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How Nonprofits Can Prioritize Their Social Media Efforts in 2018

It’s been over a decade since social media first came about, and nonprofits both large and small respect the power of these platforms, as they have become a bare minimum in the scope of a larger marketing strategy. But for nonprofit professionals who deal with time, labor, and budgeting restraints, several questions come to mind regarding your approach to social media:

  • Which social networks are you active on?
  • Which social networks should you be on?
  • How often should you post?
  • What are the emerging trends you need to be aware of?
  • What are the emerging platforms you need to be learning now?

If you are struggling to find the answers to these and other questions, you should take some comfort in knowing that many nonprofits have similar challenges when trying to prioritize their social media efforts. There’s a lot of content to digest on this subject, and because of the sheer volume of resources to choose from, it’s incredibly difficult to determine good from bad advice.

Too many nonprofits may be guilty of casting too wide of a wide net and fail to only focus on the platforms relevant to their organization’s mission. The “fear of missing out” (aka FOMO) can cause a nonprofit to feel a sense of anxiety that if they don’t touch every platform that they’ll miss out on some big opportunity.

The fact is that using social media is complicated and time-intensive; it requires serious thought and strategy to get it right.

The Current State Of Social Media

2017 was another year of continued growth for the bigger platforms, and social media’s presence in our daily lives dominated the news for several months into 2018. Here’s where we are now with several of the biggest networks:

Facebook Remains King, Instagram Reclaims Ground Over Snapchat

Although Facebook doesn’t only appeal to younger users as it once did, it is still the king of social, boasting a user base of almost 72% of adult internet users. Facebook is the overall leading platform for marketers with 96% saying their business is actively using it.

Facebook pushed out some new feature launches, but video continued to grow as the social platform is currently testing an ad revenue sharing system similar to YouTube and its community of content creators. So despite being the oldest social network, Facebook continues to be on top and seemingly adapting with the times.

One of the big surprises from 2017 was the fact that hottest new social platform the year prior, Snapchat, faltered somewhat to Instagram. Through a combination of UI (user interface) changes that didn’t sit well with core users, and Instagram essentially copying the exact functionality of “stories” posts, Instagram reclaimed its seat as the preferred imagery-focused social media network.

As for Twitter and LinkedIn, not much has changed over the last year. With a dedicated user base between the two, the goal right now is to continue growing their users.

To understand where each platform stands in relative popularity with one another, here’s a ranking from a recent Pew Research study conducted in January 2018:

This Chart Provides A Look At How Donors and Constituents Use Social Media

Mastering Social By Understanding Your Goals

Understanding your goals may seem overly obvious, but it’s surprising how often this step is neglected. If your approach to using social media to benefit and promote your nonprofit does not identify which goals you are trying to accomplish, the odds of achieving these goals will, in turn, be very low without the appropriate focus.

Start by thinking about what overall goals you have for your nonprofit so you can tailor your strategy in a way that social media can help you achieve those goals. Make sure that your goals are realistic and specific so as to not set yourself up for failure. They must also ultimately align with overall fundraising, marketing, and productivity goals.

Understanding Your Nonprofit’s Brand

Just like any organization, nonprofits should always have an enhanced and deep understanding of their brand. You want to help your followers on social quickly grasp and communicate the values of your brand to others. According to Salesforce, 72% of modern buyers use social media as their primary research source for a company, product or organization. This is a critical piece of information when considering how to leverage a particular platform.

Understanding your brand

But your idea of your nonprofit’s brand and having an accurate perception of what it is can sometimes be at odds with one another. For example, your team may be creating the most engaging story content on Instagram in your niche, but that doesn’t mean your ideal donor or volunteer is spending their time on there.

This also means understanding what you and your internal team can achieve from a capacity standpoint. Video may not be your strong suit, but creating in-depth, informational blog posts could be your bread and butter.

Once you have this honest understanding of your brand, this will ultimately shape the content you will create and share, the type of people you want to reach, and what platforms you’ll target.

How To Create Donor Personas

There are a ton of great resources out there on creating customer personas — or in the case of nonprofits, donor personas — but the basics are as follows:

  • Personas create the ideal donor, and shape how you want to reach that donor
  • Your nonprofit may not have only one type of persona that finds value from your offerings; you probably have multiple personas that can be created

The idea behind using social media marketing is the same reason why television used to be the end-all-be-all advertising platform. Marketing is all about reaching your ideal customer in the places where they are spending their time and giving their attention. So in television’s heyday, consumers were devoting their attention to this brand new, visually engaging medium.

So for personas, try to create multiple, fictional characters that represent subcategories of donors who are either passionate about furthering your mission or want to become involved with your nonprofit. You can then use these personas to create your social content strategy and fit that strategy to each platform.

How Social Platforms Differ From One Another

As you’ve probably figured out by now, every platform is unique in its own way, and it can be hard to understand the differences between them unless you spend a considerable amount of time in each of them. You could read lengthy books or scour the web for tons of online resources that offer conflicting, or worse, outdated information.

But for now, here’s a great cheat sheet to help break down all of the current social platforms.

Facebook

Regarding social media, Facebook is almost like the center of the universe. Whatever your audience, they are more than likely using Facebook. So if you have any plans to engage with and recruit younger and middle-aged supporters, you need to have a presence on Facebook.

