A Guide to Social Media for Nonprofits
With limited budgets and small teams, nonprofit organizations already fight an uphill battle to raise awareness, engage with their supporters, and generate donations.
According to data by HubSpot, the main priorities of nonprofits on social media are fundraising, brand awareness, recruiting volunteers, or sharing news:
Social media presents an enormous opportunity for nonprofit organizations to connect with their supporters, but it isn’t always easy. Using social media gives you the opportunity to promote your nonprofit and find people to help with your mission.
And, since you don’t always have much to offer in return for someone’s donation or offer to volunteer, the content you’re sharing on social media means your audience can get involved with your cause more easily.
For nonprofits, doing social media well means having a strategy. With so many organizations stretched thin, it’s important to have a plan for social media so you’re not wasting resources and time on things that don’t work. Without a strategy, you’ll be posting on social media platforms for the sake of posting. Without understanding your goals, who your target audience is, and what they want, it’ll be hard to achieve results on social media.
When it comes to overall strategy the most important question is WHY?
Why is your nonprofit on social media? In general, there are 7 reasons that nonprofits are on social media.
- Increase your nonprofit brand awareness
- Drive traffic to your website
- Find new volunteers
- Grow revenue (either through donations or signups for direct services)
- Boost brand engagement
- Build a community around your nonprofit
- Increase mentions in the press
It’s important to not only have an overall social media strategy but also to make sure that you have a strategy for each platform you plan on using. Different platforms should have different goals.
For example, Instagram is great at boosting awareness and engagement. It’s not really a platform designed to help you grow revenue. On the other hand, Facebook is great at building community and helping you to grow revenue through donation appeals.
Once you know why you’re on social media, it’s easier to figure out what specific platforms will help you reach your goals.
Your social media goals should not be separate from the strategic goals of the organization. Social media helps to strengthen and amplify the message the rest of your marketing is telling about your nonprofit. Social media is all about engagement. By talking to people one on one, you can really create a sense of community around your mission via social that is hard to beat.
However, any actions on social media should be integrated into your overall marketing plan. You want to make sure that your goals help to further your mission and support your annual strategic plan. This is important to secure buy-in from the entire organization, not just one or two departments.
In order to make the most impact on social media, you need to clear goals and objectives to act as your guide. To set your goals, we recommend using the SMART goal framework.
Examples of SMART social media goals are:
- Increase followers on our Facebook page by 10%
- Increase website traffic from LinkedIn by 15%
- Boost engagement on Instagram by 20%
Download our free SMART Goals Template to help you set your social media goals.
Understanding your Audience
Defining your audience for each of your social goals will help ensure that your content is being directed to the correct audience, and used most effectively. With millions of people on social media every day, finding your target audience is more important than ever. Identifying your audience will also help you determine the right social channel for your cause, your posting schedule, the type of content you publish, and your “voice”–all critical elements to your social media marketing strategy.
It’s very important to develop your audience personas for each of your social media channels. These personas are representations of ideal donors, clients, or volunteers. By taking into account factors such as demographics, desires, and pain points, personas paint a picture of the individuals you’re trying to reach. By understanding who you’re talking to and the platforms they tend to be on, you can tailor your content to reach people where they are and when they are receptive to your outreach.
Create a content strategy
Well crafted content is key. Great content + knowing when to post = increased engagement.
When you’re creating content for your nonprofit, it’s important to understand why people follow brands in the first place.
Your social data can tell you when your audience is most likely to be on social media and what types of content are likely to resonate. As for which types of content consumers want to engage with, 68% say they prefer to interact with images while 50% like to engage with video content.
So how can you create content that people want to share and engage with?
Build a list of categories that you can use to facilitate the creation of content.
- Content Pillars should be broad enough to include a variety of post types, but specific for the social media goals and objectives you have. Ex. Behind the Scenes with Staff, Industry related news, etc.
Curate a list of ideas related to your organization and goals.
- Ask your social influencers, employees, and network for any additional ideas.
