What’s the Big Deal With Social Media, Anyway?

Social media — it seems like everyone is using it. But are they? Despite the growing popularity of social media platforms for both personal and business communication, the nonprofit sector as a whole has been a latecomer to the social media party and continues to rely heavily on email lists and websites.

Sure, most organizations have a Facebook page, or maybe even a Twitter account, but how well are they actually utilizing social media as a part of their marketing strategy? Are they taking full advantage of all the opportunities these outlets present to expand their reach, spread the word about their cause, and even generate an increase in donations? Are you?​

When used correctly, social media offer nonprofits the opportunity to tell their story to a broader audience and build a stronger following than ever before. Organizations can connect with individuals on a personal level, while still reaching large audiences, and are able to share their story in a more powerful and relatable way.

But there can be drawbacks to social media as well, and it should not be used halfheartedly. It is often better to have no presence on any given social media platform than to have an inactive or incomplete profile. And, if not handled properly, negative interactions on social media, such as a bad review or heated debate, can also lead to adverse repercussions. It takes a certain level of dedication to use social media effectively and isn’t profitable without investing both time and energy into executing a well-laid-out social media plan.

This guide includes all the ins and outs you need to know about social media as a nonprofit, so you can determine whether or not yours needs to enter into the social media world and how to successfully incorporate one or more social media platforms into your organization’s communication strategy.​

Why Use Social Media As a Nonprofit?

So, before you dive into why your nonprofit can profit from using social media, we need to understand what it encompasses. Merriam-Webster defines social media as forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.

The two key words here are communities and share. The use of social media is not only about sending out your own content and promotional material, it is about making connections with others to foster a sense of community that builds loyalty and trust between your organization and individuals. Once you build that bond and gain a following, you can then share tailor-made content that is relevant to your followers.

One of the major benefits of using social media in your marketing strategy is that you can send multiple message to one user who has chosen to be involved instead of only one message to a mass audience. And it is this one-to-one engagement that more people are seeking due to the bombardment of mass market messages they receive every day. This makes social media much more effective because you know that the people you are engaging are already interested in what you are doing.

When you stop and think about it, the social media gap in the nonprofit sector is surprising, seeing as many of the top social media platforms offer an affordable and efficient way to help organizations achieve their goals in raising awareness and financial support.

By using social media, nonprofits can spread their mission and easily share their story, spend less while reaching more people, build a stronger support base, connect with those they serve, and encourage involvement.​

What Are Other Successful Organizations Doing?

If you still need some convincing that investing time and energy into social media can be a worthwhile endeavor for your nonprofit, here are some of the organizations that are currently topping the charts in social media use:

But wait, you probably noticed that these are some of the biggest and most well-known organizations in the nonprofit sector, so it is not surprising that they have an overwhelming number of Facebook likes and Twitter followers. But that doesn’t mean your organization can’t utilize the same strategies. You might not have quite the manpower or funding that you would find at National Geographic or PBS, but that is the beauty of using social media. It is the great equalizer and provides an opportunity for even the smallest campaigns to make their voices heard.

If you are looking for some successful strategies after which to model your own, these 5 well-known nonprofits each offer examples of different ways to advantageously utilize social media:​

1. Make-A-Wish Foundation

In developing their social media strategy, there are two things Make-A-Wish has done that other organizations would be wise to do themselves. First, they created a YouTube channel on which they publish videos of all the wishes they grant to terminally ill children, telling the stories of individuals and visually capturing the impact they are making to share with their supporters.

Video is a powerful medium for storytelling and is an effective way for nonprofits to make emotional connections with their target audiences. If your organization is able to capture individual testimonials, it is a worthwhile effort to use those videos to inform your supporters of the difference they are making in the lives of others and to inspire new supporters to join in the cause.​

Second, they use Facebook, the number one most used social media platform, to ask for donations by adding a call-to-action button prominently at the top of their page. If your organization has one particular social media platform that you know gets the bulk of your online traffic, consider adding a call-to-action button to remind your followers that your organization needs support and to provide an easy way for donors to give.

2. March of Dimes

If you want to see how to successfully take a multidimensional approach to social media, March of Dimes has done just that. They combine blogging, consistent Facebook posts, Twitter announcements, and a variety of YouTube videos to create a complete picture of their organization and its mission and to share the stories of the lives being impacted by their work.

While it is important not to take on so many social media platforms that you end up letting some fall by the wayside, if you can adequately utilize multiple platforms in conjunction with one another, you can expand your reach further than you could just using one social medium and create a more complete picture of your organization by employing a wider variety of content.

