Carrying out effective audience engagement that yields returns demands constant attention to three, audience-focused moving parts.
All too often, I encounter CEOs of nonprofit organizations who simply think that the task of carrying out effective social media consists of, well, “doing social media.” To these leaders, the task would seem to require one full-time equivalent (or, preferably less, if they can possibly get away with it!), and comprises some nebulous combination of posting Facebook statuses, re-writing press releases to masquerade as blog posts, and running around a museum with a cell phone camera.
But there is some terrific news: While perhaps occasionally lacking specific expertise, these same nonprofit executives increasingly understand the basics – social media is important for reaching new audiences, retaining supporters, and achieving long term financial solvency. Now is an opportune time to capitalize on the salience of social media and better articulate its many values to the executive leaders and board members who approve our marketing plans and budgets. Now is the time for we marketing professionals to empower our organizations with a vastly improved understanding of what it means to “do social media.”
“Doing social media” (i.e. developing and deploying a social media strategy) requires contemplation of three distinct – and equally important – broader tasks: content creation, community management, and social media measurement. Here’s what these considerations entail and why neglecting to invest resources in any one of these three areas of social media management may result in an inability to achieve your organization’s goals:
1) Content Marketing (Building the relationship)
Arguably the most well known of the three areas of social media relationship development is the potential to use it for effective content marketing. Content is king in our digital world, and powerful content has the ability to (a) build affinity for your nonprofit organization (a key to inspiring visitation and donor support); (b) give you a bump in Edgerank (Facebook’s status-delivering algorithm); and (c) increase your brand’s “sneeze factor” on other social media platforms (think retweets and the increased ability to “infect” audiences with your message). Err…apologies to any readers in the public health field for the analogy.
In other words, creating and promulgating engaging, affinity-building content (or, content that is likely to resonate with audiences and inspire a connection with your mission) dictates your social media success in a big way. The better your content, the more people will engage with it. The more people engage with it, the more other people see it. The more other people see it, the more likely you are to access new audiences who may support your cause.
When many executives think of “doing social media,” they seem to think primarily of online content marketing. A big part of doing this effectively is creating your own content (if you’re a visitor-serving organization, then your own location-based content). This is the category into which the “find things to tweet” task falls. It’s also the category where creating videos, developing blog posts, telling stories, taking pictures, carrying out contests, and sharing news resides.
2) Community Management (Nurturing the relationship)
If content is king, then interaction may be queen – but not one of those subdued, subservient kind of queens… more of a sassy, equal-to-the-king kind of queen. Social media isn’t a one-way communication channel like a television ad or printed newspaper article – or other “one-way” outlets which data suggests is decreasing in overall marketing value when compared to the web and social media. In order to successfully execute social media strategies, organizations must be as living and responsive as their online audiences – if not more so. This means not only “liking” comments that your nonprofit receives on its Facebook wall and thanking your advocates, but also answering their questions.
The buzz term for customer service-like community management is “social care” and it is hugely important for all organizations. Why? Because online audiences already expect it of you. Consider: 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to questions they ask online within one hour. Also, according to Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report, one in three social media users prefer social care to contacting you via phone, and a whopping 47% of all social media users actively engage in social care. Translation: nearly half of your digital constituents are regularly using your online platforms to ask questions.
In other words, if you’re already doing social care, you’re not “ahead of the game” (though good for you – it does require time and resources which are often hard to come by in the nonprofit world). Rather, if you’re NOT investing in social care, then you may have fallen behind the prevailing best practices.
What is irrefutable is that community management is every bit as important as creating compelling content when it comes to the successful execution of a social media strategy. The web is 24/7. People can (and do!) contact you at any time. Don’t keep your audiences “on hold” waiting for answers. Also, (please, please) don’t go dark on the weekends.
3) Social Media Measurement (Honoring the relationship)
The true measurements of the efficacy of your social media strategies are their collective impacts on your bottom lines of mission fulfillment and financial solvency. If you’re the Surfrider Foundation and one of the ways that you measure success is encouraging activism, then a successful social media strategy should result in greater participation in beach cleanups and heightened public support for coastal protections. If you’re a museum, then your social media strategy should manifest more visitors, engage more members, and/or inspire more program participants. In a sense, all the talk of counting followers is an ill-conceived, misguided proxy for measuring what actually matters. If your social media strategy is working well, then you’ll be closer to achieving your organization’s broader mission.
Here are two things to keep in mind as the social media world turns:
A) You don’t get “bonus points” from the market for being online. The overall weight and power of social media as a marketing channel - and several case studies containing compelling data and research that I have been privy to in my own work – suggest that NOT investing in an effective social media strategy can have devastating effects on an organization’s reputation, relevance and solvency. The market (including donors, visitors, legislators, program participants, etc.) is using social media to make decisions about your organization. Reputation drives attendance and donations. And, in terms of reputation, we see time and time again that organizations don’t “get points” for being accessible online – they “lose points” when they are not. They also “lose points” when they do something wrong (i.e. they aren’t transparent, share too many blatant marketing messages, withhold information, leave questions unanswered, or delete thoughtful-but-negative comments from their Facebook timelines).
Setting up a Facebook page won’t necessarily bump up your bottom lines. Social media is a tool that opens the door to increased affinity for your organization and its mission. If you’re doing it well, you won’t always see a bump in attendance…the pay-off will be in your future existence! The era of social media has transcended the time of luxurious betterment to become a matter of absolute necessity. Do it well, integrate audiences, follow best practices and you should see an increase in reputation and, in turn, the attainment of your organizational goals. Do it poorly, and risk obsolescence.
B) Social media monitoring critically provides a real-time feedback mechanism with your audiences so that your desired outcomes are more likely to occur. First, let’s talk about measurement because there are a lot of meaningless metrics contributing to the social media data dilemma. Your desired outcomes are the truest measurement of success (visitation, donations, advocacy and other “bottom line” outcomes). It is important to pay attention to what kinds of content your audience is responding to so that you may produce more of that affinity-building good stuff and not just raising your fan count or like number. Your raw number of social media followers doesn’t really matter because the quality of the follower is far more important to your organization’s bottom lines than are your number of followers. In other words, an organization may more easily (not to mention effectively) achieve its goals if they have 100 true evangelists who visit, donate, and promulgate the mission than have 10,000 followers who are less engaged in the relationship.
So what is worth monitoring? Sentiment and quality engagement. That is, how potential stakeholders are interacting with your organization and its content, and what people are saying about your organization. How well you are reaching these quality audiences is also worth monitoring. These areas focus on what counts and also provide meaningful metrics that allow you to measure improvements over time. To put it bluntly: When it comes to activating audiences, the quality of fans and their engagement is more important than numbers of fans and less meaningful engagement – by a long shot. Need a quick fix to help guide your measurements? Stop thinking about likes. Take a look at your shares instead.
Content marketing, community management, and social media measurement are critical components of a long-term social media strategy and should be integrated into the activities of an organization’s marketing and PR teams. These three components work in careful balance – miss one and the whole system is thrown off. Indeed, social media is all about relationships. Organizations that are successful are those who honor the relationship and invest in the tools for keeping this relationship strong.
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About the author
MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore