Heads up: your social media supporters are mobile

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By now, most of us have conceded the point: It’s important for nonprofits and charities to be represented on social media networks. Your organization might have been an enthusiastic early adopter or maybe you were dragged kicking and screaming onto Twitter and Facebook...however you joined, you’re here now and that’s what counts!

An impressive fifty percent of Canadians have a social media account and the majority of North American nonprofits are updating at least one official social networking profile. The charitable sector has realized we need to "fish where the fish are", and most of us have jumped into the pool.

Unfortunately, there’s no time to rest on our laurels — there’s a new challenge ahead. Are you aware of the increasing number of donors and supporters accessing your posts, tweets or updates through mobile devices?

If you’re not in the know, this is your first wake-up call.

Facebook is the most popular commercial social network, with 750 million active users worldwide. A significant number of those users — more than 250 million — access Facebook through a mobile device.

What’s so unique about your mobile supporters on Facebook? Mobile Facebook users are twice as active on the site than non-mobile users. This means your most engaged fans are following you from their tablets and smartphones, able to upload photos instantly and comment while on the go.

On Twitter, mobile use is even more popular. Almost half of Twitter's users are accessing their tweets from a mobile device. Twitter fans are the most mobile-enabled users across major social networks.

These global statistics make for great infographs, but if you’re not personally an iPhone or BlackBerry owner, you might doubt if Canadian fans and followers are likely to engage with your cause through mobile devices.

Consider the recent Ipsos Inter@ctive Reid report Usage Skyrockets as Canadians Get Wise to Smartphones. It estimates thirty-one percent of online Canadians already own a smartphone device. This is an unprecedented increase of over fifty percent when compared to 2010.

Another relevant insight from Ipsos: The majority of owners use their mobile devices for activities other than talking. The activity that experienced the biggest increase for Canadian smartphone users this year was "checking social networking sites."

What does this mean for your charitable organization?

It’s time to consider your audience more closely than before. When you update your social media accounts, remember that you’re not necessarily speaking to followers who are sitting in front of their computers.

Jamie McIntosh, founder and executive director of human rights organization International Justice Mission Canada (IJM), finds it easy to think about his mobile supporters...because he’s one of them! "I mostly tweet (and work) while mobile."

IJM Communications Coordinator Petra Bosma also has advice for fellow nonprofit organizations on Twitter: "When you do tweet a link, make sure it goes directly to the content you've mentioned in your tweet. I know that sounds trivial, but just make it as easy as possible for people to get to your content. No one likes to click through, especially not people who are browsing from their mobile phones."

If you're sharing media that could be accessed by your mobile fans, try to avoid Javascript and Flash. Javascript does not function on many BlackBerry devices, and Flash is famously not supported by iOS products like iPhones and iPads.

Claire Wadhwani, executive director of the Canada Africa Partnership on AIDS (CAP AIDS), wishes more people would give followers a heads-up about content that isn’t mobile-friendly, "I'd love to see people tag content as #flashrequired for example."

Be kind to your smartphone audience. Why share a direct link to download a 10MB .pdf or video file? Take advantage of free and mobile-friendly platforms like Youtube.com and Slideshare.net for sharing your content.

How does a mobile experience differ from an experience on a laptop? Mobile-friendly pages have simplified content & navigation, optimized images and larger text designed to display on a smartphone like an iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android device.

Mobile optimization has many common sense implications for your communications team. Mobile users have limited time to enjoy your content and not as much space to view it in. Make your blog posts or newsletters easier for people to read later by including "email to yourself" options.

Charities that blog on popular platforms like Wordpress have access to plugins to create mobile-optimized pages, without the hassle of redesigning an entire website. Take a look at The Salvation Army of Canada for inspiration.

Does your social media outreach consistently drive your supporters back to your organization’s website? It’s possible to give mobile users a more elegant, less frustrating experience by optimizing your landing page.

Here's how Oxfam.co.uk appears on your computer versus the same link on a smartphone browser. Call-to-action items on the mobile version are much more focused.

Once you're ready to address your mobile audience, try testing your pages on the Opera Mini simulator. Just add a URL to see what your links look like on this popular browser. You can also learn more about optimization standards straight from the source: W3C's Recommendations for Mobile Web Best Practices.

Which communications departments are thinking "mobile"?

There are nonprofit professionals already considering how to reach out to their mobile visitors. Laura Bradley, digital communications specialist at SickKids Foundation is one of them.

This year’s 2010-2011 SickKids Foundation Annual Report was designed to be smartphone-friendly. The report's microsite automatically identifies if the user is on a computer or a mobile device.

"Storytelling is at the heart of everything we do and we really wanted to let our SickKids kid stories shine," Laura explains. "We featured the stories on the mobile site along with video, a summary of our financial statements and a letter from our president and chair of the board."

The SickKids team looked to existing mobile projects for inspiration: "We searched other mobile sites and incorporated aspects we liked into our design. We tested across many different platforms before our go-live date."

As the strategist behind the Foundation’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, Laura also followed up the launch of the annual report with a planned push out on social media channels.

Why all the effort? Laura Bradley’s answer is simple. "SickKids wants to remain relevant and engaging to our donors and prospective donors by offering information the way they would like it delivered."

If your charity lacks the resources to build a custom mobile microsite or application to complement your social media activities, there are creative, lower-cost options available. Try leveraging your project on popular platforms that are already mobile-enabled. A campaign built on a social site like Facebook or Twitter guarantees that both web and mobile audiences can participate.

Ready to think mobile? Here's five simple ways to get started:

1. Prove what I'm saying: Review your Google Analytics statistics to gauge what percentage of traffic on your websites, blogs or donation forms is from mobile visitors. When you can prove that your nonprofit’s smartphone traffic is on the rise, you can make a credible case to your leadership that you should do something about it.

2. Do a "device check" at the office: Put the word out to coworkers one afternoon that you’d like to borrow as many different smartphones as possible (the more the merrier!). Check how the links you’re sharing on social media display when accessed through apps or on mobile browsers. This is a great way to test your e-newsletter and email appeals as well.

3. Use a mobile client: The best way to understand how your supporters interact with you on mobile devices is to post & update from a mobile device yourself! Many of the free web platforms you may already be using have mobile versions. Give Hootsuite or TweetDeck's smartphone apps a test run. Google and Facebook also have free mobile products.

4. Set smart priorities: It’s not possible to instantly optimize everything you share on social networks. Start with the items that are most important to your cause. A common call-to-action on social media is an appeal for donations. A smartphone-friendly donation form (like this one from the Canadian Red Cross) will detect your donor’s browser and automatically present the appropriate web or mobile version. Some vendors have built this into their software, so ask your provider if you are optimized for donations by mobile web.

5. Ask for advice: You should already be following and interacting with the nonprofits you admire on social media. Reach out and ask them to share advice on software, tactics or strategies. You'll get the best responses if your questions are specific, rather than generic. After all, "How do I go mobile?" is a pretty big question! If you are a late adopter, one of the best questions to ask an early adopter is: "What didn’t work for you?"

It’s time for the charitable sector to connect meaningfully with smartphone owners in ways beyond traditional SMS messaging programs. The Ready, Set, Go Mobile report from AFP and Kaptivate illustrates where trends are headed. The report found a twenty-four percent decrease in the number of nonprofits using text-to-give, but a significant twenty-seven percent increase in the use of mobile websites.

Social networking is no longer restricted to the monitor and mouse. It’s within your reach to give your supporters a beautiful and functional experience, no matter how they engage with you on social media. Don’t wait until 2012 to realize that your friends are social and mobile right now!

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.

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