3. Charity: Water​

Did your mom ever make you write thank you notes growing up? While taking the time to say thank you to supporters might seem like common sense, Charity:Water took the idea of a simple thank you and turned it into a social media campaign that resulted in more than $1.2 million raised and an increase in awareness that put their organization on the map.

Their thank you video campaign exemplifies the impact you can have just by taking something that has been done before and putting your own spin on it. Coming up with creative approaches to deliver your content is key in catching the attention of your audience and making a lasting impression.​

4. Best Friends Animal Society​

Creating content can be time-consuming, and sometimes it can be hard to find the right topics to engage your audience. But when you utilize user-generated content, you skip the hassle of content creation and make your supporters feel involved by allowing them to contribute. Best Friends Animal Society did exactly that by creating a mobile app called My Dog ID.

The app allowed supporters to use photos to find their pet match and then made it easy to share their matches on popular sites like Facebook and Twitter. Interaction is a key part of social media, so giving your supporters the chance to be involved in the content you use will create deeper ties to your organization and cause.​

5. Water Is Life​

Ever heard the phrase “first world problems”? The way Water Is Life used this phrase to promote their video First World Problems Anthem is the perfect example of the power of a trending hashtag. This video went viral on both Facebook and Twitter (and has now had more than 7 million views), allowing the organization to spread their message and start a new conversation about providing clean water to those in need.

What Water Is Life did was even more profound because they were able to take a piece of pop culture and use it to create public awareness about a serious issue. This “hashtag killer” campaign, as they deemed it, just goes to show that using the right hashtags can make all the difference in how your content performs.

Where Is The Future of Social Media Heading?​

The face of social media is constantly changing, so what can you expect in the future? And what can you do to make sure your nonprofit is keeping up with the latest trends in order to stay relevant to your target audience?

Video, and now “live” video, seems to be one of the latest trends in social media, but there is no predicting for certain what might come next. Whether it is virtual reality, augmented reality, or some new technology that hasn’t even been created yet, the key is to always be open to change and not to stick to one social media platform just because you like it.

You need to focus on your audience and the best way to reach them. Always be asking yourself what is the most effective way to connect with your donors, volunteers, and other supporters. Regardless of what comes next, remember that staying engaged and relevant to the people you are looking to reach is the top priority.​

7 Top Social Platforms For Nonprofits​

The term “social media” gets thrown around a lot, but to what is it actually referring?

While there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different social media outlets, there are some heavy hitters that should ring a bell. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are household names that carry weight with the average person and offer the opportunity to connect with the masses.

One of the most important things to remember when choosing which social media platforms your nonprofit is going to use is that quality is far more important than quantity. Evaluate your options and pick a select few to start with and commit to using them well. High-quality content and engagement on a few platforms is always going to be more impactful in achieving your marketing goals than sporadic posts on a wide variety of sites.​

Facebook Fundraising

With 1.86 billion active monthly users, Facebook is easily the most used and well-known of the social media platforms. If your organization does not at least have a Facebook page, it almost certainly needs to.

But what is the point of Facebook? How can your nonprofit utilize it to spread your message, expand your reach, and raise more money?

Facebook is a multifaceted platform that allows users to send private messages, make public comments, microblog through status updates, post pictures and video (both recorded and now live), create events, join groups, donate money, and more. With so many different applications and opportunities for sharing content and interacting with supporters, Facebook is the most widely used social media site among nonprofits and is definitely the top choice if your organization is only ready or able to tackle one social media platform.

Twitter​

While the term microblogging may be foreign to you, the name Twitter probably rings a bell. This site has exploded since its inception in 2006, and is one of the most talked-about social media platforms today. Used by celebrities, politicians, world leaders, business men and women, and high school and college students alike, Twitter is a platform that offers the opportunity for nonprofits to tell their stories to nearly any audience in bite size pieces of 140 characters or less.

While several social media platforms now utilize hashtags, Twitter is where they got their start, and they remain a key component to the successful use of the site. This platform can be useful for promoting your own content, sharing the content of others, engaging in conversations, and even finding out what it is your supporters are most interested in by watching what they are tweeting about.

YouTube​

Y ouTube is a video-sharing platform that has completely transformed the entertainment and music industries, as well as broadcasting as a whole. It offers the opportunity to share video content with the world free of charge, enabling anyone to reach millions and transforming ordinary people into celebrities overnight.

So how can a strong presence on YouTube benefit your nonprofit? Many people respond better to information that is presented visually rather than when they just read plain text, and YouTube plays heavily upon that fact. Your website may have an eloquently written version of your organization’s story, but it won’t do you much good if people never take the time to read it. Video allows you to share your organization’s story in a quick and engaging way, and YouTube videos can be easily shared on other social media platforms.

