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Social Media for Nonprofits: Strengths and Weaknesses of Top Platforms

Social Media for NonprofitsGot a Facebook page? Check. Are you tweeting? Yup. Do you have videos on YouTube? Sure.
So, now what?

You’re ready to take that next, big leap into social networking by sharing your story with new audiences and in new ways. Need some suggestions for where to go next?

Now, I must warn you - as tempting as it may be to join every shiny, new social network out there, you’ve got to exercise some control.

Check out these social media best practices if you need a quick refresher. Managing social networks requires a lot of time, patience and energy - and that’s just the communicating part! Don’t forget you’ve also got to be a good social listener. Take a moment and think about how your organization is actually going to use social media, which audiences you are trying to reach, and how much time and money you are really willing to put into it.
Okay, reality check complete? Good. Now, let’s dive in.

First, we’ll start with a few gimmes - these are the social media sites that should rank pretty high on your “must visit” list. Then, we’ll travel further into early adopter territory to really test your courage.

Google+

The Scoop: Share updates, pictures, events, videos and animated gifs (yes!) with people in your “circles”. But here’s the real special sauce in Google+: it improves your SEO and gives your organization more exposure in Google search results.

Whatever you post on your Google+ page syncs with the Google search engine itself. In other words, the more you post content (and the more it’s shared), the higher your chances are the content will show up in Google’s search engine. On the surface, it’s a lot like Facebook, but dig a little deeper - there are some serious benefits to creating (and optimizing) your Google+ presence.

Audience: 25-35 year olds are the most active on Google+.

Time and Money: Since Google+ is similar to Facebook in many ways, your content strategy for the two networks can also be fairly similar. Don’t be afraid to repurpose content, but do it in a smart way that won’t cheat (or bore) audiences that may be following you in both places. Whatever you share on one network, stagger the post dates on the other so the content is at least being pushed out at different intervals.

The only part that may require a bit more time is creating your circles. But getting your groups organized sooner than later will make connecting with others easier and will be worth it in the long run. And if you haven’t already, look into Google Grants that offers qualifying 501(c)3’s up to $10,000 a month to spend on Google ads. Or download this guide if you need help with the Google for Nonprofits application.

Guide to Growing Online Support

Instagram

The Scoop: Share catchy pictures (and videos too!)

It’s a bit harder to get noticed on Instagram because your photos aren’t easily shared outside of your personal networks, but they are easily discoverable through the use of hashtags. The power of Instagram lies in community engagement, so it is important to build a loyal following. Cross-promoting your Instagram content on other social networks like Facebook or Twitter can help you do just  that.

Visual storytelling is essential. Use bold, vivid imagery to get noticed. With awesome filters that change the look and feel of your images, you can add a new dimension to your work and capture the attention of viewers. Instagram also allows users to create 3-15 second videos. (Want some tips on making powerful videos for your organization? Jump ahead to our review of Vine.)

Overall, you want to build on the instant connectivity of a network like Instagram. Give supporters more of an insiders look into your world. Consider posting “behind the scenes” pictures during an upcoming event to add a dose of exclusivity for your Instagram followers.

Audience: Instagram is quickly growing in popularity among teens and young adults, so think about how to cultivate your Millennial audience.

Time and Money: You can go crazy with Instagram and purchase all kinds of fancy applications to create cool effects and edit your pictures, but they aren’t necessary. In fact, it’s best to keep your pictures strong and simple.
Sponsored ads do appear on Instagram, but according to the site they’re “starting slow” with the roll out to find the right balance for advertisers and their community. So stay tuned for more opportunities in paid promotions (or if you prefer, just enjoy the lower volume of advertising noise for a while longer.)
Instagram for Nonprofits

LinkedIn

The Scoop: Make connections with staff, volunteers, prospective employees, other organizations and professionals in your field. 

Ideal for professionals looking to network and gain deeper knowledge about topics in their field of interest, work or study. In-depth blogs, comprehensive research and other similar content is well-suited for a network like this.

Also check out LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace - a relatively new addition to the site to help nonprofits recruit qualified volunteers. 

Audience: LinkedIn’s audience is well-educated and often comes from higher income households, according to Pew Research.

Time and Money: LinkedIn may require a bit more time to manage if you tailor your content accordingly for this audience. But putting in the time can mean gaining some highly engaged and very loyal supporters. 
LinkedIn Ads work similar to boosting posts on Facebook - you set the budget and only pay for the clicks or impressions you receive. You can also target based on job title, job function, industry, geography, age, gender, company name, company size, or LinkedIn Group.

