Hot or Not: Answers to Social Media FAQs for Non-profits

There are a few frequently asked questions we receive when we talk to non-profit or association executives about social media platforms. But instead of just explaining the ins and outs of each question, we’ve gathered five of them and enlisted the help of the fashion magazine staple; hot or not. Here they are:

Responding to Retweets and Favourites: Room Temperature

We’re going to walk the line between hot and not for this first one because there really is no right answer. Many people give a small shout out to those who retweet or favourite a post from your organization. It’s definitely a nice touch, but it’s not 100 per cent necessary.

While it’s not improper etiquette to just let these interactions be, it doesn’t take a whole lot of extra effort to write, “Thank you for retweeting us! Glad you like the article/tweet/question. Let us know if you have any other feedback,” or something like that. Who knows, it could even start a nice conversation that might lead to a very happy member, donor, sponsor or volunteer!

Posting Every Two to Three Days on Facebook: Hot

Social media is a fickle beast. Some platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, want you to pay attention to them every single day. Others, like Facebook, are okay with having your attention every other day.

While it’s definitely important to check Facebook several times a day to monitor discussions and track statistics, it isn’t at all necessary to post a status every day. Actually, it can grow quite tiresome for some people to see content from an organization clogging their newsfeed, even if it’s from a non-profit or association they care about.

Save your best content for Facebook so people aren’t skipping by your posts that are only there because you thought you should post every day. Make it fun, engaging and worthwhile. Of course, if something is happening, say a big event or a breaking news story that affects your community, it’s okay to post something two days in a row. It’s all about measuring the content’s relevancy and timeliness to your audience. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing!

Having a LinkedIn Company Page Instead of a LinkedIn Group: Not

This is actually a bit of a trick question, or rather a trick answer. You shouldn’t be deciding if it’s one or the other, you should be creating both. A company (or ‘Organization’) page is great and has many benefits. Your organization can share news, company information and helpful pieces of content, like blog posts, through company pages.

Groups, on the other hand, can be thought of as a place for individuals to have conversations. While your organization can’t run groups, you can as a representative of your non-profit or association. Groups are a great way to get discussion going and be more inclusive. They often have a broader focus, such as issues affecting a certain industry or issue, and encourage those who may not be connected to your organization yet to participate. From there, the participants are only a few steps away from engaging with your organization.

Using ROI Stats to Justify Your Social Media Efforts: Not

Using social media these days is the equivalent of being in the phone book back in the 1980s; if you’re not investing in a spot, than you’re not going to get noticed. It’s no longer a matter of if you should be on social media, but how.

Many people, mostly skeptics, will point to hard-to-come-by statistics on the financial return on investment for social media, but the benefits of social media don’t always come with a dollar amount attached to them. Rather, social media should be looked at a means to engage and communicate with your community, providing them with service and value in order to encourage them to invest time, money or interest in your non-profit.

You’ll likely never get a phone call from someone saying they joined your association or donated to your cause because of a tweet they saw or pin they liked, but exposure to consistently great content, over time, will cast your organization as an expert that prides itself on communication, transparency and hard work to achieve a goal for members. This should be the real gauge of how well your social media efforts are doing.

Encouraging Offline Events Through Online Platforms: Hot

Online and offline efforts are not in competition with each other. It is not social media’s intent to destroy face-to-face interaction and it’s not the tradition meeting’s aim to shout down Twitter, Facebook and the like. They actually complement each other quite well.

For example, if you develop a strong Twitter following, try organizing a tweetup at your next conference or fundraising drive. A tweetup takes the best of the old school and the new school and combines them into a great networking and learning opportunity.

We’ve mentioned before in this blog that the social networking platform Meetup is a great way to promote face-to-face small group continuing education online. It lets people connect who may not have ever connected before and plan a localized event that they find immense value in. Tying you organization to one of these events will only endear you further to your members or community.

4 Things Non-profits Can Learn From The Food At The Canadian National Exhibition

The days are getting shorter and back-to-school commercials are starting to pop up on. That can only mean one thing; the Canadian National Exhibition is in town.

The CNE is the annual end-of-summer fair that takes place in Toronto and includes midway rides, carnival games and countless other attractions. And one more thing; food, lots and lots of crazy food.

