Social Media for Nonprofits

Social Media for Nonprofits

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This past weekend (March 18, 2012), I spoke at the Alabama Water Rally on the topic of social media for nonprofits. My focus was on helping groups concerned with environmental conservation and protection who had some basic presence in social media but weren’t really sure how to use social media most effectively to build support for their cause.

The setting was peaceful Camp Beckwith on Weeks Bay, near Fairhope, Alabama.

Here’s my slide presentation. I follow the principle that “less is more” when using slides, so you’ll find a bit more of my presentation in narrative form after the slides.

Just before the conference, I also shared this list of social media resources for nonprofits.

Know Your Media Forest

Before diving into specifics about using certain popular networks, I wanted to make sure everyone had an understanding of how social is different from the “old way” of promotion and marketing.

The “See Rock City” campaign epitomizes the 20th century approach to advertising. Anyone with a message to promote would use every available means to put that message in front of as many eyeballs as possible. As new forms of mass media appeared on the scene, promoters moved to those platforms. Print, billboards and road signs, blimps, skywriting, radio, television—advertisers used them all.

And it was all one-way communication, one-to-many. Advertisers put a message out, with the goal of geting as many eyeballs (or ears) as possible. It was all about “mass media.”

Social media is different, but many advertisers and communicators treat the social web (or whatever you want to call it) as if it were a one-to-many platform. In other words, they use new communication networks and tools to broadcast the same message.

Social media doesn’t work that. If you use social media to simply broadcast your message you won’t be successful. You’ll be on the outside looking in.

Key Principles for Using Social Media

These key principles apply to any communication effort you may have, including traditional media. I didn’t write out a text to go along with these talking points, but here’s the gist of what I said during my presentation.

Know Your Audience. You can’t communicate well if the message isn’t right for the audience.

Choose Your Social Networks. Social media networks come in all shapes and sizes and serve many purposes. They multiple like bunnies and feral kittens, too. (I love cats, by the way, so I’m not dissing cats with this statement).

Tell Your Story. Create compelling content that explains who you are, what you’re about, what makes you stand out from other organizations. Why does your cause matter. Talking points and action letters are fine, but you need to present these in a way that makes your audience care enough to read them. Stories help you do that.

Build Relationships. I always grapple with where to put this in a discussion about social media. Because it’s probably the most important point. If you use social to broadcast your story, you get very little for the effort. But if you use social to build relationships with your community you will, sooner or later, reap the benefits that come from a tight-knit community. Social is all about building and maintaining relationships.

Nuture Those Relationships. Like a garden, relationships must be nurtured. That means you must engage with your fans, friends and followers. You must have a conversation with them, listen, relate, share, interact.

Monitor Your Efforts. You must listen and pay attention to how your fans, friends, followers are using your content, how they are interacting with you and each other.

Track Your Efforts. You also want to establish metrics to track and analyze your efforts. [We ran out of time to talk about those in detail, because of the many questions I was getting throughout the talk, but the tools and resources post includes guidance on how to track and measure your efforts. I’ll do a separate post on that later.]

Build Strong Networks. If you use social to grow relationships, engage and nurture those relationships, you’ll have a strong community and a strong network to support your cause.

Get Your Feet Wet. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be. You just need to start experimenting, get your feet wet. The best way to learn to use social media is to use social media. As with most things, you learn by doing. There’s no “one right way” for any person or organization. It’s all experimental.

But this is probably not the best way to proceed:

Vive la Différence

Remember that every social network is different and attracts users for different reasons. Facebook is not the same as Twitter. Pinterest is very different from Google+. All are different from each other. Figure out how and why your audience is on a particular platform and connect with those members of your community in a way that’s consistent. You can’t put out the same message on Facebook and Twitter. It won’t be effective.

Social Marketing 101

A couple of terms you might want to become familiar with: “Content Marketing” and “Inbound Marketing.” These are new buzzwords that describe how brands and organizations are using social media to strategically connect with their audience and markets.

