Social media is changing the ways that nonprofits change the world.

Thousands of nonprofits have already started building online communities to help serve real communities, and have turned millions of fans and followers into supporters and volunteers.

But this didn’t happen overnight. If you’re new to social media, you’re probably going to have some questions.

I had three, and I asked them to Caroline Shahar, product marketing manager at Constant Contact. In this week’s Ask an Expert, Caroline gives her thoughts on the best social networks for nonprofits and how they can use them to drive real results for their organizations.

Plus, find out Caroline’s biggest piece of advice for nonprofits getting started on social media.

How can a nonprofit decide what social network is right for their organization?

That’s a great question.

I think there are a few things to consider. First, the best thing to do is to just go straight to the horse’s mouth. Ask your supporters where they actually are and want to hear from you on social media. Creating a simple poll that will take just a moment to create and put in your newsletter, will give you real data to help you know where you should be spending your time.

Another piece to consider is how you’re going to get the most reach. Again, if you have no time, then you want to make sure that the effort you take gets the biggest reach. Facebook, by far, has the largest amount of users, with more than 900 million. You’ve got Twitter and LinkedIn with more than 100 million users each, and then you’ve got YouTube and other video sharing sites that reach about 75% of US audiences.

But Facebook is typically where I see nonprofits going, because of the reach and because it is so interactive, and because of the range of ages of people that are on there.

What are some of the ways that you have seen nonprofits use social media for their organization?

It’s really a great way to share the news that they have going on. They always have really inspiring news going on, day-to-day, and it would be great to get that from behind the scenes, to the supporters. Facebook and Twitter are great ways to share that real-time information. If you have a newsletter, then those sites are also a great place to post it.

But also just sharing smaller snippets of real-time information of what’s going on. Maybe you just completed a literacy class and a group 1st graders who were behind finally finished the Curious George book. That is a great post to put up on your Facebook to get your supporters excited about the support that they are providing for your organization.

I also know a lot of nonprofits do events. Maybe you’re doing a park clean up – take a picture and put it up on your Facebook page to get people excited. Maybe they’ll even be right around the corner and say, “hey I’m right around the corner, let me go head and contribute to this great thing that’s going.”  That’s a great way to share real-time information.

The other thing to think about is just making sure that you’re really using this as a great way for your supporters to carry your message. That’s really the holy grail. If you’re doing all of the posting, all of the tweeting, and sharing all of the emails, then you’re really not using social media to its full advantage. Make sure that you are providing great content, so that you’re supporters will go ahead and share that content and at the end of the day you’ll have new people that are supporting your organization, and new people that can become part of your email database that you can turn into supporters of your organizations.

What is your best advice for a nonprofit that is getting started on social media?

I think it’s easy to want to push a lot of content out there, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that the goal of social media is to interact and be social. So making sure that you’re not just pushing content out there but that you’re really welcoming their photos, which can be great content to have in any of your other marketing materials, or their comments.

For feedback, a fill-in-the-blank works really well or asking a question at the end of any of your posts. That will get folks engaged and interacting, and that’s the connection that empowers them to now go off and share that post because they’re commenting on it, they’re excited about it. You’ve really pulled them in and given them the power to share your message.

Do you have any advice for nonprofits on social media? Tell us in the comments below!