Getting the most from your social media use

up arrow with money patternIt may seem hard to believe in today’s hyper-connected world, but some nonprofits still don’t have a presence on social media. And, among those that do, many could do it better. Social media underperformance frequently can be tracked to some common missteps. But you usually can get past them at little to no cost.

Silo-ing social media strategy

Your social media efforts shouldn’t exist as an island, apart from your organization’s other strategies. Be sure to incorporate social media into your overall strategic planning and align your social media tactics with the organization’s mission and goals.

This will help you avoid another common pitfall: failing to set clear goals for your social media function. As a part of your communications strategy, determine exactly what you are hoping to achieve. And let the overarching goals of your nonprofit guide your social media objectives.

Quality vs. quantity

Many nonprofits struggle with finding the right frequency for posting on social media. At one end of the spectrum are organizations that believe opening an account and posting once a month is all that’s required to engage on social media. On the other end, some organizations pump out multiple posts a day, to the point of potentially annoying and alienating supporters.

The appropriate number of posts will vary by organization. But it’s something that should be studied and determined in advance, rather than done on an ad hoc basis. Solid, appealing content should lead the way.

One factor that will drive the decision about your posting frequency is the type of content you publish. Basically, you need to post enough so that you can get in your “asks” (for example, for donations, event registrations or petition signatures) without seeming as if all you do is make requests of supporters.

Mix in calls to action with content that engages, educates and promotes. Include visuals, videos, volunteer recognition, white papers, how-to tips and humor. And tell stories! One of the benefits of social media is that you can tell a story as it develops, allowing your followers to watch as, for instance, an empty, polluted lot becomes a thriving park or an at-risk student graduates from high school.

Unrealistic expectations

Nonprofits understandably can grow frustrated when social media work doesn’t produce quick results. No one likes to see few or no “likes” or comments. But unless you’re a celebrity or famous athlete, understand that social media growth is a slow-moving train. Your leaders may need to lower their expectations and allow more time to realize their goals.

Of course, you can help boost your number of followers by actively promoting your social media accounts. And don’t worry — “promoting” doesn’t require money. Place links and URLs with the familiar logos for your chosen social media channels in your newsletters, invoices, email signature boxes, website home page, and donation thank-yous. Add the text “follow” or “stay connected.”

For many nonprofits, a lack of resources is a major stumbling block when it comes to social media use. If you can’t afford a full-time social media manager, consider hiring or offering an internship to a college or even a high school student. Or you could spread the responsibility across multiple employees. That could reduce the stress employees who work full-time on social media sometimes experience due to the hectic, nonstop pace and the drain of dealing with online trolls.

A moving target

With social media evolving as quickly as it does, you’ll need to review your social media strategies, and the results of your efforts on each platform, on a regular basis. Fortunately, many free social analytics tools are available to help you look back and chart your best course forward.

Picking the right platforms for your organization

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube — not to mention all the up-and-coming platforms you’ve probably yet to hear about. The sheer number can easily overwhelm a nonprofit, whether it’s dipping its toes in social media waters for the first time or just trying to swim with the current.

But you don’t need to engage on every possible platform. In fact, you’re better off establishing a regular presence with a consistent voice on a few platforms rather than spreading yourself so thin that it’s impossible to post material that has impact.

At this point, Facebook and Twitter are de rigueur for most organizations, but you can select additional platforms based on factors such as your target audience. For example, professionals regularly use LinkedIn and younger adults tend to congregate on Instagram, while many teenagers currently use Snapchat.

But exercise caution when it comes to jumping on the newest, hottest thing. History shows that these often burn out. Go ahead and grab your account name but hold off on pouring a lot of energy into a new site until you confirm that its audience is one you want to reach.