A Recipe for Increasing your Nonprofit’s Engagement on Social Media

Craig Grella
November 5, 2020


Social media networks are used by 72% of the U.S adult population. A back of the napkin calculation tells us that’s about 150 million people. At first glance, you’d think that just by posting on a few social networks your nonprofit could reach more people than any other marketing method and your entire year’s worth of fundraising could be generated in one day. But we all know it’s just not that simple. It’s the reason that one of the questions we get asked most often by nonprofits is how can they increase engagement with the content they post on social media networks.

The short answer is there is no single method (or network) that will be perfect for every organization. That’s because the level of engagement you experience on any social media network is a product of the content you create and the network on which you post.

The good news is that there is a process you can follow for each piece of content you produce to make sure it’s posted in the right place at the right time. In this article, we’ll discuss how to create content that delivers value to your audience and how to best match that content to the proper social media network.

To start, let’s discuss how social media networks promote the content you post and how they control who sees it and who engages with it.

Understanding How Social Media Networks Work

Most social networks have developed internal algorithms, or calculations, to determine which people on the network will see a particular post. Some prioritize friends and family, others prioritize fans and followers, some prioritize the type of media in the post, and others prioritize news from sources marked as “trustworthy” by the local community. Generally, this is called organic reach - the number of people who you can reach for free by posting to your news feed or page. 

On most social networks, organic reach has been dropping for years for the simple reasons that there are more people sharing stories and there is more content than time for readers to absorb it. To monetize their platform and drive revenue to investors, most social networks prioritize paid advertising, which further drives down your organic reach. These things make it harder for any single post to gain exposure in a typical social network feed. This is important for you to understand because to cut through all the noise you need to be smart about what you post; when you post; and where you post your message.

Indiscriminately posting to every social media network under the sun is not a good marketing strategy or a good use of your staff time. Trying to game the system or adapt to the ever-changing social media algorithms is also a fool’s errand. Simply posting more often does not guarantee more people will see your posts, and it is not likely to increase your organic reach.

The content that consistently gets higher organic reach is high-quality content that your audience engages with more often.

That is true on every social network. In one way or another, each network is going to prioritize the type of content that its users have engaged with most often in the past. 

The key then is for you to create high-quality, engaging content.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “that’s obvious, and it’s much easier said than done.”

How Your Nonprofit Can Create High-Quality, Engaging Content

Believe it or not, the process of creating high-quality, engaging content is fairly straightforward. Let’s break it down.

Quality is determined by the value the reader perceives when consuming your content. Value is subjective. What is valuable to one person may not be valuable to another. Some perceive value in a long scholarly article with the latest research figures. Others like everything tied up into a nice infographic. Still, others like a snarky meme and pictures of dogs sleepwalking. Quality, therefore, will be determined, in part, by what the reader is expecting to learn or achieve by consuming your content.

Higher value content will cause higher engagement with that content. As people consume your material and find it valuable, they share it with like-minded people, especially those the sharer believes will benefit from that information. 

In both cases, the secret lies in understanding your audience. The rest is making sure your audience is able to see the content once it’s ready for them, and we’ll discuss those two topics next.

Understanding Your Audience

The best way to understand your audience is to go straight to the source. Asking your supporters what they like is the best way to determine the information they value and are more likely to engage with.

Our goal is to develop a profile of the perfect audience member. Who they are, what they look like, what they like to read, watch, etc. In the business world, this is called a buyer persona - the characteristics of the person most likely to purchase your product. For nonprofits, your perfect customer is a person who would potentially donate, volunteer, or somehow get involved in spreading the word about what you do. That is the currency for most nonprofits.

How to Build A Social Media Audience Profile If You’re Nonprofit is Already Established

If you’ve already built an audience on any social network your task is a bit easier. And don’t think this work is not worth doing just because you have an audience already. Building an audience profile will help you better understand your existing audience and what they want to see from you in the future, which will help you grow your audience faster than before and generate more engagement from it. Basically, there’s never a bad time to try and learn more about what your audience wants.

Each network provides tools we can use to start building our audience profile. Here are the names of the tools for the major social networks:

  • Facebook Insights
  • Instagram Insights
  • Twitter Analytics
  • LinkedIn Analytics
  • Pinterest Analytics

For example, here’s a snippet of Salsa’s Facebook Analytics.

How to Choose the Right Social Media Network for Your Nonprofit - Facebook Analytics 1

We can see that our audience is predominantly women, nearly 10% higher than Facebook’s audience of women overall.  We can also see that nearly 60% of our audience is between the age of 35 to 54.