As far as nonprofits are concerned, Facebook will probably have the highest priority. One big reason for that — besides Facebook’s prominence — is that the social platform removed the fee they once charged for users to make donations through the platform. Taking that into consideration, here are a few jaw dropping pieces of data which demonstrate how effective Facebook can be for NGOs:

NGO Social Media Study on Facebook

Source: 2018 GLOBAL NGO Technology Report

If you can, figure out how your nonprofit can regularly post video content since Facebook is continuing to grow its video platform. And if you have a YouTube channel and are posting there regularly, consider taking those video files and posting natively to Facebook as opposed to sharing YouTube links.

Instagram & Snapchat

Despite what you may think, Instagram and Snapchat have more in common than initially believed. They’re both image-driven platforms, so a lot of what you’re posting will look very similar. The only difference is that Snapchat is slightly closed off with a personal connection, whereas Instagram activity is more public.

Unfortunately, if you’re in an industry where it’s hard to come by captivating imagery or video, both platforms may not be for you. But in most cases, nonprofits who focus on telling the stories behind their organizations or the people they help, have content that typically does well in resonating with Instagram users. One advantage of using Snapchat is that its 1-to-1 communication is much easier and widely accepted because of the private nature of the platform.

Twitter

The darling of social media marketers may have lost some of its pizzazz compared to a few years ago, but this is still a powerful tool for promoting your content. It’s generally OK to fill up your queue with your own and curated 3rd party content, but don’t rely on this solely.

The underrated beauty of Twitter is the direct line to other users, so here’s a challenge for this year: be social and engage with more folks. You’d be surprised, but using Twitter like this could be a great way to playfully engage influencers and others interested in your cause.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has established itself as the platform for businesses and professionals looking to connect with one another. Nonprofits can certainly leverage this platform for their own benefit, it just depends on how they want to engage their followers. If you’re wanting to try LinkedIn, your best bet is sticking to recruiting nonprofit professionals while also being another method of communicating the values of your nonprofit’s brand.

Free vs. Paid Posting

If you’ve spent any time using Facebook for social media marketing, you’ll probably notice that your posts are only being seen by a small percentage of your audience. The same goes for literally every other social platform because social media has become a noisy environment for sharing content. It’s free to post organically, and everyone has been doing so for some time. As more platforms begin to incorporate a Newsfeed style algorithm, nonprofits will only have greater difficulty reaching their audience.

The fact is that every platform earns revenue from ad dollars, and so each social platform has developed complex and effective advertising solutions. Facebook is again the king with the most advanced advertising solutions and the ability to advertise on Instagram. From there, each platform has unique benefits for using them, but organic social media is becoming increasingly difficult.

Unless you’re creating content that your audience engages with, Facebook and Instagram will favor posts from friends and other prominent pages with their feed algorithms, which makes sense since a “pay-to-play” system favors the social platforms if it helps them increase ad revenues.

Internal Content Creation Capacity

The final step in mastering social media is understanding your team’s capacity to create and post content to your social platforms of choice.

Audit Your Internal Team's Ability to Create Content For Social Media

 

Writing Blog Posts

Blogging has been around since the dawn of the internet and it is still a reliable way to attract readers to your site via search, email, and social media. If your nonprofit’s blog isn’t being updated on a regular basis, think about what it will take to get back on schedule and how your team can help maintain consistency.

But as many content marketers will tell you, publishing a blog post is never the last step in the content creation process. Social media is where you need to promote your content, and multiple times. For blog pieces that took considerable time to write and create, you may want to consider using social advertising to promote these pieces.

Video & Photography

Despite what you may think, taking high-quality photos and videos are becoming much easier as smartphone technology continues to improve. At a minimum, most platforms do well with engaging photography, and video is shaping up to become the future of content on social media.

Nonprofit Donor Loyalty Study

Source: Abila Donor Loyalty Study

Try to incorporate more imagery in your content approach with the resources available to you today. For larger scale video projects you may also want to invest in hiring a videographer to create your video content.

Live Streaming

The jury’s still out on whether or not Facebook Live is an effective marketing tool for everyone, but keep this in the back of your mind. As of April 2018, Facebook reported that there were over 3.5 billion Facebook Live broadcasts since the feature first launched, also claiming that at least 2 billion users have watched at least one livestream. Now is the time to learn and experiment, but don’t dive in face first. A good first step may be to showcase your nonprofit team at a live event or fundraiser, or, if your hosting an annual run or race, launch a broadcast from the finish line to showcase the winner.

Closing Thoughts: Which Social Platforms Are Worth It for You?

The hardest question to answer is where you should be spending your time. Instead of a shotgun approach, try figuring out which channels lend themselves to the most engagement for your donor personas.

Here’s how you should be prioritizing your social media efforts:

  • Time & Resources to Create Content
  • Time to Engage
  • Channels with Highest Engagement

If you can get more results from focusing on one or two platforms rather than lightly touching multiple platforms, spend your time and energy on getting those platforms right.

It all comes down to understanding what your nonprofit’s brand is all about, the quality of content you can produce, and understanding your ideal donor — mostly how they use social media. Once you have all those pieces, social media should make a lot more sense and create greater impact for your organization in 2018.

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