Use an editorial calendar in Excel, or schedulers such as Sprout Social to plan your content out on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. It can contain images, text, and will allow your team to easily review and edit.
How to repurpose content across platforms -
People often think that you need to create brand new content for every platform. This makes creating an online presence feel overwhelming when it doesn't have to be. You can share content from other sources. You can also reuse your own content by posting older captions and links to previously written blog posts again.
One of our favorite ways to repurpose content is to simply modify one piece of original content for each platform. Start by writing one really great piece of content that creates awareness about the work that you do, why it’s important, and how you help people. Then, share this content in multiple places.
For example, this monthly content can be a blog post on your website. You can share an intro to this post and a link to the content in your newsletter. You can take the same post and create an article on LinkedIn. Finally, you can write several small social media captions from your blog post that link back to the original post on your website.
These are examples of ways that you can repurpose your content online to get better results from your marketing efforts without doing more work.
Track and measure your results
Tracking your progress regularly ensures you’re progressing towards the goals you set earlier. Not only that but demonstrating your results provides hard proof of the benefit of investing time and resources into social media. Tracking also allows you to refine your content strategy to hone in on the best performing content across your social media channels.
Your social media goals are what determine what metrics you track. For every goal, you need a related metric, which will help determine if your social strategy is succeeding or not. Social media metrics are important because they allow you to measure how successful your strategy is performing and ultimately if you have had an impact on your overall nonprofit marketing strategy. Not only do these metrics allow you to showcase the impact of your work to your Executive Director and Board of Directors, but providing consistent social media metric reports can lead to major shifts for the development and marketing team, including budget increases and increased access to resources. And last but certainly not least, metrics keep you aware of your overall social profile and brand health.
Make sure you’re measuring the right social media metrics. Every social media platform has its own native analytics for you to review. On Facebook, you’ll find them in the Insights tab. On Twitter, you navigate to Twitter Analytics. On Instagram and Pinterest, you’ll need business accounts before you’ll be able to see your data. It’s essential to consistently monitor and document your metrics and track your progress toward your goals.
There are a lot of metrics available for you to review. If you try to track all of them, it can be overwhelming. It’s important to make sure the metrics you’re tracking tie back to your goals. Remember, we set smart goals at the beginning of our journey. Here are some of the metrics that you should be tracking based on those goals.
Engagement: Likes, comments, shares, and clicks
Engagement essentially boils down to how much your audience is interacting with your page or account and how often. Remember looking at one engagement metric might not give you all the context you need to make decisions about your strategy. Looking at a combination of metrics is the best way to learn more about how you can meet your specific goals.
For example, a post that receives a lot of likes but no comments or shares isn’t always bad. Your intention could have been to present a beautiful image and a caption with no call to action. But, if you did have a call to action that encouraged comments and shares, then the lack of them could mean a poorly performing caption or that you posted the content on the wrong platform.
Awareness: Impressions & reach
Impressions and reach are each an important metric to track if your goals for social media are focused around brand awareness.
There is an important distinction between Impressions and Reach.
- Impressions are how many times a post shows up in someone’s timeline
- Reach means the potential unique viewers a post could have based on your follower count plus accounts that shared the post’s follower counts.
Return On Investment: Referrals & conversions
This is probably the most misunderstood metric for nonprofits. Many ED’s and CFO’s want to see a correlation between the amount spent on marketing and revenue contributing to the budget. However, as we saw above in our strategy outline, growing revenue is only one aspect of social media. It can help, but there’s not a direct correlation between the two.
Instead, when we talk about referrals and conversions, we're talking about getting people from social media platforms to your website, so you can engage with them and create deeper connections with them.
Referrals are how a user lands on your website. In web analytics, they are broken down into sources. “Social” is usually the source/medium you’ll be monitoring, and it’s broken down by network. Tracking this metric is key because your website is the place where you can go into detail about a subject. You can’t do that on social media, because people just don't read. But if you can get them onto your website, you have a better chance of getting them invested in your mission.
