efore jumping in with any organization, date it. Get to know it, observe it closely, understand its mission, vision, and personality that it already has online. How does it interact with people on social media? Does it interact at all? Does it just push out information? Or does it make room for its supporters to contribute and engage as well? The closer you get to it, the better equipped you are to come up with a personalized plan.
Digital marketers often approach a brand from the outside-looking-in, analyzing and massaging data and impact. As a part of your nonprofit organization, this might be an even more important step for you. You are already married to the idea behind your organization; you have become one with the cause. Though you may already be adamant about helping at-risk youth or bringing educational resources to the elderly, that is only the beginning of your nonprofit journey.
Now that you’ve been wed to your cause, think of your digital depth as your baby. How did you deliver it? How are you cultivating your nonprofit online to help it reach others, bring in more funds for allocation, partner with other like-minded organizations? What things are you instilling in your social media plans to “raise” it right?
Are you quietly considering the fact that you have no social media plan? Or worse, no social media platforms at all?
No worries; setting up accounts is the easy part--it usually only takes a few minutes. Imagine preparing a room for a newborn. It’s your job to figure out what your baby needs, that is, figure out where the crib will go, what kind of feeding schedule your child will need, and who to call when you just don’t know what to do. This is exactly how you approach a social media plan.
Pro Tip #1: You do not need to have every social media platform. Do some research on your industry. Take a peek at your current audience. Where do they hang out while on the internet? If your audience is predominantly part of Generation X, maybe, just maybe having an organization Snapchat isn’t a top priority. Choose one or two that work for your industry and the demographics of your audience. Twitter and Facebook are general favorites to work with, but if you’re an image-heavy organization, then your posts will surely do better on Pinterest or Instagram.
You’ve got a baby growing. Now you need to name it! Make sure that your profiles are aligned; use the same handles and brand associated hashtags.
Pro Tip #2: Your biography section on social networks are your digital elevator pitch. The org’s bio should answer who you are and who or what you serve, before anyone even starts scrolling through your news feed. As much as possible, your platforms should be interconnected. Link your profiles and your website. Let people know how to reach you.
Ready to plan?
The top of a new year is the perfect time to start. A lot of components and working parts go into the perfect social media plan, but this short guide of do’s and don’t’s should help get you started. As a beginner, it’s great to start with three focuses: your organization’s voice, audience, and surroundings. These will be your “baby’s” basics: the primary focuses as you’re developing your online presence.
Your Organization’s Voice
Your organization needs to have a collective voice. Part of your plan should incorporate developing a unifying voice and procedures for social posting. This way, your brand expands as a cohesive unit no matter who’s handling the social media at one time or another. It will allow an easy change of hands without much chaos. Sit down with your team and discuss the culture of your nonprofit. Are you casual or more political? Do you use “hip” lingo or are you more “by the books?” Review your mission and policies to establish the tone. Knowing your voice will teach others how you want your work to be perceived.
Stick to your brand. It’s okay to have a little fun with your organization’s social media. In fact, a little bit of humor can go a long way for engagement and response to advocacy. What throws off many feeds is inconsistent or contradictory content. If your nonprofit focuses on helping curriculum in public school systems, then maybe we shouldn’t be seeing a timeline inundated with immigration reform or about homelessness. It’s not productive if it’s causing people to forget your goal. Be cognizant too, of the trends you participate in and the memes and gifs you repost on your official accounts.
Undervalue your social media mark. One of the biggest mistakes that nonprofits make is their dedication, or lack thereof, to their social media. They view having a consistent Twitter account or updating their Facebook page, as a matter of accessory instead of necessity. It cannot be something that’s haphazardly given to the intern without establishing some guidelines that will edify the existing brand. In the past few years, social media has become exponentially impactful and a liaison between organizations and millions. Take advantage of the opportunity to reach people effectively with careful consideration, aligned intentions, and a couple clicks.
Your Organization’s Audience
Those who know you, or will soon know your nonprofit, are your gold mines – in both the literal and figurative senses. When building your digital strategy, who you’re reaching is just as important as how. If you’re starting from scratch with a brand new nonprofit, consider what type of people would fit into your target audience. It can be as broad as residents in a certain area or as niched as women who live in single-family homes between the ages of 25 and 35. If you are already tipping into toddlerdom with your social media, maybe you’ve had a target, but based on the analytic data, you’re finding a shift to a new or slightly different target audience. There will be revision time and time again in this area – for the moment, focus on who’s paying attention now. If they’re liking your content, figure out how to maintain that momentum.
Engage, engage, engage. The best brands thrive from their interactions with social media friends and followers. It’s somewhere between excellent customer service and developing a friend of your organization. Your socials should be an open book – a place where your community can find you, get to know you, ask questions, and input their own ideas to help you advocate for your cause. When people ask you questions, respond to them – in a timely manner. When your organization receives praise, thank them. When a person has an issue with your organization, don’t ignore them; address them, ask how to improve. When you show people that your organization cares about them, they’ll in return care about your baby.
