Using Social Media to Launch your Charity

Think building followers is enough? Think again.

Sarah Bradley, Assistant Director of Social Media, Digital Content and Engagement at the University of Northampton delves into brand-building online in 2017 and how you need more than follower growth to make an impact.

I love non-profits, charities and social enterprises. They invariably have wonderful business models built from the raw and unflinching ideals of their founders. They have tried, they have failed, they have succeeded.

As with any business, there can be challenges when launching into a hugely competitive market online. Brands nowadays compete with everyone; not just those in their sector. But more than that, social media and digital marketing has changed the way consumers view brands in a way no one expected. Brands have to stand for something. They need to show their customers, charitable or not, that they understand what those customers give a crap about because the brand lives and breathes it.

So, when charities or non-profits launch, they need an approach that not only gives them an edge but also truly and uncategorically demonstrates who they are and what they are about.

Take a look at the Superbowl earlier this year…

America was in a state of country-wide turmoil; Trump had just been elected. In the eyes of the consumer, matters like equality and freedom of speech were more important than filling their tummies with oreo cookies. I realise how trite it is to sum up such events in one paragraph, but for the purposes of this blog let’s focus on what the consumers cared about: social change. In the form of Trump , Hilary or Tredeau for the ones who wanted to move to Canada (don’t blame ‘em) — change was on everyone’s minds both in America and around the world. *Cough, Brexit, cough*.

If we stop and think about it, what place does Airbnb, Coca Cola and Budweiser have in influencing social change? I can guarantee the leaders of charitable organisations around the world smiled while they flipped these brands the bird. Knowing that what they were actually doing was capitalising on scared consumers to sell them stuff.

It worked, though.

If the goal was to place themselves under the noses of the right people at the right time and reach audiences on an emotional level, they did it well. Very well.

For brands without a budget as large as the ones above and for those whose goal is not to sell someone a product so much as a service, an ideal, a lifestyle even; how can this emotive message be achieved online in 2017?

Take a Multi-Channel Approach.

If you know what your consumers want from you then you need to ensure every touch point you give them oozes that message from every pore.

From the fantastic press coverage you get in the local paper, to the blog from the CEO on community, to the person picking up the phone, to the tweets, to the non-digital advertising, to the PPC. It needs to simply state who you are and what you are about. A Designer friend of mine once summed this up beautifully:

The logo is nothing without your brand.

And what he meant was that in the age of social media and digital marketing, your brand is who you are; not what you look like.

Once you know this, the rest is easy. Here are 3 mega-tips:

1. Find your Ultimate Value

Our university Strategic Plan tells us that when we bring together all the values we strive to demonstrate across the university, we can sum it up into one statement: Transforming Lives, Inspiring Change.

It’s as simple as that.

We take this value and run it through our content, teaching approach, the way we talk on the phone, our digital presence. And we do this for a simple reason: to demonstrate that our values match those of our stakeholders and as a result more people want to come to us, more businesses want to work with us and more charities think we are awesome.

2. Celebrate your Audience

Our audiences are as multi-faceted demographically as any brand out there. However, one key thing joins them altogether is our main value (see above). We celebrate our students and the impact they have on the local, national and international communities.

We do this via traditional and digital PR and Digital Marketing and it only works because we are approaching it from these different angles.

3. Demonstrate that you care with Community Management

On social media, Community Management is key to success as this is the link between your brand and your customer. It’s the bit where you build those personal relationships, convert leads and be the brand online modern consumers expect:

Community Management also provides you with fantastic user generated content, UGC, which you can re-share on your channels. These users then become advocates of your brand and your message becomes more cohesive; as it’s content literally generated by the people who matter most to you.

TL;DR: The challenge of marketing your charity, social enterprise or non-profit online is clear. Building followers isn’t enough to make a real impact via social media any more. Your brand needs to emphasise who you are and speak to your customers in the way they expect. Do this by listening to them, celebrating them, and ensuring every touch point is cohesive.

Sarah will be speaking at the Changemaker Ding event in April 2017. Grab your free ticket here.

What are your thoughts? Share them with us on Twitter @UniNorthants #UoN