5 Practical Social Media Strategies Based on 3 Nonprofit Success Stories


The challenge that most of the 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. face is two-fold.  First, budget restrictions prevent them from hiring additional communications professionals.  Second, this lack of staff capacity limits nonprofits’ ability to carry out the strategic public relations campaigns that most corporations can afford.  Because of this, nonprofit public relations pros are often tasked with managing social media strategies by themselves or with minimal staff support; in other words, serving as “one stop shops.”

As daunting as the task may seem, it is possible for nonprofits to be successful on social media.  Here are five strategies nonprofit communicators should consider:

  1. Use social media as part of an overall communications strategy – Social media should not, and cannot, be used on its own to achieve public relations objectives.  That’s why Make-A-Wish Bay Area Foundation partnered with social media agency Clever Girls Collective to develop a social media campaign for then-five-year-old grantee Miles Scott’s day as Batkid.
  2. Only be on networks which make sense for you – Many nonprofits believe that they have to be on all of the top social networks, when really they should focus only on using the social networks which best reach their target audiences.  For instance, Water is Life‘s efforts were largely Twitter-centric with the campaign’s goal of hijacking the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems and turning it into one of donation awareness.
  3. Tell your nonprofit’s story using multimedia – Social media content with visuals attract 94% more total views and are 40 times more likely to be shared on social networks.  That’s why Water is Life teamed with advertising agency DDB New York to produce a one-minute video, where Haitian residents read aloud users’ tweets with the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems.  With six million views, not only did the video decreased the popularity of the hashtag, but also solicited enough donations to the nonprofit to provide one million days of clean water to their clientele.
  4. Develop a balance between self-promotional and other’s content – Social networks are similar to real-life relationships: very few people like to be around others who do nothing except talk about themselves.  Not only were the pros behind #SFBatkid sharing content from their associated handles, but they also showed support for fans and celebrities whom were also using the hashtag through retweets and replies.  The result: 117 countries mentioned the Batkid and 13% of #SFBatkid tweets came from outside the United States.
  5. Foster relationships with your publics using your online presence – Most social networks offer tools for building relationships, such as Facebook’s ability to tag users and others within posts and comments.  This feature is what allowed the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association‘s Ice Bucket Challenge to go viral, with friends and family often tagging each other to be informed that the challenge had been accepted, and in return, to issue the challenge to more friends and family.

There are dozens of articles out there that claim to have social media “best practices” for nonprofits. Ultimately, the only way to find out what works best for you is through a little trial-and-error. Still, there’s little reason for nonprofits of all sizes can be just as effective as top corporate brands at telling their story with social media.

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