While it is becoming more commonly accepted that social media outreach can be a vital tool for nonprofit organizations, a solid understanding of its power and purpose are, at times, hard to come by. At all levels of an organization, it is critical that social media channels and the campaigns produced to utilize them are benefitting the organization, without exhausting staff time with fruitless work. (Tip: As a rule of thumb, set aside about two hours every week for each social media channel in your mix. If your time is limited, start with a single channel. It’s far better to utilize one channel well than many channels poorly.)
To ensure the effective management of this new wave of communication, one must first understand what social media is and why it is critical for nonprofits to do it right.
In this series, we will explore why social media outlets should be a priority in nonprofit organizations, and to what extent they can be used to support our missions. To ensure everyone has a solid foundation of understanding, let’s begin with the basics.
What Is Social Media?
When one thinks of the term, social media, it can be an overwhelming thought. There are numerous channels that are touted as such, but let’s keep it simple. Defined, the term describes online content, which can include text, photos, messages or video, that is social in nature; it is material that prompts some level of conversation and can be easily shared with others.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram all meet the standard for a social media channel. While understanding which mediums are used as part of the online social scene is relatively easy, the distinction that makes each of these sites “social” in nature can be less so. Are we simply sharing information, such as dates for upcoming events, pictures of our work in the community, and articles written by our staff; or are we truly prompting interaction with our followers?
No matter the channel(s) used – making connections, and inspiring action from those connections, is the top priority.
Steps to Starting A Social Media Campaign
Social media campaigns are made up of two equally important parts: listening for what people want and sustaining an open dialogue. To get the most bang for your buck (or your time), it is crucial to understand that both factors are equally important.
Yes, information can be shared and shared and shared, but if those who follow the organization could care less about the specific information being shared, valuable resources will have been wasted – time, money and skill – in the worst kind of way.
In order to create a positive space for ongoing communication, understanding what followers want from the sites we use should be the first step. So, how do we do this if we are just starting to wander down the social media path?
1)Know the mission, inside and out. There is a reason nonprofit organizations exist – to be of benefit to the community, and impact a particular cause. Whether it is education, social justice, fair housing or animal welfare, the greater good that nonprofits strive to serve should always be the primary priority of leadership and staff. (Believe it or not – when caught up in the daily grind staff and board members often make decisions based on income or reputation, with some decisions even working against the mission.) When the staff and board maintain a habit of always considering how each decision and communication will impact the mission, everyone will connect more quickly with the work that’s being done. In other words – if we are passionate about our mission, our supporters will be as well.
2)Use analytic tools to ensure your social media efforts are beneficial. Most social media platforms have analytic tools free ‘ for your use. Facebook, for instance, provides clear analytics as it relates to the reach of posts, both paid and organic, as well as the engagement with those posts. Remember that engagement is as important, or even more so, than the number of followers. If you gained 500 followers but no one liked or shared the information, it is a sure fire sign that what you are giving to your followers isn’t hitting the mark. Keeping tabs on this information is pertinent to long-term success in the social media realm, and can even help steer the entire organization in the right direction as it relates to what connects most deeply with followers.
3)Google the organization. It is safe to say that individuals Google themselves on a regular basis, either for fun or to gain insight into what is being said about them on the World Wide Web. While it seems natural to research your personal online reputation, very few think to do the same with their nonprofit organization. There is no reason why this shouldn’t be done on an organizational level; in fact, it is irresponsible not to. If you are avoiding this step because of the fear you won’t find anything (or worse, you will find something negative), there is a good chance you will be pleasantly surprised with the results! Even if the organization itself is not yet social media savvy, many of your supporters are; and if you are lucky, some may have been promoting your nonprofit since before you even considered social media for communication! Put a hashtag in front of the nonprofit’s name and be prepared to be astounded at the amount of information that is returned, even for a small or start-up organization. The results can be incredibly insightful in understanding what reaches our audience and what they are more than willing to share with their networks.
Taking the time to go through the steps here is important for an organization seeking to better understand and enhance its online presence – but why should this be a priority in the first place?
Why Is Social Media Important for Nonprofits?
In answer to this basic question, there are simply millions of people frequenting social media sites multiple times each day, and the numbers continue to grow. These users include both the community we serve and our greatest supporters. We can all attest to the fact that our current world is consumed by technology and utilizing it to make life easier, and nonprofit organizations cannot ignore this continual shift. However, keep in mind that embarking on this trend is not a one size fits all strategy. Not every nonprofit organization must utilize social media to connect with supporters – each organization is unique and will need to make their own decision based on its operations, mission, and support base. However, if we take the time to see past the “one solution for all” mindset, as well as other subsequent hype surrounding the growing trend, we can embrace these tools as an effective and inexpensive strategy to market to the masses. If our supporters, donors, and community leaders are using social media – and most of them certainly are – isn’t it worth knowing how and why?
Now that we know what defines social media at its core, and why it is so important for organizational growth, it is just as important to understand how to effectively create a space for healthy communication with followers. In the following post, Social Media and Nonprofit Advocacy, we will dive into specific ways social media can be a powerful tool for advocacy.