Last December, my neighbor’s dog, Mario, went missing during a wicked Nor’easter. This would be frightening for any pet owner, but for Mario, weighing in at 3 1/2 pounds soaking wet, the chances of him surviving the frigid weather in a neighborhood surrounded by busy streets seemed especially grim.
There was a frantic visit to the local police station and appeals to every pedestrian and driver in the area. During the search, family and friends reached out to their networks on social media. Within a few hours, they got a call from someone in the next town — more than a mile away. Tiny Mario was found, cold and wet, but in good health. All who were following the events as they unfolded were treated to a short video of Mario, with a heartfelt thanks from the family.
Such is the power of social media.
Granted, this is a somewhat extreme example of how social media tools can be used to create awareness, drive action, and build relationships. But if it can happen on the fly in an emergency, what might be accomplished for your community organization when social media and a little strategy are applied over time?
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Why do nonprofits need social media?
Why does your nonprofit need social media? For the same reason that every enterprise needs social media: It’s where the people are.
With 3.5 billion people (nearly 45% of the world’s population) using social media, you’re missing an awful lot of potential clients, volunteers, audience members, and donors if you aren’t at the party. And while younger generations demonstrate the highest levels of activity on social media, the Baby Boomers among us have become pretty savvy social media users too.
Have a focused social media strategy for your nonprofit
Being active on social media does not have to mean being consumed by it.
Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to be active on every platform.
You’ll wind up exhausting yourself and your staff (and/or volunteers) and you won’t be happy with the overall results. While you should reserve your organization’s name on several platforms just in case you want to use them later on, choose only one primary channel to start, and work it.
How do you choose a primary social media channel? Go to where your target audience is most likely to be.
Social media platforms are rich with detailed data about their users. And the industry regularly produces summary reports, like this one, that roundup audience data in one place.
Consider the demographics of each platform’s users. How old are they? Where do they live? What are their income levels? Also, take a look at how they interact with their social media channels — What content to they like? What do they engage with the most?
Once you’ve determined which channel makes the most sense for your organization, set a few measurable goals.
TIP: Learn more about choosing the best social media platform to start with.
The Download: Making Sense of Online Marketing for Your Nonprofit Organization, a step-by-step how-to guide published by Constant Contact, recommends setting social media goals in three categories: awareness, engagement, and action.
For example, you could set measurable targets for the following:
- Awareness – An increase in your number of followers
- Engagement – The number of clicks to your website or email sign-up list
- Action – An Increase in the number of participants in your next volunteer event
The Download also offers tips for aligning your approach to the platform that you selected. Each social channel is unique. A Facebook user has different objectives than a LinkedIn or Pinterest user. Even when someone uses more than one channel (which is true for a lot of people), they should have different goals and expectations for each.
Use social media best practices to grow your nonprofit’s followers
First, get comfortable with your platform. Learn how to set up and update your profile. Learn how to post updates. Get to know the different features that are available, and how they work. And save time by using social media management tools.
Here are some basic best practices that will help ensure that the energy you put into your social media presence will be worthwhile:
- Be attentive to your profile. Make sure the information is current and accurate. Use good quality images that are properly sized.
- Be present. You don’t have to inundate your channel with updates, but don’t let it sit too long without trying to engage your audience.
- Don’t post for the sake of posting. Offer your followers content that they are likely to find engaging and useful.
- Try to publish updates regularly. Tools such as Constant Contact’s Social Share can help you schedule posts in advance.
- Assign responsibility for maintaining the account to more than one member of your team. This will help keep the content fresh and avoid gaps in posting.
- Include links to your social channel(s) on your organization’s website and in your emails.
- Don’t forget to measure and track your results against the goals you set!
And finally, be responsive. When someone asks a question, answer it. When someone contributes helpful information, thank them. If someone makes a complaint, issue a courteous reply and offer to speak with the poster offline to address their concern. Don’t get into a war of words on the internet. Treat every post as an opportunity to start a positive conversation.
Social media is a powerful tool for growing your audience. A little strategic effort will go a long way toward promoting your organization’s presence in the community.