There’s lots of advice out there about using social media strategically. Much of it is very, very good (especially on this website). And I certainly don’t advocate you use social media any other way.
There’s no point in wasting your time throwing spaghetti against a wall. Even if you see other people doing it. That’s not a strategy. It’s a ‘splattergy.’
As St. Augustine said, “One prays for miracles, but works for results.”
Want to use social media to get intended results?
Forget the Spaghetti Approach
While it’s tempting when you’re time-constrained to just throw stuff out there and hope it sticks.
First, you need to know your intent.
What results do you seek?
I’m sure your mind instantly races to these two common “results”:
- Create awareness
- Raise money
This is a trap.
Because it will lead you to useless metrics like “We added 500 Twitter followers” and “We got 100 Facebook likes.” So what? What did this get you? Did it help you fulfill your mission?
Ask Why Before You Leap
What these so-called “results” are missing are the “WHY” questions.
- Why do you want to create awareness?
- Why do you want to raise money?
- Why should anyone else care?
I suggest you begin at the beginning. With your vision, mission, and values. And how these three things may resonate with your customers’ (i.e., donors, volunteers, users of services) personal values.
Always think from the perspective of what’s in this for your customers.
It really doesn’t matter how great you think your mission is if no one else gives a fig.
Ask these three questions to get quickly on track:
- Why are you in business? How can you help your customers in ways that no one else can? Define what will you do for your customer that’s different from my other choices or close substitutes
- Who are you doing this for? Define your core audience so you can find them on digital media, offline media and in real life. Create social media personas to target your audience.
- What do you want to be known for? Limit yourself to three key topics. You can change these up over time, as your priorities evolve. The critical thing is this: Don’t be everything to everyone. You can’t stand out that way. Figure out your unique niche.
After you’ve answered these questions, decide how you’ll measure success.
Will it be numbers of followers? Or, better, numbers of followers who share your content with their networks? Will it be numbers of website visitors? Or, better, numbers who give you their email addresses? What will get you the actions you need to move your mission forward?
Begin by determining where your nonprofit’s business goals may align with your constituents’ goals.
5 STRATEGIES TO STAND OUT – IN A GOOD WAY
1. Define what you want to be known for
Before leaping into the social media fray blindly, narrow your focus. This will help you with search engine optimization.
Try to come up with 3 categories or words you want to be known for.
This can be tricky if your nonprofit has dozens of different programs, but try to step outside the box and think about what you do from the perspective of a child. What would you tell a six-year-old that you do?
I used to work for a comprehensive social services agency with over 40 different programs. When my son was six, I didn’t tell him we had a refugee resettlement program, early intervention program, in-home supportive services program, AIDS awareness program, and so forth. There’s no way he would have understood and/or remembered. He just knew that Mom worked at a place that helped children, families and elderly get and stay healthy and happy. He knew when people needed us, we were there for them. If I’d had to pick three categories, it would have been: (1) emergency assistance; (2) children’s services, and (3) senior services.
Think in terms of what you think folks would search for if they were looking for answers to their problems.
Remember consistency is key. The three words you select should be associated with your brand and your mission.
To select your “brand” words:
- Check hashtags used by your competitors and thought leaders in your field of work. Think carefully, however. Others may approach your market niche differently. See who follows your competitors and whether they look like folks you’d like to see following you as well.
- Check Google searches and see which of pairs of words come up more frequently (e.g., Human Trafficking gets 28 million hits as of this writing; Sexual Slavery gets 4.8 million). You can also use Google Trends to compare searches and get visual representations (here the blue is trafficking; red is slavery).
2. Define your people
Who are your tribe?
Who do you want to attract and why? What characteristics distinguish them? Create a marketing persona for each one of your target constituencies (e.g., volunteers, donors, clients and/or Millenials, GenX, Boomers, etc.). You’ll likely have more than one target market segment, and each will have different psychographic and demographic profiles. Your goal is to suss out what they need and want, and what platforms they use to find what they seek.
Who are your influencers?
Social media is fundamentally, well, social. Did you know that, on average, folks have about 150 social media connections (per Dunbar’s Number)? Those who are connectors and mavens (per Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point) are the ones most likely to share your messages and drive greater engagement with your cause. So, who are they? For example, when I worked at the San Francisco Food Bank they were “mommy bloggers” and food bloggers. They had lots of followers, and they were committed to good nutrition for children and all people.
To really break through on social media you need a group of advocates willing to spread your message.
