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11 Best Practices For Nonprofits Using Social Media

11 Best Practices For Nonprofits Using Social Media  image social mediaNonprofits are using social media tools more than ever, but many nonprofit professionals are overwhelmed and overworked and lack the necessary training and support to effectively build and manage successful online communities.

Social media offers an effective way for nonprofits to share information about their mission, build critical relationships, and engage their communities of stakeholders – and will likely continue to undergo rapid change.

The following checklist will help ensure that your nonprofit is maximizing its presence on social media sites to achieve your online goals.

  1.  Set up profiles and pages on at least 10 social media sites (even if you don’t think you will ever use them). Claim your organization’s URLs and user names, just as you did when you registered your nonprofit website domain name. Keep all the user names, URLs, emails and passwords in a spreadsheet (ideally in a Google Doc if you are going to be sharing the work of managing the sites). Be consistent if possible when registering. For example, if your website URL is http://nonprofitorgs.wordpress.com/, then your Twitter handle should be@nonprofitorgs, your Facebook page should be www.facebook.com/nonprofitorgs, etc.
  2. Fill out all profiles completely. To be complete, a profile must have a photo/avatar that is square (not a cut off version of your horizontal logo). Each social network requires more or less information, but make sure that they all include at least one photo, your organization mission statement, contact information, and website link.
  3. Spend time learning the unique culture of each network. Facebook has a different culture than Twitter and LinkedIn, and it is important to understand the distinction. Spend some time listening and observing, learning the language, and getting the pulse of your industry.
  4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Start out using one or two networks frequently, and move on to others if you have more time and more capacity. Quality over quantity is paramount when using social media.
  5. Promote your profiles. Just because you build them does not mean that people will find them. Add social media buttons to the main page of your website and email newsletter (ideally visible on all web pages, easy to find, with links that work). Put the URLs on business cards, in email signatures and on all print materials (brochures, press releases, annual reports). Put a sign in your waiting room, lobby, office – anywhere people congregate.
  6. Be responsive and accessible. There is no greater online sin than a social media profile that has questions, comments, and engagement that is not managed. If your online community engages and asks questions, answer them promptly. If you need to wait to get the answer, let them know you will get back to them as soon as you can: 24 hours is an eternity in the social media realm. Respond immediately to comments, questions, and feedback on your posts.
  7. Always incorporate photos and videos in your posts. Photos and videos get more engagement (comments, clicks, and shares) than simple text.
  8. Ask for help and feedback, but only if you are prepared to use it. And if you are, are you doing it only because you think you have to? Are you aiming to “increase engagement” without having a plan about how to acknowledge and use that engagement? Do you follow up with and/or implement the suggestions and recognize the people who took the time to reply to your request?
  9. Be personable. Let your fans and followers know there is a person or persons behind the tweets and the posts. Go off topic once in a while – talk about the weather, sports, humor, local events. Don’t just talk about your organization and your cause in a dry, impersonal, formal way. (Behind-the-scenes posts and photos are always very popular.)
  10. Always, always say thank you! Thank people for sharing your content, for following you on Twitter and Facebook, for posting your video on YouTube, for “plus-one”ing you on Google+. Acknowledge donors and volunteers on your social media profiles, thank people for hosting an event, thank a board member each week. Create good karma and it will certainly come back to you!
  11. Keep your expectations grounded in reality. Just because the Kony 2012 cause went “viral” and had millions of views on YouTube does not mean that your nonprofit will meet the same standard. If you are a small shop with two hours or less, a week to spend on social media sites, you are not going to get hundreds of fans and followers overnight. Creating an active, engaged online community takes time and effort, trial and error, success and failure.

Getting the results you want from social media is an investment, but well worth it. If you maintain a consistent, accessible and authentic presence online, if you regularly provide value to your fans and followers, then you will get closer to accomplishing your social media objectives. Start with realistic goals and you may be surprised to surpass them.

Julia Campbell, principal at J Campbell Social Marketing, helps nonprofits reach new supporters and strengthen relationships with current ones using online tools. Connect with her on Facebook on on her blog.

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