By Caitlin Brennan

February 24th, 2017

Social media is an integral part of establishing credibility and a public voice for corporations, government agencies, and nonprofits. These channels are the means by which nonprofits connect with communities, donors and volunteers. To get the most out of social media for your nonprofit, here are our best practices. 

Why should nonprofits use social media?
New York City’s Chief Digital Officer, Sreenath Sreenivasan, is a social media guru who, before working for city government, served as the digital director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In an interview with the New York Times, Sreenivasan explained that, for the Met, social media “isn’t just a marketing channel, it’s a listening and conversational channel as well.”

It is this attitude that successful nonprofit social channels are built on. An organization can’t only advance its own agenda, it must be an engaged member of the community. Nonprofits have many constituencies, all of whom must feel like the organization is listening to them.

How can a nonprofit be successful on social media?
There is no universal benchmark for success on social media. Gaining followers and generating engagement can be good indicators of a healthy social community, but they are not definitive measures of success.

These crude statistics collapse populations into meaningless counts of undifferentiated eyeballs. Mistakes like insufficient targeting of advertising can render great content useless to the organization’s mission while still generating good engagement numbers.

Bad attention, just like good attention, can increase metrics like engagement. A social media manager may be able to tout a spike in re-tweets, but that means little to tangible goals if the cause behind it proves to be an embarrassing misspelling or unintended double entendre. To avoid these pitfalls and succeed on social media, here are our recommended best practices.

Set goals:
Nonprofit campaigns need to set goals and benchmarks of success, as with any social media campaign. Unlike organizations focused on selling their products, nonprofits have targets beyond the bottom line. For nonprofits, social media is a powerful tool for achieving fundraising and awareness goals. According to the 2017 GLOBAL NGO Online Technology Report, 95% of global non-governmental organizations (NGOs) agree that social media is effective for raising brand awareness and 71% believe social media is effective for fundraising.

Fundraising is essential to the livelihood of many nonprofits and a common social goal. Social media provides a platform to seek contributions from a large pool of potential donors. Nonprofits can use social media to raise awareness for their organization and specific causes or events.

Engage with your community:
Be sure to never ignore comments on your social channels. For example, an arts organization should have someone answering social channel queries who can speak confidently to artists, audiences and benefactors both large and small. That is no small task, and requires input and training from areas of a nonprofit’s organizational structure that might not interact in day-to-day affairs.

Habitat for Humanity takes the time to thank volunteers for their help and reply to follower questions. By engaging with the community, followers feel valued and view the nonprofit as a member of the community opposed to a faceless organization.

Know your audience:
In order to determine what kind of content you should create, you need to know who you’re creating it for. Since a nonprofit’s community members aren’t traditional customers, it’s crucial to have defined goals to better categorize your community. For example, only a portion of your followers may be poised to make a donation whereas another group can readily amplify your message within their social network. The better you can group and identify your followers, the better you can deliver targeted messages that will resonate with the specific group.

Consider creating unified profiles to gain a 360º understanding of your follower’s pains and preferences. Unified profiles are comprised of data from various socials channels and offer insights on individual and group level. With this information, you create more relevant messages.

Develop a content strategy:
Once you have defined goals, you can create a content strategy. For example, Greenpeace created a content strategy aimed to reach and inspire their massive audience to take actions that advance the organization’s overall mission. Their campaigns invite community members to take a positive, measurable social action. The social actions range from signing a petition to pledging more substantial support to a campaign. 

Like Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund engages their community with clear calls to action. 

In the example above, WWF is employing a smart strategy on several levels to promote Earth Hour Live. The event invites musicians to live stream performances on Facebook Live or other channels in an aim to “turn up the volume on climate action.”

First off, this is a great strategy because they’ve created a shareable campaign that expands their reach and raises awareness. By asking followers to tag musicians they think should participate, WWF’s message is amplified to artists and the artist’s fans. Secondly, having the event take place on Facebook Live takes advantage of the platform’s popular feature while requiring minimal hurdles for participation.

With proper planning and knowledge, nonprofits can connect with communities, donors and volunteers. By knowing who to target and reliably engaging with audiences, nonprofits can flourish on social to achieve their goals.

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