Shoe-String Social Media

by Patricia Fitzgerald

We’re fortunate to work with several wonderful nonprofit organizations. And while they have plenty of heart, talent and energy, most don’t have large budgets. Or limitless resources. Which is why so many of them turn to social media.

According to a recent survey, 98% of nonprofits are on Facebook, around 70% are on Twitter, 55% are on LinkedIn, 45% are on YouTube and 15% are on Instagram. Indeed, 48% believe that social media is an effective way to reach more people. But with strapped in-house resources, 38% of nonprofits spend only one to two hours a week on social media and 44% have just one overworked person monitoring their social media presence. And when it comes to social media, most organizations are winging it; over 67% of nonprofits have no social media strategy in place. Source

Reality Check

So what’s a nonprofit to do? Especially given the lack of people, money and time. The first thing we tell our nonprofit clients is to adjust expectations. Having a social media presence doesn’t mean that the followers, likes, shares, comments and donations will start rolling in. We suggest approaching social media as a community-, reputation- and credibility-building tool — not exactly metrics you can easily measure and track. Read more about that in our blog post here.

The results you get from consistent (as in daily) social media efforts are often slow to see and difficult to recognize. But here are some ways to measure the effectiveness of your social media strategy:

  • Use social media tracking tools such as Facebook Page Insights, InstaFollow and Twitter Analytics to see which posts got the most engagement (you may start to see a pattern), as well as your overall engagement performance.
  • Assess your Google Analytics to see which social media platforms are driving the most traffic to your website.
  • Track the number of newsletter and email sign-ups and donations made from your social media pages.

Above all else, be patient. Consistent efforts on social media will gradually start to build a following and expand your reach. It takes time and persistence to grow your social media network. So stick with it and keep at it, even when you think it’s not doing any good. It is.

That being said, there are certain strategies you can employ to help bolster your social media efforts. 

Facebook Frustrations

But before we delve into those, let’s talk about Facebook, which presents a unique set of challenges. Facebook is still a widely popular platform, and 98% of nonprofits have a Facebook presence. But be aware that Facebook’s organic reach has declined significantly, and many nonprofits are seeing a 2% or less engagement rate on this platform. That’s largely because Facebook’s new algorithms often push posts down on followers’ news feeds where they aren’t seen at all. It’s a real challenge that many organizations struggle with, and requires creative strategies. You can read more about this frustrating dilemma here.

Now onto to the good news.

Ask & They Will Follow

While it’s great to include your social media icons on your website, newsletters, emails and other communications, that alone may not be enough to drive people to your social media pages. We recommend launching a specific campaign focused solely on getting donors, volunteers, staff members, partners, and people you’ve interacted with to follow and like you. 

This campaign can include emails, postcards, posters, letters — anything and everything to get the word out. During events, have a volunteer or staff member walk around to collect email address, and send those folks targeted emails with a strong call to action to follow and like you. You can even incentivize them (the first 20 people to follow you get entered to win a gift card, for example). But be sure to clearly communicate  why someone should follow you. 

Go Where Your Audience Is

Consider who you’re trying to reach (demo- and psychographics) and make sure you’re focusing on the social media platforms they’re most likely to frequent. For example, if your Twitter engagement is low, it could be because the majority of your target audience simply isn’t on Twitter. Maybe they’re more likely to use Instagram or Pinterest instead (especially if they’re mostly women). 

Your limited time and resources are better spent focusing on social media platforms your target audience actually prefers. When collecting information from donors, partners, volunteers, and other people you interact with, find out which social media platforms they use. Send out a survey (using SurveyMonkey or similar tool) to those on your current mailing list, and ask them which platforms they use most. Then make sure you meeting them there.

Pencil It In 

If you're a nonprofit, you’re most likely posting on-the-fly, whenever you find a free moment. This willy-nilly approach often leads to posts that get little engagement. While it requires an upfront investment of time, creating a social media communications plan and calendar will go a long way to helping you be more strategic and efficient with your posts. You can create your calendar using common tools like Google Calendar, or specific tools like Trello.

As part of your plan, identify the types of content you’ll be posting — for example, donor appreciations, volunteer spotlights, human interest stories, statistics, updates, events, campaign or drive info, fundraising asks, inspirational quotes, videos, tips or tools, resources, content from other organizations, and so on. Then when you’re developing your calendar, you can disperse the various types of content equally so your posts have plenty of variety. 

