7 Ways to Own Your Nonprofit Social Media Strategy

Cat with weird hairdo in orange and green
Who am I? What am I doing here?

Who am I and what am I doing here?  Ever feel that way about social media?  You’re not alone.  For many of us in the nonprofit sector it’s still a frontier.  It’s tempting for us non-pioneer types to just want to call the whole thing off. Waagh! I want to go back to my comfort zone. So I come up with all sorts of rationalizations to justify not making the journey into uncharted territory.
Why do I really need to be here? Perhaps the most popular rationalization that I don’t need to be here is that my social media efforts are not driving donations. In Social Media Talk Is Cheap, but Where’s the Sale? Heidi Cohen writes about the for profit businesses who’ve been abandoning social media because it isn’t driving enough sales.  She cautions against jumping to the conclusion that social media doesn’t work, and exhorts us to understand first what it can/can’t do.  Her wisdom applies equally to not-for-profit businesses.

Because a lot of social media really is about the journey, not just the destination.  Sure, you want to drive donations.  But there are a lot of other great things that can happen on the path towards that end goal.  Among these things are (1) building a larger audience; (2) educating folks about your mission; (3) getting some great market research; (4) building new relationships, and (5) building social change movements.  In other words, these are the things that are at the heart of nonprofit development strategy.  It’s all about uncovering shared values.  And don’t you need to know that someone is on board – that they share the values your organization enacts — prior to asking them to give?
Aha! Light bulb moment
Just as social media can help marketers drive sales by building brands (aka advancing the mission) so can it drive donations.  As Heidi Cohen notes, it’s an excellent tool for “surfacing additional purchase choices, and answering pre-purchase questions by engaging with prospects and customers”. Development has always been about building relationships with folks who share the values our organization enacts.We don’t want to Put the Fundraising Cart before the Friendraising Horse.Social media is an engagement strategy par excellence.  As long as we see it for what it is, and adjust our strategy accordingly, we can gain a lot of value from the medium.
To reap the value of social media, here are some things to keep in mind:
 1.        Strut your stuff.  This is a place to feel good and share the love. And it’s a place where we can reach out to folks who otherwise might never find us. What may lure in our potential supporters?  Photos?  Video? Kid’s drawings? Brief quotes from folks who were helped? Event news? Opportunities to impact legislation?  Strut; then come home.  Link back to your website or blog Link back to your website or blog.
2.         Assure your website is optimized for mobile.  People like to be social when they’re on the go. There’s no point of driving folks back to your site if the site won’t load on their phone. And while you’re at it, make sure your email is also mobile friendly. It’s likely one-quarter of our subscribers are reading your emails on their mobile phones, and this number is growing quickly. See  Lost in Translation: When Email Hits Mobile, Then What?
3.         Encourage positive reviews.  A recent study  shows that 66% of those who interact with a brand online need to feel that the company is communicating honestly before they’ll interact. Having positive online word-of-mouth makes a difference.  A 2012 study from Ipsos OTX and Ipsos Global @dvisor revealed that 22% of internet users said they would purchase from a brand if they saw that a friend liked or followed the brand on a social network such as Facebook or Twitter. People will check out yelp reviews, facebook posts and twitter activity before they decide to invest with you.  To encourage this, engage supporters after events to gather feedback.
4.         Feature ways for people to interact that provides them with a benefit. This is a place to get creative. Perhaps try something creative with Pinterest.  Maybe encourage folks to enter a contest (see what One Justice did in this regard both on their blog blog and FB page). Possibly try out LinkedIn events. Or perhaps folks can register for a volunteer activity or write an advocacy letter to a congressperson. Or perhaps you can simply offer rides to your facility, or to an event, and folks can connect this way. What could be more neighborly? When you give people what they want they return the favor.
5.         Clearly ask for the sale (aka “gift”, “investment”). You already know that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But do you understand that if you don’t give a clear, simple instruction then even asking won’t get you what you seek? Don’t dilute the ask with all sorts of other options.  And don’t simply point folks to your homepage URL. What do you want folks to do, now, from whatever page they are reading?  Include a call to action whenever this is what you’re looking for. If the desired action response is simply a share, make this easy (e.g., don’t use all 140 characters for your tweet, making it impossible for a user to retweet your content).
6.         Incorporate ways to measure activity.  You won’t know what’s working unless you incorporate some sort of tracking codes into each social media platform and initiative. The time to do this is before you launch a campaign. There are many metrics from which to choose.  Heidi Cohen shares this graph from the business world.

            For tons of tips especially targeted towards nonprofits, check out Beth Kanter and KD Paine’s new book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit. You’ll find both transactional metrics (counting things like “likes” and “click throughs”) and transformational metrics (looking at engagement such as comments, shares, email feedback and participation in polls or surveys). 
            Also see Metrics for Building, Scaling, and Funding Social Movements on Beth’s Blog. 
7.         Once you measure, then ask “So what?” Data is useless to you unless you derive some meaning from it.  In Oscam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik we are exhorted to do a simple test: The Three Layers of So What Test. For example: (1) So what that repeat visitors to your website are up month by month? (2) You say this shows you’re now a stickier website? So what? (3) You say this means you should do more xyz to leverage this trend? So what? If you can’t come up with a concrete reason for doing more of this, then perhaps it’s not a good metric for you to be using. On the other hand, perhaps you notice that the conversion rate for your top keywords has increased significantly in the past few months. (1) So what? (2) You say your pay-per-click campaign is having a positive impact and you want to reallocate funds to the key words showing the most promise. So…. good idea! This is a good metric for you.
And remember — the different types of metrics (transactional and transformational) each have their purpose. As Meghan Peters shares on Mashable in SMO vs. Engagement:
            There are two key methods for supercharging your social strategy: social media optimization (SMO) and engagement. Although they’re equally important for getting more people to your website via social networks, far different rules apply for each. SMO implies a scientific approach — updates are crafted with the intention of being seen, and ultimately clicked on, by your audience. Engagement, on the other hand, is about connecting with fans and followers. The idea is to build a community of vested members who will respond to and share your social updates because the content resonates strongly.
See me?
Know when you’re simply trying to be seen. This is usually when you’re trying to broaden your audience and increase awareness (vs. when you’re trying to connect). Transactions (SMO) can get you more site visits. And that’s a good thing when you’re beginning your journey with potential supporters. You figure out the content that will work best with the demographic of each social network; you select the best timing for your posts, and you understand the particular usage modewith which your audience connects to each platform (e.g., to listen; read, or act) and craft your content accordingly.
Engage with me!
Know when you’re trying to connect. Transformation (engagement) strategies can get the right people to your site, and keep them there.  They view more pages, make more comments and begin to incorporate their ideas into your product and/or brand. They become vested. This makes you necessary and relevant, and assures your continued existence.
Who are you?You’re someone with a great story to tell about a vision to change the world for the better. You can bring visitors to your website, blog and social media channels by using an optimized social media strategy (including great content) that reaches out and grabs folks attention.  This is the start of your journey.
Why are you here?   You’re here to change something… to right a wrong… to build a movement. You can do this with transformational strategies that engage folks and create loyalty.  This is your true goal.  Because loyal constituents become loyal supporters.
How do you use social media as a tool to take potential donors on a journey from awareness… to interest… to involvement… to investment? Do you have different strategies that apply to different signposts along the way?

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  1. Even the Pope has recently joined Twitter! That the head of one of the most traditional institutions can embrace social media just shows you the relevance it has today. I'm sure the Church had many hesitations in joining social media, but clearly the benefits have outweighed the risks.

  2. Indeed.

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