Aside from the standard YouTube practices, the site also has a special program for nonprofits to help you share your story and spread the word about your cause. It is a free service that allows you to create donation buttons, add special overlays on your videos that call viewers to action, and track your goals.

Other Social Media Platforms Worth Consideration​

While Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may be the most prominent and widely known social media platforms, there are other popular sites that could still be worth your time and energy. Here are a few more that other nonprofits are putting to good use to grow their support.

Instagram is a photo (and video) sharing app that can be used to share inspiring and captivating photographs from the frontlines of serving your constituents, as well as highlighting different events your organization hosts and attends. One of the nice things about Instagram is that it also utilizes hashtags and therefore gives your supporters the opportunity to amplify your content for you, which both helps you and gives them a greater sense of involvement.

LinkedIn is a professional networking site that can serve as a useful tool for finding new staff and volunteers that are well-suited for the specific needs of your organization. A profile on this site can be a little more time consuming to manage, but LinkedIn users tend to be more professional and seeking serious commitment than the average social media user.

Pinterest can be described as a digital scrapbook that gives you the opportunity to “pin” photos and videos that relate to your organization and any topics of interest that pertain to your mission. If women are your target audience, Pinterest will be a much more useful tool than if you are predominantly targeting men, as 85% of active users are female. Remember that Pinterest (and social media as a whole) is about community and interaction, so you need to do more than just pin your own content. Be sure to re-pin and like others’ posts and join in on conversations in order to truly connect with your audience.

SnapChat is a unique social media app that has stuck around much longer than most would have guessed when it first took off in 2011. It allows user to take and send photos with special filters that only last for a predesignated duration. While more than 70% of its users are under the age of 34, its popularity has continued to grow and expand into older audiences.

There are also ways to use SnapChat without having to worry about creating and managing an account. It offers the feature to create your own filter in a specific location for a set amount of time, which is ideal for encouraging your supporters to get involved and raise awareness when your organization is hosting or attending a special event.​

7 Steps to Successful Non Profit Social Media Strategy

Now that you know the benefits of incorporating social media into your marketing strategy as a nonprofit and the potential for expanded reach, community growth, and increased funding, it is time to take action. Remember, don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. Start small and work your way into incorporating more social media as your familiarity and comfort-level with them grow. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew and leave yourself feeling overwhelmed and ineffective.

1. Align Your Traditional & Digital Forces​

Every organization has some sort of communications (and hopefully digital marketing) strategy that likely involves email lists, newsletters, a website, and other promotional content, but this alone is no longer enough. As you enter the world of social media, it is important to integrate these endeavors into your existing marketing efforts to create one cohesive plan.

One of the biggest mistakes both businesses and nonprofit companies make in their social media efforts is to view them as separate from the other, more traditional forms of communication being used. Instead, you want to tie everything together and ask yourself how your website, email campaigns, event promotions, and any other content you create can work in conjunction with your social media efforts to reach your organization’s overarching goals.

2. Define a Goal​

Speaking of reaching your goals, in order to use social media effectively, you must first determine what it is you are trying to do. Some common goals nonprofits have include acquiring and retaining donors, building awareness about the organization and the cause it supports, thought leadership, study, and discussion about a topic or field, and engaging their community.

Depending on which of these are most important for your nonprofit, your social media strategy will vary. Once you have identified what you aim to do, it will be much easier to pinpoint how to do it. You also want to take time to define how you will measure your success. Come up with specific metrics that you intend to track in order to regularly assess your progress.​

3. Determine Your Audience​

After you figure out what your goals are, it is equally important to designate who your audience is. You need to establish a clear idea of the demographics you are targeting in order to effectively tailor your social media strategy. Unfortunately, many nonprofits set out to reach everyone and as a consequence end up reaching no one.

The best place to start is by looking at who is already supporting you (your current volunteers, donors, etc.) and any existing social media following you may have. Use the native analytics offered by sites like Facebook and Twitter to get a more accurate breakdown of your followers and reach out to supporters both on and offline to figure out their primary interests and concerns in relation to your cause.

It can also be helpful to c r eate personas that represent the different groups within your audience base. Assign them names, personalities, and interests and then use them to help you think through different marketing strategies and how each persona might perceive it.

4. Decide Which Networks Are the Best Fit​

Depending on your main objective and the audience you are trying to reach, your social media network(s) of choice will vary. Take a look at different social media demographics to get a sense of which ones are being most used by your target audience and also consider the different types of engagement and content for which each one is used. The goal is to find the platforms that are best suited to meet the needs of your organization and will allow you to play on your strengths to engage your supporters in a way that is relevant and inspiring to them.

It is important to remember that you don’t want to overdo it and take on more than you can reasonably handle. Picking a few sites that will be most effective in reaching your target audience will achieve far more than dabbling in a broad range of sites that you cannot fully commit to.

