What’s the best way to pick the right nonprofit social media to invest in, given limited resources?
I’ll tell you the WRONG way: Guessing.
I’ll tell you an even worse strategy: Being absent entirely.
It’s 2018, and people get there information more and more from online sources. The best way to build your brand and authority is online, and nonprofit social media is a huge part of being competitive today. It’s no longer okay for nonprofits to ignore social media. It may have made sense at one time; today ignoring social media is just plain dumb.
But… where to begin? Or if you’ve already begun, how do you assess whether you’re in the right place(s)?
I often suggest to small and medium-sized nonprofits to begin slow with their nonprofit social media strategy, perhaps selecting one platform where they can leverage their website, email and e-newsletter content in order to reach an audience outside of their own email list.
So far, so good. Makes total sense.
But, as they say, the devil is in the details.
Should it be the most popular sites? Facebook? Twitter? Or should it be the ones your young board members are suggesting, like Instagram and Snapchat? Or should it be the most cutting-edge platforms that show how hip and ‘with it’ you are?
How do you choose? And can you really start with just one? Or even just two?
There’s a lot of pressure to have a presence in every platform. The problem is that new social media tools pop up constantly, and it’s virtually impossible to keep up if this isn’t your passion or area of expertise.
So… let’s begin with two mantras for the coming year:
- Only use the platform(s) a majority of your constituents routinely use. There’s no point being active on social media where your donors, or prospective donors, don’t really hang out.
- Only use as many platforms as you can confidently handle. There’s no point setting up accounts you don’t have time to contribute to and actively manage. Having a half-baked presence is worse than no presence at all.
Too often, nonprofits simply guess which social media their supporters use. They pick the platforms they personally use at home. Or the ones their board members suggest. Or they simply google “popular nonprofit social media platforms” and go with those (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn).
If you take wild guesses at your audience’s favorite social media platforms, you may guess incorrectly. And then you’ll not only waste your time, you’ll miss opportunities.
Here are five ways you can avoid costly mistakes and maximize the use of precious resources.
5 Steps to Learn Which Social Media Your Nonprofit Donors Use
Here are some of the best ways I know to discover where your nonprofit peeps (or prospective peeps) hang out:
- Conduct interviews with current and ideal customers
- Survey your audience(s)
- Research your competitors
Step 1: Conduct Interviews with Current and Ideal Customers
The absolutely best way to find out which social media sites your customers prefer is simply to ask them. Begin by deciding which audiences you want to learn more about. First target people you think of as your ideal customers — active members of your community you trust to give honest feedback. For example, you might decide to interview five people from among your:
- Board and/or committee members
- Major donors
- Mid-level donors
- Small donors
- Top customers/clients (e.g., patients, students, parents, ticket buyers, etc.)
Create a plan to interview these folks. Write up a list of brief questions.
Call or email each person and ask if you can chat with them on the phone for 20 minutes and ask them some questions.
During your interviews, ask them about their favorite social platforms, where they typically get their information, where and when they share content online, and where they connect with their networks.
Take notes, record the data, and then look for patterns. You may find that difference audience segments behave differently, or you could find that almost everyone uses the same one or two platforms religiously and a few others occasionally.
Step 2: Survey Your Audience(s)
Your highest quality information will most likely come from interviews, but you’ll want to verify this data by collecting a greater quantity of data.
To do this, create a brief survey based on the questions you developed for your interviews. Add or subtract questions based on feedback received during your interviews. It’s easy to get this done with a free survey platform like Survey Monkey or Google Docs.
The easiest question to ask is multiple choice/rank order: “Which of the following social media sites do you use most? Please rank in your order of preference (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.)”
You can also include other questions to gain a greater understanding of their social media behaviors. For example, you might ask them: (1) how often they like and/or share posts; (2) what times of day/days of week they check their social media accounts, and (3) what type of content they prefer to receive from you (e.g., news updates; stories; white papers; ‘how-to’ articles; videos; images, data, etc.).
Step 3: Research Your Competitors Use of Platforms
Brainstorm a list of other nonprofits who compete in your space, and whose donors might be likely to support your cause too – if they only knew more about you. Start with five to 10 organizations to keep things manageable.
Now, go to their websites and find out which social media platforms they’re active on. Spend enough time on these sites to ascertain the activity level of their followers. Are they liking and retweeting and repining the organization’s content. If the communication is a one-way street, this isn’t really evidence that their peeps hang out here. Create a spreadsheet to track what you learn, and see what patterns develop.
If you have trouble coming up with a competitor list, here’s a list of the top nonprofits on social media. Some of them may have causes similar to yours.
Step 4: Research Your Competitors Engagement with Their Peeps
This one’s the most fun. You’re going to research the social sharing habits of people who visit your competitors’ social media sites. The question you’re trying to answer here is: “When a typical visitor to [WEBSITE NAME] shares content from this site, which social networking platforms do they use to share it?”
Go to BuzzSumo. On the home page you’ll see a blank search field. Enter the domain name of the first site on your brainstormed competitors list, and click “Search!” You’ll get the top five posts for that website from the past year. I did this for a past client of mine, One Justice, and got these results. It’s clear that their getting their greatest engagement on Facebook.
BuzzSumo only displays social data from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. But since those are the ‘biggies’ for most nonprofits, you’ll learn a lot. To do this for every nonprofit on your list you may have to sign up for a free trial, because they limit you to three free searches otherwise. You can also find some interesting data using SimilarWeb.
Step 5: Match Your Target Platform to Align with Your Realities
Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, it’s time to think carefully. Sometimes what looks good on paper won’t work in real life.
Perhaps you’ve learned most of your competitors use Instagram and Pinterest a lot, but you don’t have any good visuals. If so, those platforms may not be the best places for you to begin.
Perhaps you’ve noticed one of your competitors gets a ton of engagement on Snapchat. But they have a much younger supporter demographic than do you.
Make a list of what you know about your different target audience segments.
Then see how these characteristics mesh with the typical features of the nonprofit social media sites you’re considering. Most sites publish demographic information about their users, so you can see a breakdown of ages, genders, country, etc. Does their data align with yours?
Also consider whether the platform complements your content marketing goals. If you have a lot of donors who are professionals, and you want to portray yourself as a thought leader, then LinkedIn makes a lot of sense. If you have a lot of donors who love cuddly animals, you may want to use a visual platform like Instagram or Pinterest. If a lot of your work is done remotely, and it’s easy for you to create ‘from the field’ videos, then YouTube may be a good bet for you.
Know Why You’re Using Nonprofit Social Media
Successful nonprofits know their constituents stay with them because of the relationships they build with them over time. When it comes to digital marketing, there’s nothing more ‘social’ than social media. It’s a fabulous relationship-building tool
So think about your marketing communications program moving forward as more relationship, less advertising. Or more inbound, less outbound. Spend your social media marketing time and money wisely
Determine the best social networking site(s) to connect with your peeps, and then dive in. Go big, always making sure you’re sharing content your audiences actually care about. Show them you know them (that’s why you did the research); give them what they want. Ask for their feedback to verify that you did, indeed, resonate with them.
After working this way for six to nine months, review your data to see if you’re getting desired results. Are people joining your networks? Are they sharing your content? Are they converting into donors?
If a platform isn’t working for you, try to figure out why by going back to your users and asking them more questions. Things change quickly in the digital space, so what was true two years ago may no longer be true today.
Whatever you do, don’t invest a lot of time and money into nonprofit social media platforms where your peeps are not hanging out. That’s like going to the café in town that all your friends hate, and thinking you’ll pick up some gossip or get a date. Not gonna happen.
Any other nonprofit social media advice you would add?