The Internet is at a tipping point. It’s estimated that by late 2014 or early 2015 the majority of adults will get their information from social networks rather than search engines and that social networks will become the primary source of referral traffic to your website and blog. Any doubts that social networks aren’t powerful or don’t need to be prioritized in your online communications and fundraising campaigns can now be put to rest. The sooner your nonprofit can master content distribution on social networks, the more likely (and faster) your fundraising and content strategies will result in success. Nonprofits have been experimenting with mobile and social networks for years. Sadly many of them do not fully understand how social networks are different from traditional online communications and fundraising, and consequently nonprofits are making many mistakes that are hampering their success.
The effective use of social networks is a skill not to be underestimated. Each mobile and social network has its own unique tool set and etiquette, and only the most observant new media managers have learned what makes each social network unique and then adapted that knowledge to their content strategy. There are universal best practices that can be applied to all social networks. To avoid being repetitive by listing these best practices in each of the chapters dedicated to social networks, those universal best practices are:
1. Prioritize storytelling over marketing.
The five content approaches of success, urgency, statistics, quotes, and humor should be interwoven throughout your social network strategy. Increasingly, donors and supporters follow causes on social networks. If you make storytelling a higher priority than marketing, then over time your nonprofit’s brand becomes synonymous with the cause(s) you advocate.. In practice, for every five status updates, posts, or tweets, four should be related to storytelling (through blogs, website articles, video, photos, stats, and quotes), while only one should be a direct ask such as a marketing or fundraising pitch. The only exception is in crisis situations where urgent calls to action require mobilizing your social networking communities to donate, volunteer, or participate in advocacy campaigns.
2. Visuals inspire higher interaction and engagement rates.
Photos uploaded to Facebook get five times the interaction and engagement rates than posted links. Visually compelling photos uploaded to Twitter double retweet rates. Links shared on Google+ are mostly ignored while photos garner high +1 rates and shares. And Pinterest and Instagram, two of the most popular new social networks, are entirely image- and video-based. This reflects a seismic shift away from text to visual content. If you want your nonprofit to be highly shared, retweeted, +1’d, repinned, and liked, then you absolutely must have photo-editing skills and a digital image library to work with.
3. Engage authentically.
Your nonprofit is not a person. It is a brand representative of a cause(s), and most causes require a tone that is smart, well-informed, and communicated with conviction. Much of the popular social media advice in recent years is given by people whose expertise is based on building their own personal brand, not the brand of a nonprofit or business. They often advocate that brands prioritize chatting and thanking their followers and that brands respond to every single mention or comment. It’s a strategy that works well for building a personal brand, but not for a nonprofit brand. Some informal engagement is required by nonprofits of course, but only in moderation. In most cases, the best practices of building a personal brand on social networks should not be applied to building a brand for your nonprofit. Building a strong personal brand requires “being human” on social networks, but building the brand of your nonprofit should focus more on becoming an expert resource and a compelling storyteller.
4. Do not automate content between social networks.
Just because you can automate content, doesn’t mean you should. Facebook allows status updates to be automated to Twitter, but twitterers find it annoying. Instagram allows your photos to be posted to Twitter, but photos uploaded directly to Twitter get much higher retweet rates. HootSuite enables you to post the same message to multiple social networks with one click, but your donor and supporters have no interest in following robots. Be very wary of miracle marketing automation tools. Mobile and social media require authenticity and a time investment to be effective.
5. Be a content curator.
From Facebook to Instagram, very few nonprofits create enough quality content to have an effective content strategy when utilizing multiple social networks. Regularly getting in the habit of searching, sourcing, and posting, thus curating, interesting content to your social networks is a must-have skill for your new media manager.
6. Tap into breaking news and current affairs.
Regardless of whether your nonprofit is local, national, or international, nonprofits need to be ready to respond to breaking news and current affairs. Some of your highest interaction and engagement rates will occur when you create and distribute content that is timely and relevant to news stories that are going viral.
7. Know that all social networks are now mobile.
When distributing content on social networks, you need to assume that the majority of your content is being viewed on a smartphone or tablet. Studying how your nonprofit’s content is displayed on social networks on mobile devices will further illuminate how visuals often work best on both PCs and mobile devices, and thus highly impact your content strategy.
8. Understand that content frequency is dependent upon capacity.
Many nonprofits want to know exactly how they often they should post on each social network. There are data to give you reference points (discussed in the following chapters), but to post effectively requires thought and creativity, not just hitting a quota for the day. The ability to be both effective and active on social networks is directly related to how many staff hours your nonprofit allocates to mobile and social media (see Chapter 16). Conversely, nonprofits that have the capacity to be consistently active on social networks need to also understand that there are negative consequences to posting too often.
9. Know that professional graphic design is essential for effective branding.
Internet users have become highly advanced and now expect quality graphic design in all your online communications and fundraising campaigns. On social networks, they will make a snap judgment about your credibility based upon your branding. If your avatar, banners, and backgrounds are professionally designed, then users are much more likely to become followers. Whether they remain followers becomes dependent on how well your nonprofit understands and uses social networks.
Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits
Based on more than 20 years of experience and 25,000+ hours spent utilizing mobile and social media, Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits is a comprehensive 256-page book packed with more than 500 best practices. Written on the premise that all communications and fundraising are now mobile and social, Mobile for Good is a step-by-step how-to guide for writing, implementing, and maintaining a mobile and social fundraising strategy for your nonprofit.