There’s a saying that “ignorance is bliss,” but in today’s digital world, data seems to travel at warp speed. We get information in real time, and social media is one of the most popular sources. For better or worse, it has become an integral part of life and changed the way we communicate.
Social media brings the world closer together. Everyone from preteens to presidents uses it to advertise, advocate, and communicate. Especially now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis where “remote” is the new normal, the digital space is exploding as corporations and organizations seek ways to stay connected to their markets.
According to a 2020 “digital state of the union” report by the social media management platform Hootsuite, there are currently 3.8 billion active social media users around the globe. That’s 49 percent of the world’s population! It only makes sense that nonprofits look to these online audiences to raise awareness of their work and engage supporters.
“Social media is powerful. It connects brands directly to their customers,” says Moniza Khokhar, principal at Ayser Strategies, a New York area digital strategy firm. “You can create relationships that translate into brand loyalty and grow your whole organization off your social media if it’s done right.”
Increased brand awareness can mean new volunteers and more donations. So how do you best use social media to promote your nonprofit’s work? And how do you capture attention in the cluttered digital landscape?
Mitchell Petit-Frere, creative content manager at Family Promise, a national nonprofit that serves families battling homelessness, says social media is critical for organizations to remain competitive. Over the past two years, Petit-Frere and Khokhar have redefined Family Promise’s social media strategy, more than tripling its online following. The improved brand recognition has contributed in part to increased media coverage, volunteerism, and donations.
When it comes to creating a social media plan, Petit-Frere and Khokhar say first and foremost, nonprofits should identify their main message and determine their target audience.
“What do you want people to know about your organization? How do you want them to see you?” asks Khokhar. “Use that message to shape your content.”
Once you’ve established your messaging, Petit-Frere says, consider your audience.
“Where you post on social media is as important as what you post,” he notes. “For instance, Facebook is popular because its demographic spans all ages. But if your work can tell its story through impactful photos or you want to attract a younger following, Instagram is a powerful platform.” (See the list at the end of this article for user demographics of some of the most popular social media platforms.)
Once you’ve determined the most appropriate platform(s) for your organization, you can begin to strategize. Here are ten insightful tips:
1. Keep it consistent.
Petit-Frere advises using coherent branding – logos, fonts, colors – across all platforms, including your website. Post consistently as well, whether that’s once a day or once a week. As he explains, “There’s a lot of competition for attention on social media. You want to be on people’s screens regularly.”
2. Let pictures tell your story…
Visual content is impactful. Photos of the communities you serve or volunteers in action invite followers to learn more. Video is even more appealing, says Khokhar, engaging people up to 1200 percent more than text and images combined. She suggests grabbing your phone and recording a short video – “no more than a minute” – whether it’s your CEO speaking about an issue, donors enjoying a fundraising event, or an interview with a volunteer or industry VIP. Also, consider “going live” on social media (“Hey, folks, we’re coming to you from our annual 5k race, talking to Jane Doe about why our mission inspires her to run!”).
3. …But use your voice when necessary.
Petit-Frere notes that plain text and infographics definitely have value. Some stories simply need words.
4. Start a conversation.
Invite engagement. For example, post a photo of volunteers with the caption “What’s your favorite way to volunteer with us? Respond in the comments below!”. Comments can attract attention, recruit followers, and help you learn about your audience. Encourage sharing posts (people are more inclined to share photos and videos), and respond to comments in a timely and constructive way. Remember, news travels fast on the internet.
5. Post appropriately.
Familiarize yourself with the unique character of the sites you use and post accordingly. “LinkedIn, for example, has a professional focus, while Facebook and Instagram are casual and can support humor and tug at the heartstrings,” says Petit-Frere.
6. Remember, variety is the spice of life.
Vary posts across platforms. People follow multiple social media accounts for the diversity of content. Also, consider your demographic – information about planned gifts won’t interest the typical Instagram crowd, but LinkedIn followers can likely relate.
7. Keep up.
Stay current with news and trends in your sector. Does your work intersect with new national policies or programs? Is a celebrity promoting a cause related to your mission? Petit-Frere recommends following other organizations and influencers in your space: “Engage with them, comment on their posts, tag them in yours. Listen to what they’re saying. They might post something that inspires or informs you.”
Used strategically, hashtags increase engagement and allow your organization to appear in more searches. Create ones that are catchy and easy to remember.
9. Pay to play.
Social media is free, but a small investment can boost your impact exponentially. Petit-Frere cites Facebook, whose advertising feature matches nonprofits to the right audiences for as little as $10 a month. It may feel like “Big Brother” is watching, but the fact is, social media ads target very specific audiences (“single 20-somethings who own dogs,” “West Coast stay-at-home moms who enjoy wine and nature”) and put your organization in front of the people who are most likely to be interested.
10. Get analytical.
Social media’s built-in analytics help you understand your audience, which can inform your marketing and communications strategy. For instance, Facebook tools report who visits your page, what they respond to, and more. Polling features let you solicit feedback to learn more about followers, like their locations and interests. “The key is to make sure engagement is happening and your followers are increasing,” says Khokhar.
At the end of the day, social media is just that…social, a way to engage with the world and bring your mission to life. A successful social media strategy increases awareness of your organization, allowing you to share your work with a larger audience and reap the subsequent benefits. As Petit-Frere sums up, “Nonprofits are storytellers, and social media is the perfect place to tell our stories.”
of Some of the Most Popular
Social Media Platforms
Facebook: Used by all age groups (seniors are the fastest-growing demographic), accessed primarily by mobile phone.
Instagram: Platform of choice for younger, college-educated generations (age 24 and under), especially females, with income up to $75k.
LinkedIn: Most popular with women and men ages 46-55, with a growing millennial presence. Highest number of users in U.S., followed by India, China, and Brazil. Half of users have college degrees and income above $75k.
Twitter: Globally, more male users than female, but in the U.S., male-female ratio is 50-50. Most users under age 50, often live in cities, and are typically wealthier and more educated than the average American.
YouTube: Most popular platform (Facebook comes in second), used by 73 percent of American adults. Primarily accessed by mobile phone.
Thirty years of communications and marketing experience has greatly informed Melissa Biggar’s work as director of annual giving and donor relations at Family Promise, a national nonprofit addressing the issue of family homelessness. In her time at Family Promise, Melissa’s campaigns have set organization fundraising records. She has facilitated workshops on fundraising and donor engagement and is passionate about ensuring all donor interactions are rewarding and memorable.