In the image below, we can see our audience is predominantly married and nearly all of our audience has some college-level learning. This tracks with Facebook in general, but the percentage of our audience with graduate school experience is way above Facebook’s average. Our audience on Facebook appreciates educational information, which means that we can probably get away with posting more technical content.

A Recipe for Increasing your Nonprofit’s Engagement on Social Media - Facebook Analytics 2

A further look into what our audience likes on Facebook tells us the exact type of content they appreciate, which pages they view most often, the device types they use most often, and even the methods they used to share our content. All that helps us determine what to post when we post on Facebook or other networks.

On Pinterest, we can gauge the interests of our audience and compare that to the overall interests of Pinterest on the whole.

A Recipe for Increasing your Nonprofit’s Engagement on Social Media - Pinterest Analytics 1

We can see that our audience on Pinterest is also highly interested in items related to education. Further down that affinity list we also see that topics like weddings and architecture, while popular on Pinterest, are not topics of interest for our specific audience.

How to Build A Social Media Audience Profile If Your Nonprofit is New

If you’re just getting started with social media, building an audience profile will take a little more effort. Since you will not have audience analytics available, you’ll need to look elsewhere for similar information. 

Start by making a list of the type of people you think would be interested in your content. These are most likely going to be the people your nonprofit serves or helps, and immediate family members. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What do they look like? 
    • Are they married, single, divorced, etc.
    • How old are they?
  • What is their education level?
  • Do they have a job?
    • If so, what is their title, level of income, and what is their industry?
    • What are their responsibilities at work?
  • What do they read/watch, and What news sources do they trust?

The next step is to go straight to the source. Contact them individually and perform a short survey. The time you spend here will pay dividends online and off. It will deepen your relationship with your supporters, and provide valuable insight into what they expect to see online.

You’ll ask the same information presented above, and a few additional questions like:

  • What websites do they like to visit?
  • Which social networks do they like to visit?
  • What type of content do they like?
    • Serious, fun, educational, or do they just go online to watch cute cat gifs?
  • What time of day do they normally go online to read/watch content?
  • How much time do they spend online each day?
  • If your organization performs advocacy work you might want to understand where your audience member stands on important public issues or the topics in which you advocate for or against.

Understanding these simple data points helps give us a better understanding of our readers and what they expect to see when they log onto a social network. That can help us determine which content we create next, which content we should post on which network first, and when we should post.

Matching Your Nonprofit to the Right Social Media Network

Of course, getting a “like” is nice. Adding a new follower is nice. But we’re really after engagement. A donation, a new volunteer, or someone who is willing to answer our call to action, or, at the very least, to share that call to action with someone else who might act on it.

Once you understand the characteristics of your audience you’ll want to find the social media network that offers the the audience that is most likely to:

  1. Consume and engage with your content
  2. Take your intended action

How to Determine The Network with the Audience Most Likely to Engage with Your Content

A good resource here is the Social Media Fact Sheet published each year by the Pew Research Center, a subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trust.

If your goal is to reach women in urban areas who have college degrees and are looking for educational information, your most engaged audience will probably be found on LinkedIn. Conversely, if your goal is to reach Hispanic men, age 65+, who do not have a college education - LinkedIn is going to offer you a much smaller audience. If the majority of your audience does not have a college degree, it might not be a great idea to post a research study that would take a Ph.D. in biochemistry to understand. If your audience is made up of people with modest incomes, continually posting fundraising appeals will get much lower engagement.

Clearly, Facebook and YouTube offer the widest audience across nearly all demographics. YouTube is one of the largest search engines in the world, second only to Google Search. But simply going for the largest audience is not always going to give the best engagement. There may also be technical barriers that prevent you from gaining traction. For example, YouTube requires video to engage. If you’ve not produced a video or don’t have the means to do so, YouTube will not likely be the best place for you. Instagram requires an image or video to post and if you’re not familiar with using filters or graphics editors, this platform may be out of reach.

Demographics are not the  only determining factor you use to determine the network you post on, but it is a good place to start.  Another consideration is determining the network that deliver the audience that will be most likely to respond to ti the network that is 

How to Match Your Content’s Intended Outcome to the Social Network

Just because you’ve identified a few networks that match your demographic doesn’t mean you need to post every piece of content you create on every network. Thinking about the intended outcome you expect to receive from your content will help you focus on the best network and maximize likely engagement.

For this, you’ll want to gain an understanding of the outcomes possible from each social network. Most offer some combination of likes, follows, and shares. Others allow you to collect donations, for supporters to submit stories of their own, some allow live streaming, others allow live chat. If you’re just looking for traffic or clicks, that might be another network still.