‘The Ex’, as it has lovingly been called, has become quite infamous as a testing ground for weirder and weirder food combinations, year after year, like deep-fried butter and cronut burgers (a hamburger with donuts taking the place of the buns). This year is no different. Some of the new items available at the CNE in 2014 include spicy peanut butter sriracha rolls and butter coffee.

cronut burger

The cronut burger was the talk of the town at the CNE in 2013. The Ex has plenty of zany food options like it. (photo via observer.com)

You’re probably more than a little hungry by now, but you might also be wondering what this has to do with social media and non-profits/associations. Here are four things that organizations can learn from the wacky, greasy, shamefully-delicious food selection at the CNE.

Create An Experience Like No Other

Part of the reason any sane person would ever eat a cronut burger or deep-fried butter is being able to brag to their friends about it. That’s the reaction you want from your members/community. When you make your social media efforts part of a unique experience for anyone involved in your organization, they will keep coming back and they’ll bring friends who can’t resist being a part of something extraordinary.

Devising and implementing an experience like no other is not an easy task, but the best way to get the creative juices flowing is to answer a few key questions, including; What does your community need? What solution can you develop to include as many members/people as we can? How can you make it easy for these people to share this experience with others?

Something as simple as a great Twitter chat, a Pinterest board mural or an Instagram scavenger hunt can go a long way to getting people involved in your organization because you have provided something they rarely get anywhere else.

Give Them Lots of Variety

There aren’t just crazy, over-the-top food options at the CNE; there’s lots of choice when it comes to picking something for lunch or dinner. The options range from Canadian comfort food (poutine and back bacon sandwiches) to Japanese (sushi) and everything in-between (pasta, perogies, curry, etc). The point is, there is something for everyone and it’s never boring.

The same concept should be applied to your non-profit/association’s social media strategy. It’s great to publish a comical story about your industry, such as a hilarious YouTube video, but it’s not especially wise to make this a daily occurrence as it doesn’t really help members or progress your organization’s goals. It’s necessary to tweet about new services your offering, success stories from your non-profit fundraisers, editorials on current events, findings of the latest surveys or reports, peer-reviewed articles and many other forms of content.

This goes for all platforms. Mixing it up every so often will allow you to provide frequent value for member, donors, volunteers, staff, sponsors and other involved in your organization.

Passing Inspection is Key

There’s been a lot of talk about the cronut burger in this post and for good reason. It was one the most talked about foods at the CNE over the last few years, for both good and bad reasons. In the early days of last year’s fair, the cronut burger was the biggest food adventure, but only a couple days later people began to get sick from the glazed delicacy. It turns out the cronut burger stall in the Food Building didn’t exactly pass health inspection with flying colours.

Your organization’s social media can learn a thing or two from the cronut burger fiasco. First of all, have a plan. Poor organization and lax guidelines make for nightmares down the road. If you have a plan and stick to it most of the time (barring any breaking news and appropriately light-hearted spontaneity) than your social platforms will run like a well-oiled machine. Creating a content calendar is good place to start and can be a big help with running your platforms effectively and efficiently.

You should also give your social media a health inspection of its own. Review the performance of your organization’s social media performance regularly and update your strategy. Don’t only look at the numbers, such as clicks, comments, retweets, follows, likes, etc. Ask your staff, members, donors and the rest of your community what they like and don’t like about the current strategy and update your plan accordingly.

Consistency

The CNE has been around for more than 100 years and food has always been a major feature of the event. Generations of Torontonians remember their first ice cream waffle sandwich or their years of sampling Tiny Tom donuts at The Ex.

food building cne

The Food Building has been a popular staple at the CNE for generations. (photo via BlogTO)

Your organization’s social media strategy needs the same kind of consistency as the food at the CNE. It is crucial that posts are regular. For example, if you create a blog for your non-profit or association, make sure to evaluate your resources (monetary, time, etc) before you start publishing. This will help you determine how often you can realistically post a blog with consistency. Otherwise you may publish three blog posts in three weeks, hit a busy period at work and not post for two months. Your community will become disillusioned and will be less likely to be loyal followers of your blog and other platforms.

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Your organization’s social media platforms need to be consistent, organized, unique and varied to appeal to your community, much like the food at the CNE. So next time you’re stuck in a rut online or are looking to venture forth on a new platform, remember these four tips and you won’t go hungry.

