Seven Social Media Tips for Small Nonprofits and Associations

By on Saturday, December 29, 2012

It’s important for nonprofits and associations to be strategic when it comes to social media, especially when they are smaller organizations, because they don’t have a lot of resources and staff are often multi-tasked. During the discussion at my table for PRSA/NCC’s Second Annual Public Relations Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and Associations, we discussed how to think smart and be strategic about social media engagementin the nonprofit setting so we could save time and be effective. Here are a few tips and insights distilled from our round table discussions.

Tip #1: Think smart and be strategic. Think of social media as an amplifier, and not as “one more thing to do.” Be strategic. In the rush to “go social,” many nonprofits are failing to think through their strategy, define their target audience, match online tactics to real world goals, or consider how they might measure success (or learn from mistakes). Take the time to map out real goals that are not just “build a presence on twitter” or “create a Facebook page for our nonprofit.” Craft goals that will serve your organization in the long run and support your overall communications planning and goals.
Tip #2: Use social media to further link networks you already have. If you also have a media relations responsibility, follow reporters you know or want to know (or should know) thru Twitter. Connect with donors/key supporters/volunteers/member organizations on social media and use Twitter to build conversations and promote events. If your organization has donors or works in collaboration with other groups – schedule some time (perhaps once a week or every other week) to do a post on Facebook that tags key partner organizations or donors. Certain times of year may be more appropriate for this type of recognition than others.
Tip #3: Use a schedule or calendar to reach for goals.Evergreen content that does not stale date, or content that is linked to a calendar or ongoing events can help you save time. Use your nonprofit or association events calendar or publishing calendar to plan out tweets or posts. I use software (Hootsuite) that allows me to schedule tweets so I can sit down and program a lot of things at once based from calendars that are used by my clients for their events and programs. If you have a limited staff supporting an event, these auto-tweets mean that staff are not having to break away from the event to update social media. If you use an auto-scheduler, it is important to stay abreast of current events – so if something changes or breaking news hits that makes your tweets seem irrelevant or out of context, then you can turn off the auto-tweets. I also recommend scheduling time at least once a month to review where you are at with reaching your goals for your organization.
Tip #4: Use monitoring tools.There are many social media monitoring tools available – do a google and you will find dozens. It can be a bit overwhelming to sort out which ones might be most effective for your organization. I recommend starting not with “what tools are out there” but making a list of the questions you want answered about your social media engagement – e.g. how many people are following our nonprofit, who are these people and where are they from, what information do our audiences seem to interact with the most that we are sharing, how much time am I really spending on social media, etc. Hootsuite allows you to manage multiple accounts andsee who mentions you on Twitter so you can respond quickly. Social Mention does a search across multiple platforms and will email results to you – I have found they are good at catching videos and photos others might upload. Facebook Insights – let’s you see how you are stimulating interaction on Facebook with your followers and offers a lot of good information. Take regular snapshots of your nonprofit’s social media presence so you can get a sense of what people are responding to and how you are doing at building a following. If people always react most favorably to inspiring photos showing your organization’s work, try to post photos more frequently.
Tip #5: Integrate social media with other projects so it becomes a seamless part of your overall strategy.Your social media should be an integrated part of your organization’s communications strategy – not an afterthought. Issue press releases and share links to news articles mentioning your organization on social media. Post events for your nonprofit on Facebook, to your website, and run information on Twitter. If you publish a magazine or e-newsletter on a regular schedule, program articles, subscription promos, free resource downloads, etc. into your social media. Share photos for events through Facebook, FlickR and on your website.
Tip #6: Think with a benefits mentality, and don’t project a bull horn or megaphonic social media personality. Always approach evergreen or promotional tweets with the mindset of writing from a benefits perspective. Consider how the information you are sharing through social media will help or engage the person reading it or seeing it. Don’t just write something that is promotional about the organization every time. People need to see a benefit to their lives in what you post and share – whether that means you are offering tips or advice or education, sharing information that makes their day easier, or inspiring them that an incredibly complex problem they care about can be addressed. The content you share needs to be real, not fluff.I recommend organizations distribute a blend of information through a social media setting – so some information is practical and about the day-to-day operations of the organization, while some information is pithy but inspiring, and some of it is meaty and offers some heft (e.g. an essay you posted on your website or a long news article, magazine story or how-to piece). After a while, you will understand what mix of information works for your organization and nurtures engagement – but maintaining a benefits mentality is key. The information has to help people and resonate, if you want for them to engage with your organization or association in social media.
Tip #7: Don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit and engage in two-way communication. Try a Twitter or Facebook chat to engage your members, volunteers or supporters. Feature photossubmitted by followers. Do a contest. Share trivia, as well as thought-provoking information about your nonprofit organization or association. Invite dialogue with social media followers and listeners – ask them to contribute photos, share stories about how your organization has touched their lives, etc. Encourage authentic interaction by writing replies to others, re-tweeting to build goodwill, and participating in tweet chats or Tweetups for special events.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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