Conversions are when someone takes an action on your site. That means that they joined your newsletter, or filled out an application, or asked for information on becoming a volunteer, or purchased a ticket to your fundraiser.
You need a social media style guide to keep your communications clear and consistent. Guidelines also help you onboard new team members and prevent mishaps and mistakes on social media.
Your guidelines should be shared with everyone on your social media team and may include elements of your overall brand style guide, like your tone and details about your audiences.
But it should also be specific to how you use social accounts, with details like:
- Branded hashtags and how to use them
- How and where you use emojis
- How to format links
Every kind of conversation—good, bad, weird— happens on social media, so you want to be ready for anything. Criticism is inevitable, especially as your account grows, so you should plan for how to respond to trolls and manage a PR crisis. Remember, it’s much better to have those resources and not need them than the other way around.
Determine your social platforms
Based on your goals and audience, you’ll be able to determine the best platforms to post your content. Additionally, insights on platform stats will help determine your frequency and times to post. Here is a breakdown of the most popular channels to help decide what’s right for your organization:
- Facebook: Mainly geared towards news and entertainment. The current emphasis is on video content, especially live streaming. Note also that Facebook currently sends more website referral traffic than any other social media channel.
- Twitter: A news and conversation tool. Retweeting and curation are encouraged. Live streaming video is very popular.
- LinkedIn: Professional network. Used heavily for sharing industry articles and general professional content.
- Instagram: A highly visual network for static images and short videos. Not optimal for driving blog or website traffic, because you can’t insert links.
Understanding the Platforms
First and foremost, remember that your organization doesn’t have to be on every social media platform. When it comes to digital marketing, consistency is key. It’s better to be active on fewer channels than to be dormant on all of them. That being said, it would be smart to have a complete profile on the Big Four — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The links to those profiles often show up on the first page of Google search results when people search for your brand.
Facebook is the front porch of the internet. As the largest social media site around, more than two billion (with a B!) people are using it every month. That’s almost a third of the world’s population! There are more than 65 million businesses using Facebook Pages and more than six million advertisers actively promoting their business on Facebook.
We always recommend Facebook to our clients because It’s easy to get started. Another great thing about the platform is that pretty much all content formats work great on Facebook — text, images, videos, live videos, and stories.
If you can only focus on one platform, Facebook is the one you want to prioritize
Understanding the Facebook Algorithm
Facebook’s proprietary algorithm decides when and where a nonprofit’s organic page posts and ads appear. The algorithm is continually changing and evolving, meaning organizations have to regularly pay attention to these changes so they can figure out the best way to connect to their supporters.
Generally, Facebook will always prioritize posts with a lot of likes, comments, or shares, particularly if the engagement comes in a period short time. Also, Facebook will prioritize content to a user if the content has been liked by the user's friends and is content the user either interacts with frequently or seems to prefer.
This same idea applies to pages as well as posts. What Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t like is pretty clear, as well: spam, clickbait, repetitive posts, text-only updates, unusual engagement patterns, and content that’s too promotional.
In 2017, Facebook made significant changes to its news feed algorithm. Widely known as the “Facebook Zero” update, it deprioritized public, professional posts in users feeds and prioritized posts from people they’re connected to. This means more content from friends and family, posts from friends and family seeking advice or recommendations, and content shared by friends and family appearing in individual news feeds.
Instead of promotional content, organizations now need to share content that focuses on the community. Posts that educate while entertaining, live video, and anything that generates hype (and therefore comments, shares, and engagement) are all acceptable.
Elements for success
- Consistent Branding
- Tell your Story
- Complete About section
- Set up Page CTA’s
Instagram is a visual social media platform. It allows organizations to define their brands look and feel. Instagram is not the place for commentary or a whole lot of writing. What Instagram is for is a behind-the-scenes look at your organization (employee and community spotlights or how-we-work clips). Instagram is also a great way to share tips and tricks visually. Use your captions wisely, and remember that a colorful, beautiful account is a followed account and gives a face to the organization.
