Last week Michelle and I presented at the Food Bank of the Rockies’ second annual Programs Conference, where we were fortunate enough to talk about social media with representatives from the Food Bank’s partner agencies. The partner agencies include churches, nonprofit organizations, and local groups committed to feeding those who need assistance.
Each agency’s experience with social media varied; some people had never used Twitter or Facebook, and others had very active profiles. We created our presentation with this in mind, and so many of our points speak to organizations somewhere in the middle.
Discussing what it takes to be successful on social media is difficult to do in only one hour. But we decided to tackle the challenge by presenting a collection of Dos and Don’ts, which address some of the most basic rules to building a strong community through social media.
For beginners who don’t even have a Facebook page for their organization yet, download our PDF here.
Without further ado, here’s our presentation:
DON’T: Do it Just Because
DO: Have Goals and Measurable Outcomes
Someone probably told you once that you should be on Facebook and Twitter, and that gaining followers is the most important goal.
But why? Why do you want followers? What do you expect them to do?
We need to identify what’s a worthwhile goal, and figure out how we want to measure it. If you don’t have goals for social media, aside from “get some followers,” then look at your organization’s overall goals and figure out how they could align with social media.
What are overall outreach goals? Are you looking to recruit volunteers? Are you looking for donations? Are you trying to reach out to more people who could use your services? For most of you it’s probably some combination of all three of those. Set some realistic goals to begin with.
Social media may be better suited to reaching one goal and not another, but once you have these goals in place you can measure how successful social media is in helping you meet them, and you can tweak your goals accordingly.
In the first month, shoot for getting one new volunteer from social media, which helps with your organization’s overall goal of recruiting more new volunteers. Once the month is over, assess how you did. Did you get one volunteer? Did you get more? Adjust your goals for the next month accordingly.
DON’T: View Social as an Isolated Medium
DO: Make Sure Your Strategies Are Unified
As mentioned above, you need to make sure that you have alignment between your social strategies and your overall goals. Getting more followers and fans can be great, but if they’re not taking any action, if they’re not signing up to volunteer, if they’re not donating, or if they’re not seeking out your services, then your time could be better spent elsewhere.
We see this all the time. People hire us to execute a digital marketing strategy with no awareness that it should align well with their offline marketing strategies. But they need to be fully integrated and it needs to go both ways.
Your social media presence is just another tool to help you reach your overall goals. Conversely, you should also be thinking about driving people back to social media while you’re executing your other strategies. If you’re hosting an event, if you make a flier or a pamphlet that you’re handing out to families you serve, or if you’re contacting your volunteers or donors, then include the URLs for your social media profiles on those materials. Also, your website should include links to your social media profiles in an obvious location.
Let’s say your organization desperately needs to recruit volunteers for off-holiday seasons. How would you do this without social media? Think about your other outreach strategies, then figure out how to integrate it with social media.
For example, reach out to your existing volunteers: tell them you’re recruiting more volunteers, and ask them to help you out by sharing your posts on social media, with a personal note on why they volunteer. Do they do it because they meet new people? Because it feels good to help? Because families face hunger in months other than November and December, and it’s important to them to be there when others aren’t?
DON’T: Just Broadcast
DO: Engage, Educate, and Give Back
Promoting your future events and posting photos of your past events is great. You definitely want to make sure people know what’s going on. But to keep the community interested, try to discover what it is that your community likes aside from you. Maybe they care about social justice. Maybe they want to help children and families. There’s something else, aside from you, that your community wants to feel a part of.
Don’t hesitate to share other information, photos, and ideas that come from other people and organizations. Promote other nonprofits. Also, if you promote events and campaigns that other nonprofits are having, then they’re more likely to promote you in the future. You can even formalize this relationship. Connect with the people who are running social media for other organizations and find a way to collaborate so that your message reaches more people.
Another great way to engage your followers is to ask questions. If you don’t give people a reason to respond, they often won’t. Ask people if they have experience with something, if they have an opinion about something. Everyone loves to talk about themselves :). And in many ways that’s what social media is for. We want to listen to other people, but we also want talk; we want to be heard.
On Twitter, hashtags are your friend. A hashtag uses the pound sign, immediately followed by a word. People use hashtags to search for posts they’re interested in on Twitter and Facebook. You don’t want to use too many, but using a few helps people identify you as someone they’d be interested in following. There are lists online that help you identify hashtags, such as this one and this one.
Ask a multiple choice question, accompanied by a photo, such as “Do you know how many children in the U.S. are malnourished?” Then offer three choices for your followers. This works on Facebook, but on Twitter you won’t have enough characters to include multiple choice, so just use the question instead.
Follow several organizations that don’t do exactly the same work you do, but are located in your area, and promote their posts on your profile. Likewise, follow organizations around the world who are similar to you and may give you great material to repost.
DON’T: Bum Your Followers Out
DO: Lift Them Up
Social media can be a black hole for negativity. But many of us stop following the people and organizations that make us feel bad about the world and who don’t give us an immediate way to try and make a positive impact However, we do love to be inspired with great photos and inspirational quotes.
Provide hope. You can give honest statistics about a situation, but give your followers a nugget of hope. Tell success stories, whether it’s your own or other’s. Many people go on social media to feel good. Give them the chance to be happy and they’ll continue to pay attention to what you have to say.
You can use Facebook’s Insights tool to show you when people “unlike” you, and you can see what you’ve posted on those days. Also, while photos of cats doing cute stuff often do well on social media, unless you can make it relevant to what you do, then it’s not adding value to your page, even if many people like it. What is your organization’s version of cute cats doing stuff?
Post a photo of a smiling child, accompanied by an inspirational quote about how much joy children bring to the world. Include an opportunity for people to volunteer or donate.
