Social Media for Nonprofits Conference: What I Learned

ETA (April 30): slide presentation links and video

Thanks to a shout-out from Beth Kanter and Stephanie Rudat, I am taking a break from thesis-writing and grad student work to attend the Social Media for Nonprofits conference in Seattle.  Here’s what I learned from:

Engaging Your Audience

Create media personas for your audiences: Give members of your target audiences names (Nora, Bob) and characteristics (hobbies, shopping habits) to make it easier to write for them. For example, a woman who adopts internationally is more likely to be an evangelist for a nonprofit that provides clean water to kids abroad. This can also help you choose platforms. Should we be on Pinterest? Yeah, Nora is probably on Pinterest and we want to reach her.

Avoid institution-speak: When you are not speaking to specific types of people, you end up using bland, impersonal institution-speak, “like one building talking to another building.” It doesn’t move anyone.  People want to engage with organizations that are “people-like.”

Identify influencers: See who is frequently retweeting or sharing your content. Reach out to them personally via email with content you are trying to promote. You can even call them Ambassadors. They feel special and you get amplification help.

Social proofing for credibility:  Have people outside the organization publicly approve of your cause, for example by a comment on your page that says “I love these people!” Tweets and blog promotions by allies can also achieve this.  This is the first step after you launch your campaign/page: ask your allies to comment and promote, so those who come later are more likely to believe in what you are doing.  Campaigns that are strong in the beginning tend to have success by the end.

Acquiring Resources

No silver bullet for fundraising… still: This is still the main pitch to management for using social media.  Yet fundraising through social media is really hard.  Pitching fundraising to managers are a way to get buy-in for social media work may seem like a good idea in the beginning, but you may be promising more than you can deliver.  Don’t start using social media to try to raise money.  Ask your allies for other kinds of help and support (promotion, volunteering), and build from there.

Successful crowdfunding:  You don’t need to ask for money, you can also ask for time or other in-kind resources.  On your crowdfunding page, write in “snackable” headlines.  (Go into more detail on your organization blog.)  Set your goal as 85% of what you think you can achieve, not what you want to achieve.  A good deadline is 45-60 days. Make tiers tied to explicit benefits ($10 buys a school supply set, $45 buys a school uniform).   Have a high tier that is really silly (for $10,000 the executive director dresses up in a chicken suit).  Photos are better than nothing and videos are better than photos.  45 seconds to a minute is an ideal length for a video.

Crowdfunding stages: Know that donations will slow in the middle of the campaign, and plan specific promotions for the middle.  In the beginning sell the vision.  In the end sell the finish line (we are almost there!).  Follow up by showing donors what they’ve achieved.  Then they become evangelists because they are part of your narrative. Use social proofing to establish credibility.

Use Linkedin: For donors and skilled volunteers.  Few NGOs use it, but they should.

Writing Tips

Email content: Social media increases expectations for small amounts of content.  People have tons of email to read in a day.  Write short messages.  Email newsletters have way too much content.  People are more and more likely to read it on a mobile device.  (This also is a reason to write shorter messages.)

Email subject lines: Write an engaging subject line.  You have two seconds with your subject line to convince a busy person to open your email.  Open rates are only one metric.  Better to ask what they did after they opened (ie, did they follow a link in the email, take an action).  Send any email to yourself before sending it to your list to catch errors.

Be human: Write to educate your media personas.  Write about what your organization is, who the staff members are – “share the people.”  Tell their favorite foods and movies.  Drive the “human-ness.”  Write about what you have access to and they don’t.  Always add a picture to your text.   A photo album (on Facebook) is even better.  (After an event, supporters will look for photos of themselves that the organization posts.)

Curate: You don’t need to create, you can curate.  Share information you receive from others (make sure to give credit.)   Repurpose and reuse content between platforms.  Use the same content “kernel” and write it up for Facebook, Twitter, the organization’s blog….

Schedule recurring topics: Have themes for every day of the week.  On Monday it’s a healthy recipe, Tuesday is a blog post by the director’s dog, Wednesday is a staff explanation of a policy issue.  This allows you to engage with different media personas in a systematic way and to be able to plan content so staff know what to expect.

Be guided by principles: Follow principles like those of the Red Cross, whose writers must create content that is accurate, relevant, considerate, transparent (if you screw up), human, and compassionate.  Know why are you are telling a story.  If you don’t know why, you probably shouldn’t do it.  Identifying why will help you write the story better.

How often to post:  3-5 times a week on social media is the lower limit.  To really grow you need daily activity.  If you use automated tools, use slightly different language on different platforms.  For email, no more than monthly contact.  It’s okay to send less.  Sending more is not okay (people don’t like to feel bombarded).

When to post: Test different times and see what time of the day and week get more opens or comments.  Posting Tuesday to Thursday is best.  Monday is a stressful time.  On Friday people are already thinking of the weekend, and don’t want to engage in new work.  Also auto-post on weekends.

Organizational Strategy

Remember to plan:  Start from the end date (for example, the date of an event) and then plan backwards to the first action (for example, sending the first invite).  Plan what content you will produce at what time for what audience.  Create a spreadsheet where each column is a week and each row is a type of content.   Then the entire staff knows what work they will need to do and you won’t have a burst of activity at the launch and panic at the end.  You can build support or participation throughout the period of the campaign.

Use Google tools to coordinate staff: Using a Google spreadsheet means all staff will be able to see it.  Google calendars can be useful for scheduling content.  For example, you could create a blog post calendar that all staff can see, so everyone will know who is posting what blog post on what day on what topic.

Use case studies and data: Data are important to communication managers, but case studies convince, both externally and to a board or organizational leadership. Also, you will have case studies before you have data, so start where you can. has great free reports.

Employees on social media: Have employees that will be tweeting for you create a brand-specific online identity (example: @HootKemp). This allows employees to help with amplification while also dividing their personal and professional social media profiles. Also provide them training, for example, not accidentally posting to an official profile with a personal message. HooteSuite calls their training program HooteSuite University.

Org leaders on social media: Executive Directors may want to farm out their social media comments, but they can gain more attention (and inspire staff) more if they do it themselves.

General Conference Take-Aways

Adoption is slow: Not much has changed nonprofit social media adoption since before I started grad school a couple of years ago.  When a speaker says that nonprofits need to target specific audiences, not the general public, pens start writing.  Best practices have not changed that much (engagement, fundraising, content creation).

There is still institutional push-back: Communications staff are still often not getting understanding and support from management on the use of social media. Managers are still not trusting their employees to engage in social media on behalf of the organization.

Still fuzzy on measurement:  There’s some appreciation for social media metrics (follows, likes, shares), but not much toward connecting these to offline impacts, beyond fundraising goals.

Incremental gains:  Small insights are accruing (social proofing, media personas) and some organizations are using new tools (Vine, Instagram, mobile phones rather than laptops), though social media use among nonprofits is not so different than it was a few years ago.

Slide quality is soaring: Presentations at the conference (like this this and this) had top-shelf graphic design. Two included professionally-made videos.  One is below.)  Slide presentations are becoming an increasingly important means of professional communication. Complex animation is not important. Professional and high-resolution photography and a small amount of clear text are.  This is probably the greatest change I’ve seen in the past few years.

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