Think about what you can do to tap into folks who have networks. Some suggestions include peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, building a cohort of social media advocates, and simply including a call to action in your blog posts (e.g. “please retweet”) or emails (e.g., “If you enjoyed this story, please forward to a friend.”). Also, see Six Ways Nonprofits Can Use Social Media to Strengthen Donor Relationships.
3. Create a content editorial calendar
You absolutely must have something to share that is relevant to the folks with whom you’re sharing. Again, you can’t use a “spaghetti” approach or a “fly-by-night” one. You must be thoughtful and strategic.
The best way to organize your content creation and distribution strategy is through the use of an editorial calendar.
There are numerous templates you can find online (here’s a post on how to create a social media content calendar with free templates).
Here are some steps to get you started:
- Begin by calendaring what will be going on in your organization. Include all planned annual fundraising and marketing campaigns so you can piggyback on these. Consider also whether there will be anniversaries coming up of which you may want to take advantage. And don’t forget “giving days.”
- Next calendar any major holidays that matter for you or your constituents. Promote related content around these themes (e.g., Thanksgiving is when folks are feeling grateful for blessings and may want to share them with others).
- Incorporate events so you can leverage them to build awareness. For example, you can create hashtags on Twitter to get folks more involved.
- Tie your messaging into what’s on people’s minds right now. This is another way to use Google Trends so you can create content that relates to relevant news stories. And don’t think your work never relates to what’s going on in the world. You don’t have to deal in social services or emergency assistance to be relevant. There’s always something! For example, if people are feeling especially anxious, your theater group, park or museum may be just the antidote to get their thoughts on something more uplifting.
- Develop a content creation and distribution schedule. For example, you may decide to create content on one different topic each week. Your objective is to maintain a healthy balance of content: A mix of your own content and others‘, and a mix of content formats and types (e.g., “How To” posts; Lists, Recommendations, Stories, Photos, Videos, Infographics, etc.) You can maximize the reach of every piece of content by developing related social media shares and pre-populating your feeds.
4. Schedule time to be present on social media
If you’re going to be there, you’ve got to, well, be there!
Remember: Social media is social.
Just establishing a Pinterest presence won’t get you very far. The same is true for every single social media platform you select.
There’s nothing that says amateur hour more than a Twitter feed that hasn’t seen a new post in over two weeks. Or a blog that hasn’t seen a new article since two months ago. Or a series of comments to your blog post that go unanswered. This makes you look sloppy and inefficient. And, as a matter of fact, anti-social.
Social media is an awesome relationship-building tool. And all fundraising, ultimately, is about engaging and building relationships. But… good relationships – the ones that are sustained over time — are based on give and take. On quid pro quo. If you want to get gifts, you’ve got to give them.
So… just as you schedule time to send and respond to email, do the same for social media. Make sure someone is assigned responsibility to monitor your platforms and to respond to folks who comment, share and ask questions.
Stay visible and relevant by offering up relevant content and customer-centered responses.
5. Build your email list and measure results
Go back to why you use social media at all.
Generally, it’s to drive folks to your website so they can learn more about you and become more involved and invested. The best way to get them involved is to be able to message them directly. You own your email list. You don’t own your social media platforms.
Focus on strategies that will leverage your social media activity to get people to sign up for your email list.
A sampling of list-building strategies include:
- Links to blog posts
- Links to donation landing pages
- Links to videos you’ve uploaded to YouTube (now second only to Google as the largest search engine) or Vimeo
- Quizzes that require folks to enter an email to continue
When folks get to your website, make sure you offer them something of value to get them to opt-in to your list. This might be a free e-book, “how to” list, whitepaper or group phone conference with an expert in your field.
So… this above all to break through on social media:
Be useful. Be relevant. Be interesting. Be responsive. Don’t be all about you. Don’t be boring. Don’t be absent. Don’t be inconsistent. Don’t just nonchalantly splatter stuff out there!
Social media can be a terrific tool for nonprofits who know exactly why they’re using it, and then structure their efforts strategically to achieve their goals.
This takes time and attention in today’s marketplace because it’s becoming noisier. You’re competing not just with other nonprofits, but with every business and YouTuber and… the list goes on and on.
That’s why you have to define your brand with precision. Find your target markets. Find your best platforms. And build an infrastructure that supports your efforts.
Importantly, look for opportunities to stand out. Find areas where you are smarter, stronger, snarkier, more credible, or somehow better than your competition. Seek to become known for something clear and specific.
The more you can narrow your focus, the easier this will be to accomplish given limited resources. When you know where you’re going, it’s easier to pick the tools you’ll need to get there.
You can do it!