Pinterest

The Scoop: Scrapbook or “pin” photos and videos to boards to tell the story of your organization and the work you are doing.

Supporters, in turn, can “re-pin” the items they like to share with others in their personal networks. Remember: Pinterest is a social network, so just pinning your own content without re-pinning, liking or joining other conversations is not fully participating in the community. After all, nobody wants to talk to someone who only talks about themselves!

Audience: Pinterest is great if your audience is mostly women, as users are 83% female. And even though some of the most popular boards are dedicated to fashion trends and crafty how to’s, don’t feel you need to shy away from some of the harder hitting issues you may work on. Regardless of the issue, visual storytelling is once again, where it’s at.  Use strong imagery to tell your story and you can’t go wrong.

Time and Money: The key is to repurpose the visual content you’ve already created to maximize your time and impact on Pinterest.

As for paid advertising, the site recently started to roll out Promoted Pins, so there will likely be more opportunities to boost your brand's presence in the near future.

While it doesn’t seem that Pinterest has specifically targeted nonprofit brands as of yet, they are testing a Google AdWords-like model which would enable almost anyone to bid and have their ads featured along search results.

Snapchat

The Scoop: A mobile app that connects users through video chatting, text messaging...and oh yeah, has helped usher in a whole new wave of ephemeral communication.

The mobile revolution isn’t coming... it’s already here. And organizations must look beyond the right now in order to stay relevant in the years to come. Snapchat offers an interesting opportunity to break out of your box in a big way.

“Stories” is a feature which enables brands to build and string together a narrative over the course of a day. Stories can be viewed as many times before the 24 hours is up and then they disappear...vanish...poof...adios! Seriously.

It should be no surprise that 13-year-olds were among the first to catch on the novelty here. To ride the Snapchat wave, you’ve got to embrace the fun of it all. We know humor works and is essential in creating powerful and memorable campaigns. Get creative and send Snaps of your own as reminders and updates or to leak behind-the-scene footage (at fundraisers, events, dinners), and a sneak peek of some of your speakers at events, new swag, etc.

Need a bit more inspiration? Check out this great story and interviewabout how DoSomething.org is embracing Snapchat.

Audience: Snapchat’s audience is on the younger side, about ages 13-25.

Time and Money: Snapchat is a free app, but it will take a fair amount of time to maintain. Make sure you have a strong mobile strategy and staff resources in place before tackling a project like this one.

Vine

The Scoop: Create and post short (6 seconds - yikes!) video clips that run on an endless loop.
These videos can either be one clip, or a string of clips put together to add up to a multi-part story (yes, still in 6 seconds flat).

Use Vine to tell potential supporters what your nonprofit does in a very straight-forward, promotional way - show off your service, volunteers, products, etc. Or what better to motivate people than by capturing those ultimate moments of gratification related to your mission - chanting during a rally; runners crossing the finish line after a 5K fundraiser; welcoming a group of excited volunteers; rescuing homeless animals; kids receiving books from a book drive  - that will replay over and over and over again until the end of time.

Still not convinced that you can tell a powerful story in 6 seconds or less? Instagram Video lets you record video for up to a jaw-dropping 15 seconds!

Audience: Again, the millennials have it - usually between the ages of 17 and 30. But as both video and mobile technology continue to improve, sites such as Vine will grow in popularity.

Time and Money: Again, Vine doesn’t cost any money to purchase the application, but it does require a good amount of time to maintain it. Vine videos take thought and planning, as well as staff resources and skill to execute them.

Medium

The Scoop: Medium is a new place on the Internet where people can share ideas and stories in blog format. Sound a little too “been there, done that”? Hold on.

Medium is a community for writers...or storytellers, if you will. So, no blanket solicitations please. Instead, focus on sharing your raw and real stories about your quest to make the world a better place.

The site combines a clean layout, high-quality banner imagery, an even a higher bar for quality storytelling, and a deeply engaged community to turn this space into an ideal “medium” for sharing powerful mission-focused stories about empowering communities, overcoming challenges and achieving success. (I suspect you know a few stories like this.)

Audience: Passionate. You’ll prosper in this writer-focused community if you stay true to the power of words.

Time and Money: One of Medium’s founders (formerly chief executive of Twitter) recently had this to say "Right now, the Internet rewards speed and quantity, and we wanted to make a place where quality matters.”

So you may want to factor in a bit of extra time here if you really want to get the most out of it. But if you have some savvy writer/blogger types already on staff and able to craft good, quality content, then perhaps its worth funneling their efforts into becoming early adopters of this new Medium.

Topics: Marketing