Social media started as a way for people to keep in touch with their community of friends and family- to stay informed and up-to-date on the latest news in relationship status, career trajectory, and dinner plating of the people we love. As more people spent more time on social media, the platforms monetized their popularity by inviting brands to the table. Now, you can follow your mom, your best friend, your crush, and the New York Times, Kim Kardashian, Coca Cola, and Charity Water.
Brands want to be on social media because they want to get in front of consumers. Nonprofits use social media in the same way. They want donors and volunteers, and they want people to take notice and cheer them on. The problem is, most of us don’t go on Instagram planning to make a donation or sign a petition. We go on Instagram to see what our friends are up to, drool over beautiful images by favorite design agencies, or stalk thought-leaders whose work we admire. All of these accounts have something of value to offer us. Whether they are giving us priceless info on friends, inspiration for the next room in our house, or making us think in a new way, they all provide fuel for day-to-day life.
How do we, as nonprofits, do the same? Let’s start with how not to do it.
Bad Habit #1 – Obligatory Social Media
Nonprofits seem to think that they have to be on social media (those that have the budget for a dedicated staff think that they have to be on social media constantly). Being on social media is pretty simple. All you need is an email address. So most nonprofits sign up for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat and proceed to post anything and everything. They take a picture of a bunch of middle-aged industry professionals at a board meeting and post it with a two sentence caption “thanking all the folks who worked so hard today.” They post a picture of their programs in action with copy detailing how great it was for the “kids to get out and play.”
This isn’t interesting.
Obligatory social media is posting something because you feel like you have to post something- as opposed to posting something because it provides insight and value to your community. Nonprofits are the absolute worst when it comes to engaging in this practice. Unfortunately, this is a practice that hurts your organization far more than it helps. People don’t want to follow organizations who post indecipherable photos and captions regardless of how great their work is. People aren’t interested in pictures of faces they can’t identify accompanied by trite words. Followers will either quickly skip over posts, remove your feed from theirs, or completely unsubscribe.
Don’t post just to post. Obligatory social media is a waste of resources at best and a huge turn-off at worse. If you only have enough assets for one great post a week- post once a week. Don’t clog up your community’s feed with mediocrity just because you feel like to have to. You don’t.
Bad Habit #2 – Asking or Celebrating
Many nonprofits have found a use for their social media beyond the obligatory. They have seen it be helpful with fundraising, promoting advocacy work, and thanking their community. This is all great, but when it becomes the only type of content published, it’s exhausting and irritating to even your most faithful followers. This is the trap of asking or celebrating.
When you limit your social media feed to posts that ask for money or celebrate achievements, it stops being interesting. People have the capacity to care about your organization and the work you do, but not at 100% 100% of the time. The risk here is different than losing followers, it’s losing support. Think of the boy who cried wolf. People become numb to what you’re saying and will cease to hear your pleas when the needs are truly urgent or you’ve pulled off something truly spectacular.
It’s called social media strategy for a reason.
What you post matters. You have complete control over the narrative your feeds create. You decide how you’ll be perceived by your community and whether or not they’ll be inclined to engage with your organization on an on-going basis. To do this, you have to create a strategy that is intentional, relational, and valuable.
Best Practice #1 – Intentionally create your narrative
Most social media accounts are entirely reactive. Whether reacting to a good meal, an alarming headline, or a major life event, people tend to post about what is happening to them. Nonprofits fall into the same trap, consistently posting tableau scenes from community events with no coherent story behind them. This doesn’t have to be the case!
Take control of your narrative.
The first two Elements of Influence are understanding your why and crafting your narrative. Use the results from those efforts here. Plan out your social media posts in a way that builds a story your community can understand and follow. Don’t be afraid to plan out 3-6 months’ worth of content. It takes time to build a compelling story. Every post should have intention behind both the visual asset and language that flows from your why and your narrative.
Part of being intentional is being clear. When choosing which images to use, make sure your followers will understand them. Use programs like Canva to insert words or design if you need to add a pop of interest. Always opt for well-edited, visually stimulating photos or videos on your main feeds. Channels like Instagram stories, Facebook live, or Snapchat are better for in the moment (less polished) pictures and short videos. Mention people by name and tag them if you can. Make sure your community knows the subject in the image and their relevance to your organization. Use a voice in your copy that aligns with your brand, it should never feel cold or impersonal. And last piece of advice on the subject- sometimes you need a longer caption to fully tell your story in an appropriate voice. It is completely fine, and usually better to use 6-10 sentences or a long quote to fully expand upon your intention rather than cryptically keeping it simple with a short phrase.
Best Practice #2 – Think relationally
At its core, social media is community building for the information age. Look at your posts as a way to stay in touch with your existing supporters and meet new ones. Use tagging features to catch the attention of individuals and organizations who would be interested in what you’re talking about. Repost relevant pictures from other feeds in your community or industry to show that you support your supporters.
Always, always, always write back. If you can tell it’s a real person (not some fake account or advertiser) and you haven’t had to block them from your page, when someone comments on something you’ve posted, it’s so important that you respond to them as quickly as possible. Respond to them in the voice you’ve created for your brand. The more positive feedback people get from engaging with your organization, the more likely they will be to do it again. Views are nice, but engagement is awesome.
Sometimes it can feel like social media is one-sided- like you’re just releasing a bunch of information out into the void. A message in a bottle. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Ask meaningful questions, post content that is provocative, or offer a bit of insight that could offer guidance to your community. We hear it all the time that the more connected we are by technology, the more separated we become. Let your social media be a solution to that problem.
Best Practice #3 – Be of Value
This last best practice requires a shift in mindset. As nonprofits, we work so hard to bring in the resources needed to do the important work we were setup to do. Our marketing department tends to work closely with the fundraising department to make sure that we’re asking people for the right things at the right times.
We rarely think of our marketing as a service we provide.
And that’s the big problem. With all the time being spent on social media accounts, people are clearly there because they value the information being shown to them. 90% of the time, we should look at our social feeds as a conduit of value from our organization to our community. We don’t need to preach, teach, ask, or tell. Instead we should be giving, inspiring, showing, and supporting.
Think of your favorite people to follow on social media. Why do you follow them? Is it because they make you do things for them, or is it because they have the best book suggestions, recipes, outfit ideas, viewpoints, and insight? Right.
This is the Influencer Paradigm.
Shift your social media practices from the transactional paradigm of the traditional nonprofit world and into the Influencer Paradigm. You’ll be able to establish yourself as a thought leader, grow your community, and multiply your impact more effectively than if you spent thousands of dollars on Facebook advertisements asking for donations.
Nonprofits don’t need another campaign. We need to look at our social media strategy over the long term and embrace it for the community building, impact making gift that it is. We need to craft intentional narratives and embrace our supporters. Look at it this way: if people care about Kim Kardashian, certainly we can get them to care about education, health care, poverty, the environment, and humanity.
We see you. We hear you. We love you.
With Gratitude, GDW