icons representative of social media for nonprofits
CC image courtesy of Sean MacEntee on Flickr



A why and how to optimize #socialmedia for #nonprofits #nonprofitmarketing #socialmediamarketing Click To Tweet

Many nonprofits, like small businesses, have scarce resources and, so, aren’t maximizing their use of social media or are employing it much less effectively than they might. But social media for nonprofits can be a gamechanger.

When nonprofits do devote time to online marketing, it’s often email that gets the attention. With good reason. Typically, at least a quarter of all online revenue is driven by email.* But if you only have a superficial presence on social media, and especially if you use it primarily for promoting your own events or asking for donations, then you’re leaving a lot on the table.

Fully leveraging the social media environment allows you to take advantage of opportunities that come from outside your walls, including news events and the greater “movements” that are related to your mission.

Social media has made our world flatter, more democratized.

“No longer are most movements or initiatives branded to just one organization with one center of command,” says Nonprofit Quarterly in an article titled “Social Media as Organizational Game Changer” (Winter 2016 issue).

So, if you can give up some ownership and embrace the greater whole, you can share the stage with newsmakers and other individuals and organizations that share your cause to create much bigger exposure and awareness for your own entity and efforts.

A couple of examples:

PennFuture Tweet re Pruitt and coalPennFuture, a nonprofit, environmental watchdog group in Pennsylvania, tweeted this about EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s campaign to revive coal mining.

Also, the LGBT Community Center in my local metropolitan area posted this on their Facebook page during March Madness, appealing to the NCAA to reaffirm their commitment to LGBT inclusion while millions of fans were tuned in for the tournament selection process.Bradbury-Sullivan_LGBT_Community_Center_NCAA_plea_for_inclusion


Social media for nonprofits:
Some rules 

1) Be clear about who your target audience is, and where they are on social media. That’s where you need to be. Also, understand that this new, more open, democratized world of social media “has erased boundaries between formerly separate stakeholders, and thus enforces an integrity of message.” (“Social Media as Organizational Game Changer,” Nonprofit Quarterly) Any and all of your publics can see everything you post. This is an important consideration in adopting best practices in social media for nonprofits.

2) What’s your objective? Establishing your organization as a thought leader? As a curator, a “go-to” resource? As a convener or community builder? Generally, according to Hubspot, the top 7 reasons nonprofits use social media are:

  • Sharing news
  • Building brand recognition
  • Educating people about the cause/mission
  • Fundraising
  • Recruiting volunteers
  • Recognizing donors
  • Recruiting employees

Set “SMART” goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) around these kinds of subjects that align with your broader organizational strategy, so that your social media efforts help drive towards that success.

3) Which social platforms are most appropriate for you? Again, you need to be where your audience is. Focus on just a few platforms, though, so you’re not stretched too thin. Build your account profiles, making sure to fully flesh out any “About” sections and to be consistent with branding and language throughout.

4) Work on connecting and messaging to build your “social capital,” in other words, your influence and followership. Who are the other key influencers in your space? Be sure to engage them specifically as you build your presence by friending, following, replying, commenting and sharing.

5) Create a content plan: Decide how frequently and what time/s of day you’ll post. And draft an editorial calendar of topics. Planning ahead will help you create intentional, mission-based content and keep certain seasonal topics from dropping off your radar. Also, consider the mix of content you want in order to optimize your social media marketing. That means deemphasizing the self-promotional broadcasts. Currency in social media equals relevant, valuable “what’s-in-it-for-the-reader” information, vs. a sales pitch. A classic rule of thumb for social media is 80/20, outward-focused vs. inward-focused. Another approach suggested by Steven Shattuck in Social Media Today’s “Social Media for Non-Profits: A Comprehensive Guide” is to use a “3 As” approach: Appreciation, Advocacy and Appeals – one-third thanks, one-third “niche-relevant content” and one-third donor solicitations.

6) Allocate the appropriate resources (time, money, staff) so that your social media effort is more than an afterthought. So far, the bar’s relatively low. According to socialmediatoday.com reporting on the 2015 Benchmarks Report by Nonprofit Technology Reports, at least half of all nonprofits dedicate less than one person and fewer than 2 hours per week to social media. By comparison, for-profits devote 6 hours or more. Click to see more from Hubspot and Steven Shattuck on “Where Nonprofits Spend Their Time with Social Media Marketing” (2014 data).

7) Understand the time horizon; that social media marketing isn’t a “quick fix” proposition. Effective social media marketing requires that you build awareness and trust and relationships and, as you know from your pre-digital, offline dealings, that takes time. “… Nonprofits cannot simply employ social media to get donations, find volunteers, or mobilize constituents for advocacy action,” writes NonProfit Quarterly in “Social Media Capital for Nonprofits.” “Instead, they must first build their stock of social media capital through growing and nurturing their networks of social media followers.”

8) Track your results; analyze and adjust accordingly. Check your analytics. All platforms have them. Track against your goals. Track against industry benchmarks. And look more deeply at metrics than just page likes or follows. Comments, likes and shares of individual posts will tell you what resonates with your audience. Then offer more of what’s working!

9) Respond! Acknowledge comments, express thanks for shares and follows, etc.

10) Finally, “embrace storytelling” – one of the best tips I’ve come across, as recommended by Search Engine Journal in “How Nonprofits and Small Businesses Can Leverage Social Media.” Tell your organization’s origin story, volunteer stories, success stories. Show the faces and the collective heart that makes your organization tick. Remember, the essence of social media is openness and connection.

How’s your social media program going? What are your biggest challenges/successes?

* Benchmarks X: The 2016 Benchmarks Report

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