7 Things I’ve Learned Developing Social Media Content for a Federal Stats Agency

DISCLAIMER: This post first appeared on my employer’s blog. You can read it here at HagerSharp.com.

Admit it: when you log on to your social media every day, the last thing you’re looking forward to is seeing content from a federal statistical agency. And who could blame you? It doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as content from your favorite celebrity, sports team, or public figure.

But look at the Facebook and Twitter pages for our client, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, also known as The Nation’s Report Card) and maybe you’ll ask yourself: Why have I not been following NAEP?

Developing the social media content for NAEP has been an interesting experience during my time at Hager Sharp. By setting the groundwork for content monthly and reporting on its metrics, I’ve been able to gather some insights on what works—and what doesn’t. To my surprise, much of what I’ve learned goes against some of the traditional norms preached by social media “experts.” Maybe it’s due to the nature of NAEP’s audience—researchers and educators—but there are some things that could be applied to other types of audiences too.

Here are seven insights you might consider for your own social strategies:

  1. Get clever with memes and GIFs. Sometimes the best way to make a good impression is to make someone smile. With NAEP, we have learned to do this through use of memes and GIFs, which when effective, are great for earning link clicks towards items and results.
  2. Load up on the image text. There’s a familiar saying that “less is more” when it comes to a lot of things; however, for NAEP that’s not always been the case. Twice this year we’ve shared some text-heavy tablescharts, and infographics describing NAEP’s assessment process. The result: image clicks. Of course, we have an audience that’s largely familiar with data and research. It’s all part of our strategy of bringing NAEP item contents in a more visually-appealing way, leading to link clicks which count towards engagement metrics.
  3. Weekends are great for long-form content. If you have a video, lengthy article, or detailed infographic to share, chances are you might get the most value out of it if you post on the weekends. We have learned this by sharing videos from NAEP’s social media accounts on the days where followers may not be as preoccupied and have an extra minute to spare learning more about NAEP’s work.
  4. Don’t underestimate photos of people; they go a long way. While it’s true that livestream videos have been all the rage lately, don’t forget that sometimes pictures will do the trick just the same. The reason for this is two-fold: first, people love seeing people they know; and second, people love putting a face to a brand or organization. Use pictures to help build that personal connection with your followers.
  5. Share other’s content, but don’t forget to tag them. If your organization’s goals include thought leadership, it’s tough to get there by just posting content about yourself. Through managing NAEP’s social media accounts, we have learned that sharing others’ content helps in the long run by increasing our reach to new followers; especially when the content is useful to them. Because when you tag an organization’s social media handle, it appears in their notifications and on their timeline to followers.
  6. Encourage competition. Whether they admit it or not, everyone loves the feeling of being better than someone. The same holds true when sharing NAEP’s state results. Not only do people want to know if their state’s education system is progressing or regressing, they also take pride in knowing whether their state’s results are better than another’s. Share content that affects your audiences in a way that encourages their involvement or engagement.
  7. People value transparency. What each of the previous insights comes down to is being open with your followers. Some of NAEP’s best performing posts are the ones that allow followers to demystify its complex process.

Social media is an important part of a comprehensive communications effort when it’s used to form relationships. Without question, developing content for NAEP’s social media is a never-ending challenge that’s been really enjoyable for me.

Who knew you could have this much fun with a federal statistical agency?

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.

Getting Your Facebook Posts to Actually REACH Your Page’s Fans

If you’ve ever been responsible for managing a page on Facebook you’ve likely noticed how difficult it is to get your posts to reach your page’s fans lately.  That’s because Facebook’s algorithms have made it tough for marketers in the past few years to organically reach their audience.

Through my previous experiences and my current internship as the social media director for Student Startup Madness, it seems lately that in order for you to really be effective you’ll have to invest in paid ads.  Sure, $5 every now and then isn’t bad, but if you find yourself spending it daily the cost will really add up.

Luckily, putting money behind your content isn’t the only way to organically reach your audience.  Here are some things I’ve noticed in my own work that allow your Facebook posts to truly reach your fans organically.

Balance – If the saying is true that “marketing speaks to you, while advertising yells at you,” then some organizations’ pages are nothing more than a constant advertisement.  Doing this over time hinders your page’s reach to your audience and Facebook makes it harder for you to reach them when you’re simply selling to them.  Instead, balance your content by sharing outside information that might be related to what your page’s purpose is, but isn’t directly selling something either.

Originality – Facebook’s algorithms are smart enough to recognize when you’re simply stealing content from other sources.  However, too much unoriginal content can work against you and limit your reach to fans.  That’s why Facebook tends to reward content you “create” yourself, whether that’s homemade videos, pictures from your phone, or even memes you generated.  There’s a bevvy of other content creation sources such as Canva, FontStudio  and Font Candy, which allow you to make your materials as well.

Timing – Ensuring your content has balance and originality can only take you so far, but if they say “timing is everything,” then you need to know the best times to post in order to reach the most fans.  But how can you determine the best times to reach them?  This goes back to my posts about using social media analytics – in this case, Facebook Insights – to figure out what times your fans are most online and when you have the most (or maybe even least) traffic to get your message across.

I’d be remiss to tell you that there is an exact science to Facebook posts; because there isn’t (at least one that I know of).  Sure there are a number of “best practices,” and there’s nothing wrong with using them for your page. Ultimately though, posting on Facebook is a matter of initial trial and error, until you figure out what works best for you.  Only once you do that can you really develop a consistent rhythm – which ends up turning into your own best practices.