Facebook vs. Twitter: Which Social Media Platform Does Hashtags Better

It’s the age of the hashtag.

The little symbol has stood in the spotlight of late-night TV, started revolutions and become synonymous with being connected and in-the-loop.

The use of the hashtag in social media started on Twitter, but has since spread to Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook. But which platform does it best? Which one should non-profits and associations use if they’re hashtag savvy?

We pitted two of the internet’s biggest social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook, against each other to see which one has more clout when it comes to hashtags.

Twitter, Facebook Hashtag infographic 2

Breaking Down Twitter Statistics To Create Better Content For Your Non-profit

Gathering and analyzing Twitter statistics doesn’t need to be the work of a rocket scientist. It does take time, know-how and resources to complete a thorough check-up of any organization’s Twitter account, but knowing where to look is the first step to ensuring you’re going down the right road with your tweets.

You can always look at the number of followers you gained or the number of retweets you received in any given month, but those figures don’t tell the whole story.

Here are some other places to look that capture what people think about your content and how they are interacting with your organization on Twitter:

Follower Demographics

Sure, your non-profit/association’s Twitter account gained 55 followers last month, but who are they?

Breaking down your new followers into demographics allows you to figure out a couple key things: Are you reaching the right people and what audience is most interested in your content? Once you know the answers to these questions, you can adjust your content and total social media strategy to either capitalize on a growing demographic or target another group that is crucial to your operation.

For example, it might so happen that students are following your association’s account in larger numbers than veteran members. Upon realizing this, you can either start catering a larger part of your social media efforts to these youth (ex. writing blog posts about resume writing for your industry) or start adjusting your Twitter content to interest veteran members more.

Breaking down your new followers largely depends on the organization and its stakeholders. You may break them down into members, non-members, industry professionals, industry organizations, donors, sponsors, volunteers, media professionals or other more specific and relevant groups. Having a grouping for irrelevant or spam followers is also important as it helps give you a real number of followers, rather than one inflated by bogus accounts or those just reaching for higher follower numbers.

Clicks on Links

Knowing the number of times people have clicked on a link you have tweeted to an article, website, blog or other content can tell you a lot about your account’s past and future. Most importantly, this statistic can help you figure out what sort of content people are interested in and what tweet format helped that link appeal to so many users.

If one link has twice the number of clicks than another, there is very often a reason for this. Knowing this discrepancy allows you to study both tweets and see if one issue is getting more attention than another. If your followers and other Twitter users are more interested in one issue over another, it is probably a good idea to plan some more content around addressing this issue and issues that are similar.

Studying the format of a tweet that led to a much-viewed link can also be useful. What sort of voice was used? Was the tweet long or short? What sorts of hashtags were used and did it tag any other users, like the author? Did it come right out and explain what the link was about, or did it tease your audience? These are the sort of questions that be answered if you know which links are clicked more than others.

There are many free tools you can use to track clicks on links, but our favourite is Bit.ly. Bit.ly allows you to shorten links, tweet them out and track them on your account. It shows you the amount of times someone has clicked on a certain link as well as the time, country and platform used.

Most Retweeted/Favourited Post

Knowing how many retweets and favourited posts your account received last month is great, but you should go one step further and check out which tweet/tweets received the most attention.

Knowing which tweets were popular and shared most often helps you in much the same way knowing the click-on-link numbers does; it allows you to see which content is working and which content is not. It also gives you a chance to see which followers are most active, influential and interested.

For example, questions may be retweeted more than quotes, pictures may be favourited more than posts without images, blogs may be retweeted more than newspaper articles and local news may be favourited more than national news. With this information, your organization’s Twitter account can work towards promoting questions, tweets with photos, blog posts and local news. Not only do these stats help you focus your energy and time when gathering, creating and planning content, but they also allow you to generate more engagement by catering to the desires and interests of your followers.

Time Window and Day With Best Results

There is no blanket rule for the perfect time to tweet because your organization, and its community, is as unique as every other organization. However, it is important to figure out when your followers are most likely to see your content and engage with it. Are they tweeting at lunch or are they logging into their accounts and reading blog posts at night?