Again, we’ll go to our analytics package to start the research here. If you’re using a system that can aggregate all your social networks into one place this task is easy. If not, you can go back to each network and develop this data and then analyze in a spreadsheet.

The image below shows a snippet of the posts Salsa published across a few social networks for a period of time. The posts were split almost evenly between Twitter and Facebook (about 45% each) and then approximately 10% of the posts went through LinkedIn. Just one on Instagram.

A Recipe for Increasing your Nonprofit’s Engagement on Social Media -

Simply posting content is not what we’re all after though. If we post a million status updates but no one ever clicks on them or shares them we don’t do our organization any good.

Even though we posted evenly on Twitter and Facebook, you can see from the image below that the majority of our engagement came from Twitter, which would suggest the audience there is much more engaged. 

A Recipe for Increasing your Nonprofit’s Engagement on Social Media - Hubspot Analytics 2

But we don’t stop there. Taking this one step further, we also look at who’s sharing our content. The image below shows that LinkedIn was responsible for nearly double the shares of the other networks combined.

A Recipe for Increasing your Nonprofit’s Engagement on Social Media - Hubspot Analytics 3

Taking this all together we can start planning where we post based on what desired action we want our audience to take. If we want people to download a report we’ll get more engagement from Twitter because they’re sending more click traffic than the other networks. If we have a case study about a nonprofit using our tools and we want that story to be shared with people who don’t know about Salsa we are more likely to get better engagement posting that on LinkedIn where it will be shared to a wider audience not already connected to us.

What if Your Audience is All On One Social Network?

If the majority of your audience is concentrated on just one social network, then you need to change your expected outcome to match the method which that audience is most likely to engage.

Here’s a story that will help illustrate the concept:

An advocacy organization was looking to change the mind of policymakers on a specific topic. They were struggling with low volunteer engagement and couldn’t get traction on Facebook, the network where they had the most followers. They were posting graphics and videos prompting people to join them at in-person events in the district of a specific legislator. Just a few people were showing up, and attendance was inconsistent. It was clear their initiative would not succeed with such low participation.

After polling their members, they discovered that the majority of their audience was made up of working parents who had a very limited amount of time to volunteer. In fact, most of them had only a few minutes a day to engage, usually a period of about 30 minutes on the drive between the time they dropped the kids off at school and when they arrived at the office. When they went on Facebook to check updates from their friends and family they saw the big events this organization was planning but they knew they could not dedicate the time that was required of them. So they ignored the posts.

Upon learning this, the organization shifted its focus from in-person events to phone and text advocacy. They invested in creating a simple website their audience could visit on their cell phones. The application was developed by volunteers and cost them just a few dollars a month to maintain. With just a few clicks, volunteers could pull up their legislator’s contact info, read a short script, and automatically be connected to their office. When the app was released, the organization promoted it on Facebook, this time focusing on the simplicity of the app and how volunteering would take 15 minutes or less. That change resulted in hundreds of callers making thousands of calls in just a few days.

They couldn’t change their audience, but they changed their content to better match what the audience would be willing to engage with. And that made all the difference.

Determining When Your Audience Is Most Engaged

No matter which network on which you choose to post, you’ll want to make note of when your audience is most engaged. 

If the majority of your audience has a professional job and works 9-5, then posting that volunteer appeal at 2 pm may not be the best idea because fewer people will see it. And by the time your audience gets home, their feeds will be filled with more recent posts and your content will get lost in the shuffle. 

You’ll find time-based activity reports in most analytics packages on individual networks and more detailed reports on social aggregators.

Consider the following report which tells us the days and times when our audience has been most active.

A Recipe for Increasing your Nonprofit’s Engagement on Social Media - social timing 1

We can see that our audience is most active around 4 pm and 9 pm on Thursdays, then again around 7 pm on Fridays.

Tying it All Together to Achieve Better Engagement for Your Nonprofit

Your social media audience profile tells you what your audience wants to see and what they are likely to engage with. You’ve matched your profile to the demographics of the social networks and found a few good networks to post on. You’ve also considered the action you want your audience to take and you know when they are likely to take it. 

The only thing left to do is to actually create the content and start posting!

That’s a topic we’ll cover in another post, but if you’ve followed our process above you’ll be well on your way to higher engagement on any network where you choose to post. 

Drop us a note on Facebook messenger and let us know how it goes. And if you’d like to learn more about using Salsa Engage to schedule and post all your social media content, you can open a chat with one of our team members on the bottom right of this post or from any page on the Salsa website.

Good luck creating!

Topics: Nonprofit Marketing
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