DON’T: Leave Your Followers Hanging
DO: Offer Immediate Opportunities for Action
Ask yourself what action you want your followers to take after they read something you post. Do you want them to sign up to volunteer? Do you want donations? Whatever your goal is, give your followers an immediate opportunity to take action.
In the post where you discuss the issue, link back to the page on your website about volunteering. Link directly to your donation page. Give them the opportunity to sign up for your newsletter. While you have someone’s attention direct them to the place where they can take action at that exact moment, even if it’s a small action, like sharing your post with their friends.
And don’t make people leave the internet. Saying “call us today” might work for some people, but most people would rather stay online at that moment.
Sometimes you will post something on social media and you won’t need your followers to perform an action. But if you’re asking them to do something, give them the opportunity right then. Don’t expect them to remember later. You can also use a sense of urgency to encourage people to respond immediately. “Sign up today!” “Donate now!”
On Facebook, let’s say you need to recruit volunteers for an upcoming event. Include a link to your website’s contact form so that people can immediately fill it out to register to volunteer.
DON’T: Post and Walk Away
DO: Ask Your Real World Community to Engage and Promote
A lot of people will post something on social media and no one will see it, especially with Facebook. So even if you have 10,000 followers, your post could get seen by as few as 25 people. This is an unfortunate part of how Facebook works. The more that people like your post, the more people see your post. So you have to start somewhere.
Happily Twitter shows your posts to everyone, but your posts have a lifespan of about 15 minutes. After that, people don’t typically see them. Hashtags may extend the life of a tweet, but not by much.
With that in mind, ask everyone at your organization “like” or “fav” and respond to your posts on Facebook and Twitter. You can also ask your other friends and family who are on Facebook if they could help with your social media outreach efforts by going directly to your page and liking what you’ve written.
You may also consider finding a volunteer in your community who is social media savvy and is willing to help you out by liking, retweeting, and reposting what you create. This will spread your message.
As mentioned earlier, you can also try to work out a reciprocal relationship with other nonprofits and organizations so they occasionally share what you post and you share what they post.
We also encourage you to take photos at all your events and post them to your Facebook profile. Ask the people who attended the events to tag themselves in your photos, or if you or someone at your organization is personally friends with them on Facebook, you’ll be able to tag them too. This is a great way to get your posts seen by more people.
Bring your camera with you when you go into work or to volunteer at your organization. Take some photos of other staff members or volunteers, and post these to Facebook to show people what the day-to-day operations of your organization are like. Then, tag yourself and your co-workers in the post so that your networks see the posts.
DON’T: Feed the Trolls
DO: Respond to Constructive Feedback
A big fear that some people have when launching into social media is that they’ll have to deal with inappropriate or disparaging comments. Unfortunately this happens to almost everyone on social media at one time or another, and the important thing is how you respond.
If someone has a legitimate complaint about something they’ve experienced with your organization, then respond directly to their post with information about who they can contact to talk more about the issue. Don’t get defensive, but give them the opportunity to contact you off social media. Your followers need to see that you’re proactive and responsive.
Many people use social media as their only customer service outlet, and while it can be uncomfortable for you as an organization to have the complaints shared publicly, it actually gives you the opportunity to show your community that you take them seriously.
If their issue is more broad or political, and not about an experience they had with you, then there’s no need to respond. If it’s on Facebook you can delete their comment and block them. If it’s on Twitter it’s best to ignore them.
Here’s are a couple examples: I manage social media for a moving company, and they had a complaint on Facebook recently from someone who called an affiliate organization of theirs and had a terrible experience. We responded right away asking for more information, and we asked the woman to call the manager directly so that we could find out what happened and try to make it better. We provided excellent customer service by responding quickly and positively to the complaint.
On the other hand, I also manage the social media for an adoption agency. Someone who was anti-adoption used Twitter to tell them that adoption agencies are unethical. Well, there’s not much we could do in that situation. So we ignored the person and moved on.
It might not feel good to hear that sort of feedback, but when you’re in a social service or nonprofit, there will be people who disagree with what you do. Responding to those people just escalates the situation. They will never understand your perspective and there’s no need to convince them that you’re right. It’s a useless effort that will only suck your time and energy.
Someone complains that they showed up to volunteer and no one was there to help them figure out what they should do. You respond immediately, seeking more information. You apologize for their experience and encourage them to call or email someone who can help them.
DON’T: Get in a Rut
DO: Remember that Social Media Changes
You might post something that works great this week, but next week you get no responses from a similar post. It could be the time of day that you posted, or any other number of factors, but it could also be that Facebook is doing something different.
Facebook is constantly tweaking who sees what information, and as a Facebook page your posts may not be visible to as many people as you’d like them to be. Keep trying. Keep encouraging your friends, family, and co-workers to “like” and comment on the stuff you post, and that should allow more people to see what you post.
Twitter doesn’t change quite as often as Facebook, but it will add features you can take advantage of. For example, in the past year or so Twitter has allowed people to attach photos to their tweets. Social media experts have done research that indicates tweets do better when there’s an image attached.
Do what works, but also be on the lookout for new ideas, for new ways of reaching more people.
One week you post a photo that does great. It gets seen by several hundred people, and a dozen people share it with their followers. However, the next week you post a photo and you see that Facebook has only shared it with 12 people. Try posting a link to your blog post, and ask all your friends to “like” it by sharing it on your personal page as well.
Social media can be a great tool in your toolbox, but don’t forget that it should be just one of many. Engage your community with ideas they find interesting, endorse other organizations who do good work, and don’t forget to always provide your followers with an immediate opportunity for engagement and participation.