For example, we work with a client whose members are early risers because of the industry they work in and are thus more likely to check Twitter in the early morning (when they start work) or early afternoon (when they finish work). Having this information up your sleeve allows you to schedule your tweets to maximize the number of followers that will see the post. The more people who see the post, the more chances there are for people to engage with your organization and see value in the content it is sharing.

Figuring this stat out may take some time and effort, but it is well worth the work. It will help both your organization grow its online presence and your non-profit/association’s member access important information. Remember to include all engagement figures when calculating the best day and time to tweet, including clicks, retweets, favourites and mentions. It is also crucial to take a large sampling of your followers’ engagement patterns; looking only at a week’s worth of data will probably not represent an accurate example of how your followers use Twitter.

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Measuring Twitter statistics is an imperfect science, but by looking deeper into the numbers, it is possible to better your organization’s account and its content to appeal to its target demographic and engage them with increasingly relevant and interesting content.

4 Ways for A Non-Profit Organization to Use Social Media on its Website

An organization’s website is its online HQ. It’s where much of the non-profit magic happens.

Websites can help a charity take donations, update an association’s members on the latest news and services and give other non-profits a space to tell its community about an upcoming event.

The bottom line is that websites are important to your non-profit, as is social media. So how to you bring the two together to make the online experience better for your community? We’ve put together four suggestions for integrating social media with your organization’s website.

1. Twitter

Putting your organization’s Twitter feed on the home page of its website it a great way to keep visitors to the site up-to-date and engaged. Not only does it let your community know your non-profit is on Twitter (and make it more likely they will follow the account), but it also makes the content you tweet about more accessible to those who may not be as social media savvy. Twitter feed widgets are generally simple to install and don’t take up too much space on your website’s home page.

One tool that could help your organization drive Twitter engagement from its website is ClickToTweet. This tool allows you to write a suggested tweet for any content on your website and turns it into a clickable link on your web page. It kind of looks something like this:

Tweet: The Upwards Blog: Bringing you the latest in social media for non-profits since 2013 http://ctt.ec/99Su1+

This makes it easy for visitors for your website to share news, information, event notices or other things from your website without a hassle while allowing you to track how many times your community engaged with the link.

2. YouTube

Your website is almost like a welcome mat for visitors; you can either put out the old, dusty square of fabric or roll out the red carpet to start the experience. YouTube videos can help you make it the latter.

Making a YouTube and placing it on your home page is a great way to welcome visitors to your non-profit’s website right away. This sort of video can be as simple as a greeting from the executives/board of directors or it could explain, in a fun and visual way, what your organization is about. It may also be helpful for those who are new to your website, such as first-time members or donors, to have a video guiding them through the website and how to get the most out of it.

YouTube videos can also be used to highlight members, donors, volunteers or sponsors for your organization. Putting these videos on your website, in a place designated for community recognition, would only increase the exposure your members receive. Not only does this highlight the good your community is doing, but it also shines the spotlight on what your organization can offer to potential and current members.

3. Blog

If you want your non-profit’s website to be more than just a dreary notice board, it’s time you became a storyteller (aka, a blogger). A blog creates a space on your website to tell stories, go in-depth on issues and allows for some creative sharing strategies for members, volunteers and staff. It takes your website from a boring drive down a country rode to one along a stunning, ocean-side highway.

Establishing a blog on your website takes a lot of consideration, design and content creation, but the benefits and options are numerous. Share photos, event recaps, editorials, calls-to-action, original articles and infographics from your blog. Make sure to have a specific section for your blog and make it easy to access blog archives. Not only does this help your organization’s SEO, but it makes it a better experience for visitors.

4. Pinterest

Pinterest is like the older brother your website wants to be like; it’s creative, it’s engaging and it’s visually appealing. Really, what this section is all about is mimicry; try to make your website more like Pinterest. Have more visuals on your page. Lists and how-to guides can help clear up complicated processes for members or donors. Include infographics and link to other resources your community might find interesting.

If you’re really in the mood to be radical and revolutionary, make your organization’s Pinterest account its website. It’s cheap and is guaranteed to pack the visual punch that’s engaging. Have a Pinterest board for each section that would normally be a menu item on your website and tell stories about your association or other non-profit through pictures and infographics. This approach isn’t for every organization, but it does offer something new and fresh.

