Too often we imagine that if we just post something interesting on the social web it will be instantly spread around the globe, generating millions of impressions and attracting thousands of new supporters to our important cause.
Unfortunately, our expectations for viral fame may not reflect reality! It's not always so simple for a charitable organization to spread great content pieces online. Sometimes the social media eco-system can use a little boost.
One effective way to encourage supporters to share your campaign messages is to create a dedicated social media toolkit for your cause-related project.
What is a social media toolkit?
It can be a web page, community area, library or document managed by your organization to highlight content or interactive media you would like your online friends to share with their personal networks.
The most useful social media toolkits are easy to access, avoid complicated or contradictory messaging, and contain clear instructions for your supporters.
Your toolkit might include your official social media properties — for instance, your Facebook pages, Twitter handles, or Slideshare accounts. It could include suggested messaging, online videos, or embeddable widgets for personal websites.
By now, Facebook and Twitter (and recently, Google+) icons at the top of charity website pages are nothing new. Visitors expect to see static links to social media properties on most sites and blogs. A great toolkit goes beyond telling you where an organization can be found on social media sites. It encourages individuals to get involved.
Nudge your supporters in the right direction by giving them the tools they need to promote your content. After all, your friends can't share your latest video unless they can easily find it and know how to pass it along!
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has an area of their website dedicated to online supporters: The St. Jude Social Media Toolkit. In addition to promotion of Facebook and Twitter communities, St. Jude's goes the extra step with shareable content, including a full library of TV and radio PSAs, a news toolbar for web browsers, instructions on embedding a mobile donation widget, and links to RSS feeds for the latest in research or fundraising event news.
Your organization might be concerned about creating an official toolkit because of rights or privacy issues related to photography and video. Many charities and nonprofits have successfully tackled this issue when sharing media items. Remember to use clarity and consistency when explaining how friends of your organization can use your content.
St. Jude's built a Pictures You Can Use section with short comments on the appropriate use of the hospital's media items: "We discourage the use of our patient photos due to sensitive patient privacy agreements we have with patients and their parents. If you would like to include a patient story on your website, link to our Patient of the Month page."
Smile Train, a charity raising funds for cleft lip and palate surgery in the developing world, is another organization with a social media toolkit encouraging involvement beyond following on Twitter or "liking" on Facebook.
Dubbed the "Community", Smile Train's toolkit includes action items for social media supporters. YouTube fans are asked to share Smile Train videos with five friends. Twitter users are asked to donate their status to tell the world they "support the @SmileTrain!"
When you make it easy for your official handles or hashtags to be automatically included in your messaging, you are more likely to see your casual fans share your content with consistency. You may find it's also easier to measure and track your efforts online; a welcome side-effect your communications coordinator will certainly appreciate.
Fundraising campaigns and events can especially benefit from creating a unique social media toolkit. The Walk for Kids Help Phone in support of Kids Help Phone created an online Media Centre for 2011's national event participants.
Walk registrants were particularly encouraged to share online videos as part of their personal fundraising outreach:
"No matter who you're speaking with when you're fundraising, Kids Help Phone has a number of moving videos that can be used to inform and inspire."
Like Smile Train, Kids Help Phone also maintains a library of content on their YouTube channel with frequently updated videos on topics relevant to young people like bullying and self-esteem.
Of course, not every person who is engaged with your cause will be a digital native; you'll likely discover that some of your supporters prefer accessing traditional documents in your toolkit. Proof that multi-channel marketing is effective for a reason!
Live Below The Line addressed this issue when creating their social media guide (.pdf) for their signature fundraising event this year. Recognizing that globally, over 1.4 billion people live on less than ?1 a day, Live Below the Line challenges individuals in the UK, USA and Australia to live on the equivalent of ?1 (or $1.50) a day for food and drink over a five day period.
The Live Below the Line digital toolkit explains why being active online is important to the campaign and also provides some Social Media 101 advice to help fundraisers get started:
"Social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are really effective and can help you raise awareness around the campaign. As a rule of thumb, talking about what you're doing and why you're doing it is always a great start!"
Useful tips to help participants get started include: Suggested tweets, campaign-specific hashtags, instructions for shortening URLs and directions for posting on Facebook.
Thinking about creating your own toolkit?
It's not necessary to overhaul your entire organization's website just to create a space to speak to your social media community! If changes to your web properties are not possible in the near future, consider using low-cost, third-party tools to build a toolkit.
Just be sure to choose publishing tools that make it easy to keep your content fresh. Your social media toolkit won't be truly useful unless it's regularly updated to align with your campaigns, events and newest media pieces.
Storify is a beta application allowing anybody to curate and publish social media content in the form of "stories". The free site provides embed code to publish the story on your website or blog. In addition to instantly updating your toolkit with photos, tweets and videos provided by your supporters, you can also ask your fans to embed your stories on their own sites.
Here's an example of a story created using tweets & images related to fundraising events:
Storify also allows you to capture media as it happens with an extension that works on the Chrome web browser and in social media clients like CoTweet. Extensions like these can be very useful tools, as your social media strategy likely already includes using a third party client to curate content, post or read updates.
Tumblr is another cost-effective way to quickly share media with supporters. The Tumblr blogging platform allows one-click (or few clicks!) upload of videos, comments and photos without fussing around with code or edits to a corporate site. The interface is also less complicated than a traditional content management platform like Wordpress or Joomla.
Two examples of nonprofits using Tumblr to share timely and interactive content are UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Fronti?res (MSF).
One of Tumblr's advantages is the ability to upload or post content from mobile devices. Are you taking your Blackberry or iPhone into the field on your assignment? Or are you blogging or sharing images from the scene on your fundraising event day?
The content management system for your current website or blog may not allow you to quickly post to the web from your smartphone. You might consider using a Tumblr mobile app to share images or audio without the delay of returning to the office to manage your media items for a campaign.
If you're not able to invest time in a new channel like Storify or Tumblr, it's still easy to take advantage of the existing share tools included in popular commercial social networks.
Embedding media from your approved sources removes the cumbersome task of editing digital photos down to size, uploading them in your own galleries or inserting them through your content management system. Save staff time and resources for your annual report, not that event photo gallery!
Another advantage to using commercial social network tools is that the platforms are typically already mobile-enabled. We know that your audience on social media channels is increasingly using mobile clients or devices to view your content.
In general, the most useful feedback on your social media sharing tactics will always come from your most engaged supporters. Ask your fans how they like to access your content and what topics or images they are most interested in sharing on your behalf. Do they prefer to share your organization's videos? Are they interested in placing your donation or Twitter widget on their personal blogs? Do they require more detailed instructions about how to upload their images to your Flickr channel? Facebook is a natural platform for crowdsourcing suggestions
Remember the old adage: People donate because somebody specifically asked them to donate? Consider this...unless asked to participate, people who support your cause may not independently take advantage of opportunities to share your messaging online.
Claire Kerr is the director of digital philanthropy at Artez Interactive. A not-for-profit veteran, Claire has worked for charitable organizations in the economic development, education, and fundraising sectors. Connect with her on Twitter or on LinkedIn, or in person over a double-double at Tim Hortons.