You should ask questions that would encourage people to share opinions; host contests and campaigns; start conversations using Twitter Chats and hashtags. This is your opportunity to flex your Call-to-Action.
Vary your content. Your posts should keep your current audience interested while pursuing new ways to gain a larger audience. While there will be some content that your audience can come to expect like a #MondayMotivation or #WednesdayWisdom post, you don’t want to be too predictable. Switch up the copy – your audience shouldn’t be seeing similar captions every week. They shouldn’t know exactly how your organization is going to respond, because they use the same phrases. Change the length of your posts. Make use of media – don’t stick to just words. How boring is a timeline filled with only words?
Life hack: Content with video and photos gets more engagement than just words!
Miss the opportunity to tell a story – and make it a good one. Social media newbies often forgo quality storytelling. A well-told narrative has the power to win hearts, provoke thought, and gain support – from funding to participation. Use your socials to answer the “why’s”: Why does your organization exist? Why is this important? Why should I care? Your content should bring about an emotional response. It shouldn’t just scream “look at us, this is what we do.” It most definitely should not only feature content asking for things of its supporters. You want to make sure you’re giving those who come across your page, something in return.
Your Organization’s Surroundings
After you create and interact, there’s one more step until toddlerhood: know those sharing the space with you.
Be relevant. Part of your daily strategy should include social listening, which is a process of taking in information about your brand and its relevant business practices, and drawing an analysis to make necessary changes within your strategy. Keeping up with the conversations is a must. What are the major news stories? What changes are happening in your industry? What’s trending? Be on the lookout for topics where your nonprofit can contribute valuable information. If your organization can provide a solution or an answer to a big-ticket issue, there’s a chance for a shameless plug.
Know your allies. Your organization’s social media should not be filled with only your content. What organizations – nonprofit and otherwise – are on the same page as yours? Figure out who you can have “playdates” with. Are there advocates who have similar values or speak on issues that align with your cause? Follow them, repost their content, maybe even partner with them on a project or two. This is a win-win. You’ll likely have lookalike audiences and will be able to gain traction on your mission while increasing your reach. Don’t run from organizations with the same goal in mind; join them!
Think it’s ever too late to start fresh. It doesn’t matter if your nonprofit has been running for one hundred years, there’s always room to improve. Adaptability is vital for growth –especially now. Just about every industry is infused with technology, which opens the door to new ways to reach and relate to your audience daily. Find organizations that have similar missions and check out how they’re using social media. What things do you like? What practices do you want to stray from? Use similar organizations as case studies and inspiration.
So, I’ve got my social media plan, now what?
Plan again. Now that you’ve got your annual plan, break it down to more bite-sized, achievable pieces. Start with a quarterly plan, then a monthly. Each week, think: what will be my goals for this platform? How will I conquer them?
Schedule. Even if you have a team specifically for social media, using a scheduling service is still recommend. This makes it easy to consistently push out content even when no one is “on the clock.” Hootsuite is a personal favorite as it allows you to create and schedule content on most of the popular social media platforms, from YouTube to Facebook. It’s especially useful for Twitter – try to schedule 3-5 tweets per day. Life hack: The free version of Hootsuite is available for up to three platforms (Forewarning, this won’t include analytics or all the special bells and whistles.) For platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, Tailwind is commonly used to strategically schedule posts.
Assess. Analytic tools are your friends. Even if you don’t yet have Buffer or Hootsuite, native social media metrics can start to help you decide what works best with your audience. Of course, things that are shared can be noted. But note why. Is it positive or negative feedback? Have the reposts led to increased conversions of donations or helping hands? Pay attention to the direct and indirect response to your posts. Always look for content that works. Equally important: HOW it works.
Learn. Take a moment each day to gain insight and inspiration. Social listening never expires. Spare time every day to read the news, especially pertaining to your industry, your allies, your counter-organizations, etc. Additionally, talk to your team. Draw ideas from the relevant conversations you have in the break room, use in-the-office and on-the-field experiences to produce content from a new angle. Your organization's culture should be just as visible through your social media strategy as the purpose you’re advocating for.
Congratulations! You’ve gotten through the first few stages of starting your social media strategy. There’s more to learn! If you’d like help continuing the growth of your social media strategy, Hootsuite, Social Media Today, LinkedIn Learning, and Buffer are excellent resources.
Bria Charlei-Baylor fell in love with public relations and marketing during her undergraduate studies. Gaining experience from a number of jobs, internships, and writing for a wide range of publications - most of them while maintaining a full course load in college - she cultivated her skill sets and mastered the art of multitasking, then thwarted herself into a dream of helping others by through public relations, writing, and digital marketing. You can learn more about Bria by visiting her website.