Social media for nonprofits in 2019: Why defining your key messages is the first step

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At first glance, posting on social media seems so easy.

Come up with something witty or inspirational to say.
Find a relevant photo.
Post.
Repeat.
Bask in the success of your posts!

Once you actually start posting on social media, you realize it’s not as simple as you might have initially considered.

Your posts get little, if any, engagement from your donors, volunteers, and followers.
Where are all the likes and shares?
You run out of ideas in a few weeks or a few months.
You have to admit you’re wasting time and money on this marketing strategy.

Though you have all the right tools at your disposal, you just don’t know what to post. So you drop out of the social media world. And you lose a key opportunity to market your nonprofit and spread awareness.

Social media is often taken for granted. It can be one of the best—and most cost-effective—ways to increase the visibility of your nonprofit. But if you’re not following social media nonprofit best practices, it’s no wonder you’re not getting the results you were hoping for.

So, let’s go back to the beginning. Forget everything you thought you knew about social media. Let’s start from scratch so you can get it right this time around.

Defining your core messages

I’ve worked on over 500 nonprofit projects, and I can tell you there are many common social media mistakes nonprofits make.

Posting on the wrong platforms.
Not adding photos or videos.
Posting too much about yourself.
Posting infrequently.
Posting adorable cat videos non-stop (cute, but irrelevant).

But, by and large, the biggest mistake nonprofits make is not defining their core messages before posting on social media. Why is this so bad? It leads to confusing, inconsistent messages that don’t resonate with your audience.

Key messages are the main points your audience need to hear, understand, and remember about your nonprofit. They consist of your core messages, such as what you do and who you help, and your supporting messages, which are more specific statements, such as the issues you want to discuss and the actions you want people to take.

Social media nonprofit best practices will tell you that key messages are focused on the basics of your organization, are succinct, are clear, and are segmented by audience. Key messages are mostly used internally to ensure everyone in your organization knows which version of your story to tell to who and when.

To begin creating your key messages, start with the master key message:

  • Who does your organization serve?
  • What do you do for them?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Where is your impact focused?

One of your key messages may be, for example, “We help children with X disease across Canada live longer and happier lives.”

Know your audience

Once you’ve written, fleshed out, tweaked, and perfected your key messages, it’s time to create variations based on stakeholder groups. Your donors will need to hear and understand a slightly different message than your local authorities, and you’ll need to change your message again to engage volunteers.

Build persona avatars to find out what your different audiences want and need, what they’re interested in, and how you can support them.

Create an overarching content strategy

Don’t go rushing to post on social media just yet. There’s one more step to take first: Creating an overarching content strategy based on your key messages.

To do this, layer your content out in different formats, including:

  • Blog posts
  • Curated content
  • Inspiring quotes
  • Tips
  • Stories

When creating a content strategy, think bigger than social media. Then, create a process for sharing content based on what’s going on in your organization.

For example, every time you have an event, there are specific things that are always going to be the same:

4 weeks prior to the event, you interview the keynote speaker, maybe in a video format.
From the video, you create snippets of content that you can use to create awareness for the event. You can ask questions or share five interesting facts.
During the event, you do a FB live and interview other people.
Then, you post thank you messages.

Creating a process for key events will ensure everyone posts consistently in your organization, everything you say is aligned to your key messages and vision, and the posts you share resonate with your audience. You can even use a social media tool to make posting easier.

Don’t get lost in the trenches

It’s easy to get lost in the trenches, to focus on the details of every message you post and every photo you choose. But when you’re stuck in the details, it’s all too common to lose sight of your key message. When you’re struggling with social media, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

This might mean starting your social media strategy from scratch, but it’ll help improve the role of marketing and communications in your nonprofit.

Kerstin Heuer is the founder of Non-Profit Today and the creator of the “365 Days Done for You” Social Media Calendar for small nonprofits. Since 2008 she has used the trifecta of branding, marketing, and design to help nonprofits communicate the heart of their organization, connect with their audiences, and achieve their missions. With over 25 years of industry experience and lessons learned from work on 500+ non-profit projects, Kerstin is skilled in collaborating with NPOs to make sure they have a clear message and the traction they need to spread it. Connect with her on Linkedin or email her at: kerstin@non-profit.today.

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