LinkedIn is all about business. If you want to drive policy discussions or need to get in front of high-level decision-makers, Linked in is the place to be. Using LinkedIn will help you to make connections, improve brand awareness, foster relationships and partnerships, share content, and drive traffic to your website. LinkedIn is an integral part of numerous successful organization’s marketing strategies today because of how effective it can be in expanding professional networks.
The most important thing about LinkedIn is being helpful. Publishing thought leadership content on your Company Page is one of the most powerful ways to grow your LinkedIn audience. Because people invest time on LinkedIn, a proven approach is to help your audience make better policy decisions, answer questions, and help address questions they may have about your community.
Elements for success
- Professional imagery
- Well developed personal and company summary
- Being helpful
If Facebook is the front porch, then Twitter is the water cooler. Twitter is nonstop action and is all about real-time information. With 500 million tweets sent every day, you need to be strategic and savvy to win (and hold) your audience’s attention. Twitter is the place where your brand can chime in on whatever conversation your audience is already having, or start a brand new conversation and build an audience.
Twitter is a great marketing tool for nonprofits for several reasons. It’s:
… free to use.
… allows you to share and promote content in seconds.
… expands your reach.
… allows you to provide quick customer service and support.
… works as a search engine tool for you to search for your community and other organizations in your space and their marketing content to see which tactics they’re using.
… can be used as a search engine tool for supporters to find and learn about your company.
… allows you to converse with your followers, share the latest updates about your organization, and address your audience.
Elements for success
- Consistent Branding
- Username should match other social channels
- Get Verified
Medium is a social publishing platform that is home to a diverse array of stories, ideas, and perspectives. Medium provides organizations an opportunity to reach people who are looking for great content to read online. The platform is geared toward sharing longer-form, more well-thought-out content.
Medium is a place where flexibility and artistic control create consistently high-quality content. Medium is the perfect medium for your nonprofit organization to craft stories that organically demonstrate the importance of your cause.
Writing on Medium can act as a supplement to the normal content you push out through your blog and website. While a blog is there to inform its readers, it is also a tool that funnels site visitors towards converting into a particular act (like donating or volunteering).
Medium, too, can funnel visitors towards an action but because it is a tool for unadulterated storytelling its value lies in an ability to create an innate sense of responsibility to a cause, rather than as a platform to make direct appeals.
One great way to utilize Medium for thought leadership is to create your own Publication. Publications are collections of theme-based stories that are created using hashtags. So not only can you share your own writing on Medium, but you can also use publications to provide a resource for your followers.
Elements for success
- Write consistently
- Use titles and subtitles wisely
- Recommend posts related to your industry
Tumblr is both a blogging platform and a social network. If you’re a brand that is looking to be a bit left of center, Tumblr is a great option for you. The great thing about Tumblr is that you can utilize several different types of posts within the same blog. It’s a bit like mixing Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest as one. You can do a traditional text post, a gorgeous image, and a quick video all in one cohesive brand.
Here are 4 reasons for nonprofits to join Tumblr
- Simplicity: It's easy to get started and easy to update your blog. Users simply add text and images without needing to code; making Tumblr a good choice for people who don't already have a website or are new to blogging.
- Mobile Optimization: Tumblr has a great mobile app allowing users to quickly post content from mobile devices. There's no need to log into a PC or laptop and access your dashboard to edit your blog! If your staff members are frequently in the field or do a lot of offsite events, this is a very handy feature.
- Sharing: With a push of a button you can easily reblog the content of other Tumblrs you're following, and your followers can reblog you. Going viral has never been easier, so get out your infographics & memes! Tumblr also allows easy "tagging", making your content searchable across blogs.
- Customization: You can choose one of thousands of interesting existing templates for your Tumblr, or use your own code and images to create a unique design to match your organization's visual identity.
Elements for success
- Have a clear brand strategy
- Pick a niche
- Reblog quality content