like engagement. In direct opposition with Facebook, Tweeps love a good conversation, love to exchange ideas enjoy forming real relationships in the social media world. I also found the gold mine that is TweetChats, a fantastic place to connect with tens and hundreds of likeminded people on any topic. Participating in these chats have helped spread the word about MySahana and helped me meet even more people who have played a role in the development of the nonprofit.

While Facebook provided us with a wide reach in the community, Twitter helped create deeper connections.

Because of this, Twitter requires more time commitment which is difficult for brand new nonprofits given how every volunteer is already wearing at least 3 different hats. With that said, Twitter has been incredible for learning a lot about nonprofit development, mental health awareness and many other topics that have helped shape MySahana into what it is today.

LinkedIn: MySahana currently has a LinkedIn group which has numerous members. The benefit of this group has been to help legitimize MySahana as a nonprofit organization. However, we have found this group to be the least engaging of the three social media accounts that we have.

Instead, I have found that my personal account is being used much more often. I am connecting primarily with mental health professionals and finding ways to collaborate and help spread the word about the organization. This is especially helpful when I find other South Asian therapists who are not present on neither Facebook nor Twitter for the same reasons that I was avoiding it prior to the organization’s founding: confidentiality and patient care issues.

This more personal connection has allowed for a deeper relationship to be formed and helps other mental health professionals feel more confident in supporting MySahana on our behalf. From this, we have also gained website readership from people within my specific industry.

Each of these main social media platforms that we are using has pros and cons. However, without all three of them we wouldn’t have the reach that we currently do now.

If there is one thing I can tell other nonprofit developers in their early stages, it is to incorporate a social media strategy from the very beginning. It provides an invaluable resource when it comes to marketing a new organization that may have limited funding. Read as much as you can about it, but ultimately you just have to try it out to get a feel for how people like to communicate this day in age.

I by no means consider myself a master at social media but instead am a student who is wanting to learn more and more about how I can use this new form of communication to spread a message that is very dear to my heart. Please do send me a message on any of these platforms if you can help me continue to learn how to navigate the social media world!

Parijat Deshpande is the Founder & Executive Director of MySahana, a groundbreaking nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading awareness about mental health in the South Asian community. She is also a Marriage and Family Therapist intern as well as a Psychology Lecturer at UC Berkeley. Connect with her on Twitter @ParijatDesh or with the organization @MySahana.