When creating a calendar of posts, we recommend planning one to three months in advance. Plan around key dates (events, drives, campaigns, holidays, special days such as Giving Tuesday), and plug those posts in first. Then populate the remaining days with other content, again being sure to include a good variety post categories. You’ll want to remain flexible so you can respond to emerging trends and topics when they pop up. But having a calendar in place will save you from scrambling around for content to post about, and keep your posts from getting too repetitive or similar.

To create consistency in your routine, we recommend posting daily Monday through Friday — more often (including on weekends) if there’s a particular event or topic you need to draw attention to. We also recommend posting around the same time every day, for example first thing in the morning (unless something pops up that needs your immediate attention). Here’s a helpful article on how often to post on various social medial platforms, and the best time for posting.

Mix It Up

A recent survey of nonprofits found that 74% use social media primarily as a megaphone to announce events and activities. This may explain a lot of the low engagement nonprofits struggle with; followers simply get tired of seeing the same kind of posts and start to ignore them. We recommend varying your posts and mixing them up more — bringing in curated content from other sources that is less self-serving. 

Along with sharing other carefully curated content, you’ll want have a fairly equal distribution of:

  • Posts that show appreciation for donors, supporters, staff and volunteers.
  • Posts that advocate for the people you serve and help (with personal profiles thrown in), as well as other organizations that do similar type of work.
  • Posts that make appeals for donations, support, attendance, and volunteers. 

Note: the people you highlight (and tag) in your posts are more likely to like, share and retweet those posts on their own pages which help spreads your reach.

Behind-the-scenes content can also be an effective way to engage followers, by giving them a peek at how your organization works. It also lends an authentic, grassroots feel to your posts, and can be effective in engaging your audience. Think: short videos of volunteers sorting donated goods, a beloved staff member being surprised with a birthday cake, or the band setting up for an event. 

Consider exploring the use of Facebook Live, Facebook’s live streaming service for these behind-the-sceens posts. Facebook Stories, a relatively new feature, also offer some possibilities for engaging with followers in a new way. These short Snapchat-like narratives can be told using video, photo collages or both, and can be enhanced with a variety of fun filters and effects. And like Snapchat, they disappear after 24 hours. So they’re a spontaneous, immediate way to capture a special moment and connect with people on Facebook. 

Talking Back

When planning what types of posts you’ll be doing, think interactive. Posts that ask a question (i.e. “What charitable causes are you supporting this holiday?”) tend to generate more responses. And when someone does comment on a post, be sure you respond each and every time as soon as possible. For folks who make a donation, go a step further and post a personal thank-you message on their social media page as well as your own.

You can also use posts to ask for feedback and opinions, to invite followers to share their photos (say from a specific event) or memories, and to find out what’s most important to them. There are several survey tools you can use on Facebook and Twitter to promote more interaction with your followers. Even Instagram has added interactive poll stickers that let you ask questions and see results from your followers as they vote. 

In addition to interacting with followers on your own social media platforms, take the time to engage with other people, groups and organizations that overlap with your own. Find a handful of other social media pages that resonate most with what you do, and start liking, sharing/retweeting, and commenting on their posts a few times a week. It may take a while, but this engagement will gradually help build community, boost your visibility, and encourage reciprocal engagement with these organizations and their followers.

Twubs is a nifty tool that lets you find Twitter conversations based on hashtags so you can join in on the conversation there. This can help you make new connections, expand your reach, find like-minded organizations to engage with, and build your presence.

Last but not least, try reaching out to local journalists and publications through their Facebook and Twitter accounts to encourage them to cover your events, campaigns and organizations. Use personal stories to communicate your impact. Publications get so many paper-based press releases, that a digital reach-out might cut through the clutter.

Piggyback On Hashtags

Keep a look out for trending hashtags and incorporate them into your posts when appropriate to leverage exposure. The trick is to avoid looking spammy or scammy, by tying the hashtag into your organization, what you do, and who you do it for. So be selective in which hashtags you choose to use. And clever about how you use them. For example, #NationalChildDay would be a great opportunity to promote the work you do with youth. But it might be more of a stretch to connect #KanyeSaysSomethingNuts to your organization. So avoid using hashtags just for hashtags sake. Read more about our take on hashtags here.

Make It Pretty

Posts with visuals (especially video) tend to get more likes and engagement. Low-budget visuals (usually taken by a volunteer with an iPhone on the spot) are fine, especially for a nonprofit, grassroots organization. But be aware when the photos on your page all start to look the same. To avoid this repetition, we recommend adding more professional-looking imagery into the mix, featuring beautiful, powerful, inspiring and emotionally impactful photography, an eye-catching headline and layout. Low-cost stock photography is always an option if you lack the photographic skills (and equipment) onsite; here’s a great site for free good-quality photos.