5. Create a Plan: Developing Your Nonprofit Social Media Strategy​

In order to determine how to move forward, first take a look back at what you have done in the past. Do you have any old posts that performed noticeably better than others? What seems to foster the most engagement from your supporters? If you aren’t sure what kind of stories your followers are interested, don’t be afraid to simply ask. Conduct a survey and see what it is they are truly looking for. You can then test it to see if what they ask for actually gets the highest engagement.

Social media is about storytelling, so try to find the best ways to share your message using different types of posts. Using visual content tends to be powerful and creates a much stronger emotional reaction for most than just words alone, and you can also include links in your posts to drive traffic back to your website, blog, or even a donation page.​

As you create your plan, also create a social media calendar to keep yourself on track. The goal is to keep in touch with your audience and form a sense of regularity and reliability. But also be sure that the frequency of your posts is manageable and is not overshooting what is practical for your organization.​

​6. Engage and Connect First

Engagement needs to be a top priority when using social media, especially as a nonprofit, because you need to connect with people and build a sense of community before you can expect them to get involved or make donations. Remember that the most important part of social media is hidden right there in the name — it is social.

Reply to messages, leave comments, and join in on conversations; don’t just publish your own content and call it a day. People are looking for interaction and are going to be much more inclined to get involved with an organization to which they feel connected.

And if you have a someone on your senior leadership team with a strong personal social media following, you can and should encourage them to take part in the conversation to further amplify your reach.

7. The Best Social Media Analytics Tools: Tracking Your Results

Tracking the success of your profiles is crucial in order to successfully utilize social media as a nonprofit. This should be done right from the start of any new campaign so that you are able to shift and re-shape your strategy as you see what types of content and which platforms are the most successful at helping you attain your goals.

There are a number of useful tools to do this but some of the best social media analytics tools include:​

This is just a sample of the many tools available to track your social media goals, and you need to find what is the best fit for your nonprofit. Remember that the most important thing is that you find a reliable way to measure your organization’s social media success so that you can make any necessary adaptations and get the most out of your ongoing efforts.

Swipe Our 5 Ready-Made Social Media Post Ideas​

As a nonprofit, one of the biggest struggles in executing an effective marketing strategy is often lack of time and funds. But that is one of the best parts about most social media platforms: there are plenty of ways to use them that won’t cost you a dime except for a little of your time. Here are 5 easy post ideas that your organization can adapt and use that will help you stay on schedule and under budget.

1. Donor of the Week​

Creating a donor of the week (or day if you are able to post more frequently) post is the ideal way to encourage donations while simultaneously fostering engagement and excitement about your nonprofit and its cause. If you are ever in need of ideas for more content, finding creative ways to publicly thank your supporters is almost always a safe bet.

Just be sure not to recognize any donors that have specifically asked you not to or want to remain anonymous.

2. Can We Share Recycled & Repurposed Content?​

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. You can reuse past content over again by making some simple changes like adding an engaging headline, a catchy picture, revised copy, or a new hashtag. If you have been working hard to create high-quality content, such as blogs or videos, don’t be afraid create several posts about it and be sure to share it across several platforms. You can even do a monthly “round-up” post that highlights all the content you’ve produced recently.

3. Take Your Supporters “Behind the Scenes” Of Your Nonprofit​

Who knows more about your organization than you? If you really want your supporters to feel connected to your company and its cause, create content that gives them an inside look at your nonprofit. The better your audience feels like they know you, the more likely they are going to be to want to get involved.

4. Borrow And Curate Relevant Content​

Not only can you recycle your own content, you can also curate other websites’ content to provide your supporters with relevant, useful information. While this may feel like a cop out, it actually shows your audience that you’re more focused on providing them with quality content than being self-promotional.

And, depending on who you borrow content from, you can actually enhance your credibility. As an added bonus, this will help build community between your nonprofit and other like-minded organizations.​

5. Popular Hashtags

Utilizing popular hashtags for each day of the week is an easy way to create interesting and relevant content that will keep your organization engaged in daily discussions. You can use #MondayMotivation or #WednesdayWisdom to post an inspirational quote that relates to your organization or # Throw backThursday to pull out old pictures from past events. The key is not to overthink it and to have a little fun.

How Can Ally360 Help?​

If you are looking to step up your nonprofit’s social media game or just seeking some additional marketing guidance, the Ally360 marketing team of experts can help. We are a marketing firm designed to help nonprofits succeed through expertise, marketing, and education, and it is our goal to make sure your organization has all the knowledge, resources, and support it needs to grow donations and memberships and further your cause through increased and enhanced exposure.


Originally published at learn.ally360.com on September 14, 2017.