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Your non-profit’s website is an integral part of what makes your organization tick. Incorporating social media into your website takes it to a whole other level and gives your community a place to learn, participate and have some fun at the same time. Explore the options available for you and your non-profit when it comes to combining social media and website and watch a world of opportunity become open to you.

The Debate: Should Non-profit Executives be on Social Media?

Opening Arguments

Argument For: Of course non-profit executives should be on social media. They are the face of the organization and know the ins and outs of its cause/industry. Being involved in social media is one more way to serve their community/members and be a leader for the organization.

Argument Against: There really is no need for non-profit executives to be on social media. It is not helpful and could even be hurtful to the organization. Their time and effort should be directed to other areas and the risk of making a mistake and being criticized are not worth the potential rewards.

Resolution #1- The risk of executives participating in social media is more than worth the rewards.

For: Yes, there are risks to participating in social media for anyone who types out a tweet or snaps a picture and puts it on Instagram. The key is understanding those risks, avoiding them and having a strategy just in case something goes awry. The truth is, if executives never took a risk, their organization would never move on to bigger and better things.

Against: What if an organization’s executive tweets out something that’s a not too politically correct? What if their blog posts are riddled with grammatical errors or spelling mistakes? What about if they get into a Facebook battle with disgruntled ex-members or volunteers? Risking the reputation and goodwill of your organization is not worth the 140 characters.

Rebuttal: Not so fast there buddy! Your executives are the face of your organization; you trust them to talk to people on the non-profit’s behalf every day, so trust them to do great things online. Besides, you’re forgetting the biggest risk; becoming disconnected with what your members/community really wants or needs. Social media definitely cuts this risk down to a minimum!

Resolution #2- Executives should take the time and resources that are needed to participate in social media on a daily basis.

For: Let’s face it, social media takes a little more than one or two minutes when it’s done well. Crafting the perfect pin or taking time to contribute to a LinkedIn discussion is an investment of time and energy, but’s it’s an investment that is worth it for non-profit executives. Serving members and contributing to the community are the main jobs of executives. The best place to inform, educate and advise those who are key to your organization is online because that’s the go-to resource for many people today. Taking this time will help executives stay connected, in-touch with the community they are serving and up-to-date with issues affecting those they are looking to help grow.

Against: Non-profit executives are already too busy. The demands on them, both time-wise and financially, are strenuous. Wouldn’t it be best to prioritize the responsibilities and tend to matters that actually need attention, rather than trying to construct a perfect response to a tweet from a member or a donor? Executives owe it to their community to be focused on the task at hand and be fully engaged in making the organization run properly, not fiddling with social media.

Rebuttal: How wrong you are, Mr. Against. Well actually you’re right, non-profit executives do owe it to their community to be focused on making their organization run properly, but part of what makes a non-profit great, day-to-day, is connecting with the members/community on a regular basis. Social media gives the executive the tools to communicate even more with these groups, which provides ways to make their experience with the non-profit even better. Surely the time and resources it takes to accomplish this growth is worth it!

Resolution #3- Marketing is no longer the sole territory of the marketing team and thus, executives need to get involved.

For: This one is definitely true. Social media broke down the walls between the communications team and the rest of the work place that traditional media had built. Social media made marketing your organization accessible to all and a collective responsibility for all employees. That includes executives. It especially includes executives. They are the face of your non-profit and hearing their stories, expertise or input is probably one of the best ways to connect with your community in a way that makes them realize the value in your organization and want to invest in it with time, money and other resources.

Against: False, false, false. Executives should stick to what they know. They shouldn’t water down both their own efforts and the efforts of the communications team by wading into the social media waters. They aren’t trained, they aren’t prepared and they aren’t hired to do that sort of job. Overseeing the message is a good thing, but don’t take it into your own hands.

Rebuttal: Your thinking is backwards my friend. The efforts of an executive would not water down the end results, they would bolster it! A complete effort from all members of the organization only legitimizes and strengthens social media’s benefits by spreading the message far and wide and giving your non-profit’s community more avenues to engage with the organization. Plus, social media is done best when it’s done with a personal touch. That’s why only training can be done on the job for an executive. Only by tweeting, posting, pinning, etc., can they develop their own voice and take full advantage of all social media has to offer.

