In many ways, engaging with supporters is more challenging than growing your communities given the growing demand to produce compelling content for each channel, not to mention trends like real-time updates, personalization, automation, etc.

This article explains how organizations can tie all of these concepts together using social media listening, aka “Social Listening,” as the foundation for engagement in 2016.

Before we dive into social listening tactics, we need to evaluate digital engagement trends as a whole. While the nonprofit sector is in many ways different from the consumer culture that we want to avoid, consider for a moment how our expectations as consumers affect engagement preferences.

As modern consumers, we have high expectations about how we want to be contacted, when we’re contacted, and the content we’re being contacted about.

A unique challenge facing nonprofits is that our expectations as consumers bleed into what supporters may expect. Social listening helps bridge this gap.

We can draw parallels of customer behavior and engagement by looking at Adobe’s 2015 Digital Trends Report, which found that only 5% of companies plan to differentiate on price with their competitors. Instead they plan to focus on developing their customer experience so it’s easy, fun, and valuable to buy from them. This indicates that for many companies, the price and product is just as important as the right experience, which the report further explains is rooted in personalization.

Everyone wants to see a personalized experience online — when you’re browsing the web, talking on social media, or checking emails. Are your supporters and donors really that different?

There’s a growing demand for personalization, so know your supporters’ playlist


Here’s what I mean by playlist: the other day I was shopping at a store and the song “We built this city on rock and roll” started playing. At first it was just annoying, but as a marketer, I knew this song wasn’t random. They were playing it because they pegged me as the person who would enjoy the song. Perhaps I shouldn’t shop here since they totally don’t get me.

1 – Social Listening Tells You What Your Supporters Want to Hear

People want to engage with organizations that get them, that understand their interests and values. They want to know that you’ll never play “We built this city on rock and roll” and will engage them with what they want to hear.

Social listening informs communications and digital teams what your supporters want to hear. As a person’s online identity becomes better defined by the things they click on, interact with, and talk about on social media, the more important it becomes to tailor your communications to get their attention.

What is Social Media Listening Exactly?

Social listening is the process of monitoring digital media channels to understand the conversation around relevant topics – so you can better engage those people driving it.

As communicators, it’s critical that we understand how, and if, our base is talking about our key issues. It’s not only interesting to see the nature of the conversation; it informs our content strategy.

2 – Social listening offers powerful opportunities to reply with real time, personalized multi-channel engagement.

In the pic below, we can see which supporters are talking about #Cop21. This was one of over 3,000 mentions of #cop21 in the past 7 days from our demo account…. which is a lot!

personalized rpely

By listening to what a supporter, donor, or partner is saying on social media, your organization can understand which issues resonate and why — you can literally see how they are talking about your work. If enough people are talking about a term, you can also send automate emails that are delivered a few hours after the mention.

3 – Social Listening Is Accessible (so use it)

You don’t need a mission control center to listen to your people.

What comes to mind when you think about this latest buzz term? If it involves a mission control style operation with teams of people and marketing budget perhaps larger than your annual budget, you’d indeed be correct … in 2012.

“Houston, we have a tweet


This pic above was taken in 2012, and is actually Dell’s social media ground control and command center. This center staffed 70 employees monitoring social conversations from around the globe, most involving customer support.

At the time, responding to the latest news and trends on social that were relevant to their target audience was remarkable. Through real time social listening, they modernized the golden rule of sending the right message, to the right person, at the right time.

On a side note, according to IBM, in 2012 only 16% of companies used social media to engage with customers.

For nonprofits, what’s exciting about advances in social listening is that data processing is more affordable. This means that causes can use a proven strategy once reserved for the largest commercial brands.

4 – Listen to Your People … avoid the meow meow effect

Another common reservation about social listening is the time it could take to make sense of endless streams of social chatter like this…

Meow (1)

Most of us don’t have extra time to analyze data that may not be actionable. Attempting social listening with tools that are really designed for scheduling your social media posts is possible, but requires a fair amount of work.

By focusing on listening to your people in your CRM and current followers (and not the world), you narrow the universe and have a reasonable amount of data to work with. You can further narrow this down by using key search terms to see who in your database and current followers are talking about these terms.

5 – Social Listening Allows You To Understand Your People

How does social listening connect back to the trend of personalization? When we talk about personalization in the context of engagement, it’s about knowing your audience better, so you can send relevant content when it’s top of mind.

Modern personalization combines social media insights, social listening, and information you already have in your CRM, so you’re able to segment and send the right messages, on the right channels.

What a social listening + CRM records looks like


The basic idea is to build a profile from donations, actions taken, and social mentions through social listening and other supporter data so you can segment and send targeted content.

6 – Engage Supporters by Social Mentions

An effective way to utilize social listening is to monitor mentions of the name of your organization and any campaigns you are running.

Sticking with the climate theme, here’s a mention of the Young & Future Generations Day campaign. For any campaign, it’s paramount you know which supporters in your CRM are spreading the word. Here we can see Deborah retweeted the campaign’s tweet to her followers.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 11.35.28 AM

7 – Listen to Stakeholders

How do your partners and allies talk about your work? Are they sharing your campaign content?

One of our clients at plans to listen to their 30 corporate company partners to see how their supporters are talking about these corporate partners, and see how their corporate partners are talking about their campaigns. They will then engage with partners AND supporters via social, as well as sending Facebook Ads based on social mentions to promote the various partners.

8 – Social Listening Allows Rapid Response

Often times, you’ll suspect an issue is trending with your base, but can’t back it up with real data. Social listening is like running a daily poll on your supporters so you have a real-time pulse of your people.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 11.40.07 AM

Timing is everything — if there is a swell in the conversations about the work you do, seize the moment and send out an action alert or donation appeal while the issue is top of mind.

Modern engagement demands real time response. What this means for supporter engagement is to send personalized content as soon as possible, not in next month’s newsletter.

9 – Listen For Opportunities to Engage Your Influencers

Nonprofits have an enormous opportunity to recruit passionate followers online who will extend your content reach and help secure future supporters. The idea here is to tap into other people’s networks who will share your content to their own followers. It’s one of the smartest ways to grow your base and move the needle on your engagement.

Social listening allows you to evaluate what your top influencers are talking about on social media so you aren’t pitching them out of the blue.

In 2015, we talked about why cultivating your social media champions is important and how to find them. Turns out, so did everyone else! According to Google Trends, the term “Influencer Marketing” increased in search traffic by 87% just within the last twelve months.

While identifying your existing influencers is fairly easy with tools like, we’ve seen a lot of folks get stuck on the “Now what?” phase. It’s a good instinct not to jump right in because, with your top level influencers, it’s key to give yourself time to build your relationship before making your ask.

In 2016, we expect to see a prioritization of social listening and monitoring the content shared by influencers. We also expect to see nonprofits use new workflows designed to listen to your people so you have an “always-on” engagement program.

10 – Listen for User Generated Content Opportunities

There’s nothing more relatable for your supporters than seeing your mission in action by real people. Think about co-creating content with a few of your top influencers to share with your respective networks. If you don’t know where to get started, think about asking our friends here at Social Driver or Fission Strategy for help.

Sign up for The Future of Online Engagement: Trends to Watch in 2016 on Wed, Dec 9

We’ve teamed up with our smart friends at AddThis and Social Driver, who will share a few new moves on our webinar that could change your engagement game in 2016.