Social Media for Nonprofits

The title of this post is also the name of a group on LinkedIn. There are currently several ongoing discussions where people are asking about successful social media campaigns for nonprofits.

Mixed in with varying levels of good advice are suggestions to look at how some of the bigger nonprofits like The Humane Society and Charity Water have been successful using social media. There are also comparisons to how big brands like Red Bull are expanding  their reach with effective social media campaigns.

In the ever evolving world of social media marketing it makes sense to see who is succeeding (and failing) with their initiatives. By watching the bigger brands and nonprofits – those with the big budgets – you can benefit from their trial-and-error strategy.

And make no mistake – a lot of social media marketing is about trial-and-error.

The question is – can you afford the errors? Perhaps the bigger question is – what can you afford?

The barrier for entry to social media is low when compared to other marketing platforms. Like every other marketing vehicle, social media has its own rules of engagement. Just because its ‘free’ doesn’t mean its easy.

If you are thinking about using social media to further your mission here are a few ideas to consider:

1) WHAT IS YOUR PLAN – Setting up a Facebook page or twitter account will only take a few minutes. Now what? You need to have an idea of what you hope to accomplish before you begin. Social media should be a part of – and fit into – you overall marketing/engagement strategy. It is neither a marketing panacea nor a stand alone operation. While it can become the your lead marketing vehicle for your it must be integrated with all your efforts.

2) WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO SAY – It has been said before – content is king. You absolutely must know what stories you are going to share before you begin. This is step two of knowing your plan.
If all you can hope to provide is an updated events list you will not engage very many people. Sure, your ardent core of supporters will happily join your club – but you had them at hello. How will you engage the others? How do you plan to turn your current supporters into evangelists for your mission? What are you going to say that will bring new supporters to the fold?
You have tons of content at your fingertips. Look at your web site – every tab is rich with content. How you turn that into stories and messages will determine how successful your social media campaign will be. In today’s short attention span world you only have a few seconds to grab someone before they find the next shiny object. The ideas are there. It is up to you to spin them into stories.

3) WHAT CAN YOU AFFORD – I love it when I hear advice posts in discussion groups that extol the virtues of video and You Tube. Hey, You Tube is great – the #2 social media engagement platform in the world. However…

Producing videos requires three things:

An idea – Think story. Think entertainment (drama or comedy). Think message. Think beginning, middle and end. Just posting a video of your CEO at her desk talking about the mission and how important it is and how much she needs your help….are you still watching?

A budget – At its simplest, video production requires some level of investment. You need a decent camera and some editing software. Sure, Internet videos have lowered our expectations of quality. But, think of the most engaging videos you have seen – they generally look pretty good. You are not operating in a vacuum. When you post, your videos are there alongside The Old Spice Guy.

Time – the operative word in all of social media. Writing, editing and posting video requires time and effort. And, you can’t stop at one. How many times have you gone to a nonprofit web site to see their videos only to find out they haven’t done something new in over a year? Social media is about the here and now. Great content endures but frequency sells.

I kind of went off on a tangent on the video idea. If video is not something you are prepared for – don’t fret. You can still post tons of relevant and engaging content from your available resources.

Set up a lunch brainstorming meeting with your staff. Invite in some of your most loyal donors for an informal focus group. These are easy and relatively cheap ways to generate content ideas.

4) WHAT DO YOU EXPECT – The best advice I can give you is – manage your expectations. Social media does not work like other forms of marketing. If you expect to see a double digit jump in your donations in the first 90 days you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Of course your ultimate goal is to drive revenue. And, if properly curated, social media will lead you there. In the short term you should be thinking of social media as an outreach tool. A way to expand your message and provide deeper understanding of your mission.

5) HOW WILL YOU GET THERE – If you build it they will come. Uh, not necessarily. You must tell your existing base you have a social media presence. Whatever your current communications tactics are – use them to drive traffic to your social media. If you build a robust presence with engaging content, they will join, follow and respond. But, you have to tell them – social media does not happen by accident.

6) HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE – Social media is free, remember? Your time is not. Are you prepared to manage your platforms on a regular – read:daily – basis? Is there someone inside your organization who has the combination of mission passion, brand awareness and technical savvy to guide your social media programs to success? Or, is this yet another task heaped on an overworked (and underpaid) staff? If you can’t handle the workload then consider outsourcing your social media management. It is cost efficient and ensures that your social media presence will not languish.

There are a million social media stories in the naked city and there is a lot to be learned from them. By all means, surf Facebook, twitter and You Tube. Find other nonprofits – especially of similar size and function to yours – and see what they are doing.

Social media is neither voodoo nor rocket science. It takes time, thought and effort to make it work.

And, make no mistake – it will work.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan
Social Media Specialist


About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
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One Response to Social Media for Nonprofits

  1. Yves Salama says:

    Starting out on Social Media (SM) is free and relatively easy. Staying there is harder. Harder still is integrating and contributing your SM presence with overall marketing and promotion. So defining your plan (1) is critical. Collecting fans and followers is not an end in itself. Engaging with volunteers, donors, board members, or partners require a different focus and voice.

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