There are also several free and low-cost tools you can use to create higher-quality images, including CanvaStencilBeFunky, and Fotor. These tools can help you jazz up your photos, add fun fonts and treatments that will grab more attention (and engagement). Having good quality, nicely edited images is especially important for Instagram and Pinterest, which are visually driven platforms. 

Videos, gifs, memes and infographics also tend to attract more likes and comments. There are plenty of tools available to help you create gifs (GiphyGifMaker.meMake A Gif), memes (imgflipKapwing, Meme Generator), and infographics (Vennage, InfogramVisually). Infographics in particular offer a great way for you to tell your story, educate about issues, and illustrate the impact you’re having in a visually compelling and easy-to-understand way.

Nonprofits often overlook their cover photos — that large visual banner at the top of their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages. Make sure you have an attractive, compelling, professional-looking cover photo that includes a strong call to action and clearly identifies your organization. Online tools like Fotor and Pagemodo can help you create a cover photo that grabs eyes.

Get Help

People tend to engage more with posts that others have already responded to. Comments beget more comments. Tap into your network of board members, volunteers, staff, donors and supporters, and enlist them to comment on your social media posts. You can assign a group of staff members and volunteers, for example, to post comments on daily posts. You can also send out emails and texts to loyal supporters, board members and staff, asking them to comment on specific posts you want to draw more attention to.

Also encourage these enlistees to share and retweet your posts on their own pages. If you can get high-level donors, volunteers and supporters with large followings (aka community leaders, businesses and corporate sponsors) to share/retweet your posts, you’ll be exposing your social media presence and name to a much wider audience.

At events, give donors, volunteers and attendees a reason to take photos of themselves and post them on their own social media pages, tagging you in the process. Then share their posts and photos on your page (tagging themin the process). Have an Instagram frame they can pose behind, or invite them to write a message on a wall and take their photo with it. Get creative, and get them excited about sharing their photos and experiences with your organization.

Also consider asking loyal supporters to share stories and positive reviews about your organization on GreatNonProfits, which syndicates content to high-traffic websites frequented by donors.  

Dig Those Donations

Many nonprofits turn to social media to help drive donations. So make it easier for your followers to donate on the spot. Here are few ways to do that. Start by making sure you have a donate button under your Facebook cover photo (note: Twitter donate buttons are available to some charities, but good luck figuring out how to add them; better to just ask for donations in posts). You can also add an Amazon wish list tab on your Facebook page (and be sure to promote it in posts), and/or create a Fundraiser for your organization for a specific event. Ask volunteers, staff, supporters and donors to add the Fundraiser to their Facebook pages as well.

Peer-to-peer fundraising on social media has proved pretty effective for nonprofits. In fact, nearly one third of all online donations are now a result of peer-to-peer asks. Ask loyal supporters to set up their own personal giving page for a specific campaign, drive or event, and use their own social media networks to encourage friends and followers to donate or attend. It’s a good idea to give these supporters some guidelines on what to say on their personal pages, but sharing personal stories (such as how they were directly impacted by your work) is always a good way to go.

There are a host of tools that make fundraising on Twitter easier as well. Charitweet and Goodworld allow your followers to make small donations directly through Twitter to simplify the donation process. Since most people peruse social media on their mobile devices, consider giving them a way to text their donations as well. Tools like Txt2Give make it easy for people to quickly donate — anywhere, anytime — by simply sending a text message.

There are a number of tools for fundraising on social media that may be worth looking into. Crowdrise is a great resource designed specifically for nonprofits, with lots of features to promote fundraising for specific campaigns, drive attendance at events, promote peer-to-peer fundraising and more. There’s also Classy, which offers tools for peer-to-peer fundraising, donations, events and more. 

Currently there’s no way to let people donate directly from an Instagram post, so simply use your posts to drive people to a donate page on your website. There is a way to include direct donation links on Instagram ads, should you ever decide to do paid advertising with that platform.

You can also look into creating filter overlays for profile pictures (remember all those French flags on people’s profile pics after the terrorist attack in Paris?). Encourage followers and supporters to add these overlays to support a specific campaign or cause.

Ready, Set, Engage

Social media doesn’t have to be a non-starter for nonprofits. But it will take a certain amount of time, resources, strategy and outside-the-tweet thinking on your part to make these platforms work for you. If you’d like a little help getting your social media strategy into shape, give us a call.

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