Social Media Usage & Nonprofits: Are You Using It Like a Billboard, or to Build Relationships?

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Guest Post by Ami Neiberger-Miller

Many nonprofit organizations have been on social media for more than a decade. New start-up nonprofit organizations can easily set up a Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram account to share their work, attract donors, and engage volunteers. But what value do nonprofits really get out of social media? And how are they leveraging limited time and resources to engage in social media?

Are they using social media more like a billboard yelling out “hey look at us!” at anyone who passes by? Or are they using social media strategically to build and nurture relationships with core audiences that matter to them and their work? Some recent studies shed light on what nonprofits are doing.

A 2017 survey by Bloomerang, found that nonprofits want to use social media to share organizational news, promote events, and share organizational success stories. Sharing news and information ranked #4 on their list of goals, with fundraising at #5. The social media platform of choice was Facebook with 99% of respondents on Facebook and 90% considering Facebook to be their primary vehicle for social media engagement. Respondents said success was tracked by examining engagement.

More than half (55%) said social media was “very valuable” for their marketing efforts (they are really busy hanging those billboards!). Yet the survey also revealed that many struggle with strategy. Sixty-seven percent don’t document their social media goals. And more than half – 58% – don’t document their social media strategies (posting schedules, content types or target audiences). Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) did not have a documented strategy for responding to negative comments. In other words – the billboard hangers are more often than not, winging it when it comes to what they put on the board and how they hang it.

Many of the survey respondents were also missing important connections that could have been nurtured through a social media engagement. Only 13% were tracking the social media accounts of constituents in their donor database. This is a key gap for nonprofits seeking to communicate with donors and raise funds. And other key audiences – volunteers and supporters – ranked eighth seventh, respectively, when it came to overall goal-setting for nonprofit social media presence.

A 2018 study Kansas University on international nonprofits and social media usage concluded that nonprofits were more effective in using social media if they received clear support for social media engagement from organizational leadership. The allocation of resources – people power and funds to support social media engagement – made a big difference.

Researchers noted, “Strong organizational leadership support of social media efforts was the most significant factor in predicting the organization’s social media involvement. A lot of people say, ‘Social media is free.’ But it’s not free,” Seo said. “It takes people to develop content and share it, and that takes time, resources and leadership commitment.”

A 2015 study known as the Nonprofit Social Media Scorecard  noted that nonprofits often don’t nurture sharing and relationship. About half (49%) don’t respond to questions on Facebook and 55% don’t respond to questions on Twitter either. When donors posted a comment or asked a question, only 28% within 24 hours on Facebook and 8% responded within an hour on Twitter. In many cases, all that might have been needed was a simple thank you!

Only a quarter (24%) give donors tools to share about a donation on social media. The authors note a study by the American Red Cross which found that 40% of donors would share or be likely to share about a donation they made on social media. They also noted that 18% donated because they received an email from a friend and 17% donated because they read a social media post. By not enabling social sharing and not commenting and engaging with donors and supporters through social media, many nonprofits are losing opportunities to engage and nurture relationships.

If you just discovered you are a billboard hanger and not a relationship builder when it comes to social media – you can make a change today. Here are a few steps to help:

Suggested Action Steps:

  • Identify social media as an important engagement strategy for your organization, with clear support for it from the leadership of your organization.
  • Write down your goals for social media engagement for your nonprofit. Review your goals regularly and consider how they can be measured and improved. Write a social media policy for your organization and a clear policy on how negative comments (and positive ones) are responded to.
  • Draft your social media tactics and content.
  • Allocate staff time and resources to foster more engagement on social media.
  • Respond to comments and questions on social media platforms. Pay particular attention to donors and supporters.
  • Turn on social sharing tools for donors and supporters. Praise those who share and carry your message as an ambassador to others.
  • Periodically measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts. Modify what you are doing based on what you learn.

About the Author

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview the portfoliosign up for the e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.