Result

I think we have a winner and it’s the “For” argument! The truth is, executives should be on social media and helping their organizations connect and engage with members or others in the community. There may be some fears at first, but learning this new skill is important to helping your organization thrive and rise to new heights.

5 Ways Social Media Can Help Your Association’s Lobbying Efforts

Non-profits do a lot of things very well; networking, education and events come to mind.

A vast majority of member-based organizations do all these things with one goal; to promote their members and help them grow in their professions. That’s where lobbying comes in. There are few better chances to make big change in the lives of your association’s members than bringing an issue to those in government.

Lobbying can be used in many ways by associations, whether it’s to encourage tax fairness, promote regulation, combat negative legislation or some other issue.

But lobbying can often be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, especially for non-profits that don’t have the big budgets of their corporate counterparts. Social media can come as a reinforcement on this front, helping associations and their members petition for a better tomorrow for all in a particular industry. Here are a few ways to turn social media into social change:

1.  The Rallying Cry

You can’t have grassroots advocacy without the roots; i.e. the hundreds or thousands of people that are stakeholders in your cause. For associations, these people are the members. Getting members together to support a common cause can be a challenging goal to achieve. It’s not that they are apathetic or unwilling, but sometimes it’s difficult to reach such a large and diverse audience made of people focused on their own careers.

Social media helps get the message out to members fast and efficiently. For example, an infographic blog post can help explain the issue, its effect on members and what the association is doing to help the industry with lobbying efforts. A YouTube video is a great way to let members know how to go about contributing, whether it’s writing a letter, signing a petition or some other activity that benefits the lobbying effort. And lastly, tools like Twitter and Facebook are great ways to spread these messages far and wide.

2. The New Tin Can and String

The old tin can and string were the cell phones of childhood, the devices that supposedly kept friends connected over the vast distance that was the playground. The technology age has arrived and with it, an update on the homemade device. Now you can have a two-way conversation with anyone by using social media and this comes in handy when you’re an association lobbying for change.

Social media platforms give your association the vehicle to pass on information to members about the lobby efforts and issues at hand while at the same time giving members an opportunity to ask questions, share ideas and offer feedback on the lobbying activity. Twitter, for example, is a great way to pass on information and talk to members in a way that engages them and encourages them to take up the cause. This turns your effort into a truly grassroots approach and helps you triumph much faster and easier.

3. The Radar Game

It’s important to stay on top of the latest news around the issue your association is lobbying for and social media is the place to do this monitoring. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, blog comments and reddit are only a few of the social media channels that can be used as your organization’s radar. Tracking the goings-on around the issue you are lobbying for gives you a sense of how to best go about garnering support amongst members how to effectively push for change.

Social media is also a great place to connect with those who have been through similar situations. LinkedIn, for example, is a great platform to connect with association professionals who have had success in lobbying for similar legislation and getting their insight on the matter. Even connecting online with someone who hasn’t been as successful in mobilizing support, rallying members or petitioning the government can be helpful and lead to a breakthrough.

4. The Bottom Line Builder

Let’s face it, lobbying can be expensive. There’s travel, consultants, studies and more that push you up against a wall financially. But social media can help mitigate the monetary worries of lobbying and can bring lobbying from a bottom line buster to a bottom line builder.

Connecting with member online saves the time and money spent on mailing members. Planning gatherings or town halls with a Twitter chat or through LinkedIn can save your organization from planning a massive, in-person event. Every step is easier on your wallet with social media and has the added benefit of reaching more people.

5. The Megaphone

Recognition is important to retaining members and drawing new ones. That’s part of the reason an association would lobby; an organization recognizes what its members need and it works hard to achieve it. Sometimes this takes political action.

Recognition begets recognition. In other words, when you recognize your members with lobbying efforts, they will recognize your association’s hard work. Social media amplifies this outcome. When members see how vocal your association is online, they will appreciate the effort be more likely to support not only the lobbying, but other initiatives in the future.

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Lobbying is part of the mandate for many associations. Social media helps reduce the difficulty and cost of lobbying while increasing member engagement. All this adds up to a campaign that has more of a chance to succeed. So next time your association is pushing for change with your local or national government, embrace social media and all the great things it has to offer!