You want to use social networks to build communities and share content on those social networks that will bring visitors to your website (which should include a blog). It’s important to have a presence on the internet that is independent of all the social networks. That’s where you’ll publish the content that tells your story. You want to include photos and videos along with the text narratives.

Every post and update doesn’t have to be 500-1000 words. The video doesn’t have be professionally-edited with special effects. Hold your camera still, make sure you have decent audio, post it to YouTube (where there’s a free, basic editor if you need to trim some at the beginning or end). Keep your video clips short. 30 seconds to 3 minutes is plenty. Few people will watch anything longer than 3-4 minutes.

While Facebook may be huge and important today, it should not be the only or ultimate place to connect and communicate with your community. We spent at least 5-10 minutes talking about content management systems including WordPress, and why it’s so important to keep your website updated. I gave a brief overview of SEO (including how Google+ is relevant to search rankings). I’m not going to type out all of the questions and comments here (this post is getting long), but I will share my thoughts on that in another post.

Develop A Plan

You want to have a plan. What are your objectives? What do you hope to accomplish through social media? Maybe it’s building an email subscription list that you’ll use to share action alerts or sending out an annual membership request or fundraising campaign.

Your plan should include an editorial calendar for sharing content across the social networks you’ve chosen to focus on. You can schedule the content to auto-publish, using TweetDeck or HootSuite, but there are downsides to that. If you automate your Twitter stream, you aren’t going to be there to interact with @replies. You need to check in daily to interact. I can’t emphasize that enough. Automation and Facebook can also be a problem, because Facebook doesn’t look favorably on automated status updates. That can hurt your Page’s EdgeRank score, but all of that is beyond the scope of this basic presentation.

Execute Your Plan. Put it in motion. Get started. Using the data you get from monitoring your efforts, adjust and revise as necessary.

Social Networks: A Few Specifics

I spoke briefly about using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn. We had lots of questions, so I can’t restate everything here.

I do want to mention here the importance of getting your Facebook Page updated for the new Timeline for Brands. March 31 is the drop-dead date when all brand pages will be converted to the Timeline. I also mentioned the importance of keeping Facebook content fresh to increase the possibility it will show up in the newsfeed of your followers. If your Facebook content goes “stale” (meaning no one is liking, commenting or sharing it), it won’t show up in your followers’ newsfeeds. Research by one analytics firm indicates a lifespan of 3-24 hours before content goes stale (depending on several factors, such as whether there is any engagement with that content).

Keys to Successful Social Media Campaigns

Have a compelling story. Use visuals to help tell the story. Include a call to action. Share the content. Grow your community. And repeat. It should be a cycle. If your have content that is sufficiently interesting, your community will probably share it, if you ask them to do so. Tell your fans, friends and followers what you want them to do. That’s your call to action. Don’t forget to include it.

Be Patient. It’s unlikely that you’ll get more than an incremental boost in fans, followers, likes, comments, engagement, donations through your initial social media efforts. Building successful relationships takes time but, in the long term, real relationships will provide a lasting benefit, beyond a simple retweet, like or +1.

And with that, we were 15 minutes over our allotted 90 minutes and the final wrap-up session was about to get underway in our meeting room. I had a great time and appreciate the questions and interactions during the session.

Connect With Me

Here’s my call to action: Let me know what you think about this presentation and post. Leave comments. Or connect with me through one of the networks you’ll find all over this website. You can also reach me here: tmartin *at* samford dot edu (spelled out to minimize spam, but you know what I mean, right?).

I’m always available to speak to other groups and organizations on a variety of topics including social media, legal issues relating to social media, privacy, copyrights and trademark basics, journalism, mass media, etc. I have lots of interests and enjoy sharing ideas with others. I’d love to hear from you.

More on the Alabama Water Rally

I attended the entire Water Rally conference and throughout this week I’ll be sharing information about each session I attended. Look for posts on the Alabama Irrigation Initiative, Protecting Endangered Species and the Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley, and more.


About Sheree

Change Catalyst, Idea Explorer, Dot-Connector, Square Peg