Social media rules of the road

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What works and what doesn't when it comes to nonprofits and social media? Which social medium do you choose for a given purpose?

In the summer of 2010, Ventureneer and Caliber conducted a survey of nonprofits to elicit data from which best practices could be developed to guide nonprofits in initiating or revising their social media marketing efforts. The following is an excerpt from their survey and report, called Nonprofits and Social Media: It Ain't Optional.

Starting out

Start your social media journey by spending a few minutes every day reading, listening to, and watching social media. Pay attention to what gets noticed by others (comments and retweets) and what appeals to you. Determine the style that resonates with your nonprofit's image. Participate in other people's conversations by commenting and retweeting before you start your own blog or tweeting.

Frame social media efforts by asking who, what, where, and how much. As you develop your social media plan for next year, keep these four questions in mind:

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Whom do you want to reach?
  • Which media offers the best access to your target market?
  • How much time and money will you spend?

Invest in training. Using a computer everyday doesn't necessarily translate into instant ability to use social media. The hardware is the same, the software is not. Learning to use the Big Four (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn) effectively by creating or joining groups, making comments, participating in discussions. It is similar to, but not as difficult as, learning other software programs you use.

Staff members who use social media in their personal lives may not know the best ways to use them on behalf of an organization. In fact, their personal social media habits may not conform with the image you want for your organization. Policies may need to be implemented. Instruction costs time and, perhaps, money depending on what resources you use to train staff.

Tolerate failure. It is critical to social media success. When social media tactics fail and some are bound to, no matter how well conceived, pick up the pieces quickly, analyze why they failed, recalibrate, and move on. Social media is a messy process in which trial and error are often your guides to what works best for your nonprofit. On the plus side, it is much less expensive to track and correct errors in social media tactics than it is to correct errors in traditional media.

Integrate social media into your overall marketing strategy

Reflect your brand and send a consistent message. By being consistent across channels, people will more easily remember your message.

Take advantage of each medium's strengths and reinforce your message across channels. Cross promote content: promote a new blog post via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The real sweet spot in marketing happens when the sum of your marketing effort is greater than its parts. Each medium has its strengths:

  • YouTube is multi-sensory and emotional. Use it to demonstrate the need for your services within your community.
  • Know what keywords people use when seeking an organization like yours or a cause like yours. This gives you the right keywords to use, especially in blogs.
  • Facebook ads can act as billboards, extending the reach of fundraising, advocacy and cause marketing efforts.
    Case in point: Nonprofits and their cause marketing partners promote their cause on each other's Facebook page through ads, thus giving each access to the customer/support base of the other.
  • LinkedIn is a large, searchable database with detailed information about the places people work now and where they previously worked. It's about finding common ground. It's about finding someone you know who knows someone you want to know to make that all important introduction.
    Case in point: One nonprofit uses LinkedIn to research donors and board members, but not for fundraising.

Social media, done well, strengthens the bond between the nonprofit and its constituents. As always, to create enduring brands, a marketing program uses many different touch points. Social media merely add new touch points that reach people you might otherwise have missed.

Specific advice

Think systems when you're a small or lean nonprofit. Re-purpose content from one social medium to another. Automate processes. Push down the more routine processes to lower level staff or consider hiring an intern. While the intern may not know your organization, s/he can post the blogs written by someone who does know the organization and re-purpose those blogs to other media.

Case in point: One group uses Twitter and Facebook to promote its causes and uses its blog to share compelling video footage that depicts the need for services. And another: A community centre is using the Big Four and its blog to get small contributions from its community in order to raise the money needed for a matching grant.

Think training when you're a small or lean nonprofit. Time and money are at a premium, but if you only have a little to spend, buy training. A savvy employee will use the right tools for each project, know how to integrate blogging with tweeting with Facebook discussions.

Fundraising should take a back seat on social media. Know when you're being too aggressive with social media. Like all your other fundraising activities, it's about building relationships. Do not focus on fundraising. Focus on information and resources. Social media is about sharing updates directly related to the impact of your organization, the needs of your constituents, and news of interest to your followers. Foster connections before you ask for money. Know the rules.

Case in point: A nonprofit cross-posted on cause marketing partners Facebook pages in order to reach new readers and expand awareness of its services.

Do cause marketing like the big boys do. Small nonprofits need to take a page out of the playbook of their much bigger brothers and sisters by incorporating social media into cause marketing and sponsorship efforts. Specifically, large nonprofits increase their use of social media when engaged in a cause marketing campaign. The corollary to this: If you want to increase the number of followers and fans, partner with a for-profit in a cause marketing effort.

Case in point: A nonprofit has a partnership with a pizza parlor. It posts weekly reminders about the promotion on Facebook and Twitter, as does the pizza parlor. Any online order nets the nonprofit $2. The weekly reminders have resulted in regular monthly checks from the partner. A small business and a small nonprofit can be good for each other.

This information is reprinted courtesy of Ventureneer.

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