As the Social Media Tide Is Shifting, Will Nonprofits Ride the Wave?

June 12, 2018

6 minutes

In our last post on marketing shifts, we unpacked the social rodeo that is live social video content. Shifts in availability and accessibility of brand and user-generated video content are changing the way corporate America spends its advertising and marketing dollars. What about social media marketing for nonprofits—many of which operate on a shoestring budget with limited overhead so as to best serve their cause. How are the shifts — specifically in social media marketing—  impacting the nonprofit world?

In large part, the rise and success of social media is making a positive impact on fundraising and awareness activities, creating more opportunities to connect with new audiences than ever before. In fact, 55% of people who engage with nonprofits on social media end up taking some sort of action, 59% of those people make financial contributions, 53% volunteer and 43% attend or participate in charitable events in their community because of social media. Bottom line: if your nonprofit is not active on social media, you are missing out on a great opportunity to raise money, mobilize people, and do more good for your organization.

Engaging donors and mobilizing volunteers continue to be the primary goal of nonprofit social media marketing.

Here is a breakdown of how nonprofits and their audiences are connecting with each other on social media, courtesy of

  • 55% of people who engage with nonprofits on Twitter end up taking some sort of action.
  • Twitter users send 700% more visitors to donation pages on Giving Tuesday than on a typical day.
  • 77% of Twitter users feel more positive about a brand when their Tweet has been replied to.
  • 57% of who watch nonprofit YouTube videos go on to make a donation.
  • In 2015, 18-49 year-olds spent 4% less time watching TV while time on YouTube went up 74%.
  • 57% of people who watch nonprofit videos go on to make a donation.
  • 37% of nonprofits use Instagram to raise money and awareness.
  • 75% of Instagram users take action, such as visiting a website or making a purchase after looking at an Instagram advertising post.
  • 84% of Facebook users share to show their support for a cause and highlight issues that are important to them.
  • Daily watch time for Facebook Live broadcasts grew 4x over the course of 2016.
  • On Thursdays and Fridays, engagement is 18% higher.

These statistics speak for themselves. But how should nonprofits leverage these tools to accomplish their missions?

If you’re ready to step up your social media marketing outreach, here are some tips to get you started:

1. Always Have an Image

Image strategy is mission-critical to social media marketing and engagement. And given the emerging realities of social video (as we discussed in our previous post) video strategy may soon be even more important than still images. Visuals make a higher impact than words on their own. This has always been the case. This is why children’s early reader books have pictures — they are taught to use images as context clues. Images reinforce the message and help the story become memorable so that it can be remembered and retold. This is what we want in marketing — memorable and repeatable messages. Images get us there. Now, clearly, our target marketing is not children, but when you look at the stats relative to our diminishing attention spans you can see why you need to pack a punch in mere seconds if you want to make an impression. A social media scrolling through content is very likely to stop on a compelling image while a well written paragraph without an image will probably be ignored.

But don’t just throw up any old image, be sure you follow these best practices before you post:

  • Make it original. You will see some really great images out there that you may want to make your own. Be inspired but recreate it in your own way. Social media users will sniff out a copycat and move on. Authentic and original content makes the impact you want. If you don’t have access to high quality images, Unsplash and Pexels are both great sources of free, high quality photos that you can use to get started.
  • Make it clear. When you create an image make sure it is not pixelated, stretched, or blurry. If you are adding words to the image choose a font that is easy to read and doesn’t clash with the image you’ve chosen. There are apps you can use to help with this, like Canva and Wordswag, that makes it easy for you to get it right the first time. You always need to preview before posting and, if the image isn’t displaying correctly, don’t post it.
  • Make it Mobile-Friendly. More and more people are using their mobile devices over their pcs — especially with their social media. For example, 75% of Pinterest usage takes place on mobile devices! So before you post, be sure you test your image on a mobile device because some images may look find on a pc but not on a phone. It’s also smart to test the image across platforms. The way an image displays on Facebook may not display the same auto-posted to Twitter and vice versa.
  • Make it Personal. Your nonprofit exists to do more good. Use your own stories and original content to tell a story and make an impression. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you may be surprised how effective the right photo can be to convey your message. But remember, as you share other people’s stories, be sure that you have permission to share. It is usually a good idea to have some sort of release form in place to make sure that you and the people whose stories you’re telling are all on the same page.

2. Be ready to Respond

After all, it is social media, the whole idea here is connection. Social media users expect an interactive experience and a response, usually within 24 hours and sometimes even within 1 hour (as is the case with Twitter users). This is a mistake that trips up both nonprofits and brands alike. Social media is more like a walkie talkie than a megaphone. If you initiate a conversation on social media, and your audience responds but gets no reply from you, what do you think will happen? They will lose confidence in your organization and move on to another one that’s actually listening. Luckily, activism resonates with younger audiences and you should have no trouble identifying a team of socially savvy volunteers who you can train and mobilize to serve as your social media response team.

As you prepare to engage, here are some best practices for social media conversations:

  • Be personable. Use their first name and share yours, people like to know there is actually a person on the other side of the screen. Automatic or canned responses are frowned upon but it is a good idea to have talking points with key messages in place to ensure a consistent response, especially if you are using volunteers to speak on your behalf.
  • Be timely. This Fact Company article has great advice on the timing of posts and whoever is monitoring your accounts should check in on responses several times a day, at minimum: morning, noon, evening and night.
  • Be gracious. Never, ever, ever get into a fight on social media. Do whatever it takes to not find yourself in this sticky situation. We have all seen the horror stories of what can happen when a disgruntled customer takes to social media to crucify a brand. This is the time to put your shiniest customer service face forward.
  • Beware of Trolls. Trolls are real on social media and they’re not hiding under bridges. A troll is how we label people who intentionally try to start arguments and controversy in online social contexts. Many times you can recognize a troll by when they post, how often they post, and who they claim to be. A trolls MO is typically out of the blue, totally random and completely off-topic. If you run into issues with an unknown entity online, stop and consider if you’re dealing with a troll before deciding how you will respond.

3. Don’t Skimp on Strategy

The biggest social media marketing challenge for nonprofits navigating these shifts is developing and implementing a social media strategy. It’s completely understandable because you are working hard on behalf of your cause. There is never an end to all that you have to do, and stopping the important work to “deal with” social media can feel like a waste of time but we can assure you that it is not. Many nonprofits have a presence on social media but not much else. If the presence doesn’t have a purpose there won’t be any fruit, low hanging or otherwise.

We Specialize in Social Media Marketing for Nonprofits

Before engaging donors or volunteers, we strongly recommend having a strategy in place that will inform your decisions, provide metrics and key performance indicators to keep you on track and know if what you’re doing is working. Developing a social media strategy can be tricky business for the savviest of marketers so if you run a nonprofit and need assistance with social media strategy please drop us a line, we would love to help unpack more of this for you and put into action a social media strategy for your nonprofit.


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