The consensus among social media practitioners is that only a portion of your messaging should be promotional.

For example, the rule of thirds states that only 33% of your content should be promotional, while the 80/20 rule limits it to just 20%. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, who among us wants to constantly solicited to on social media?

So if the majority of your social media postings should be conversational, how do you go about generating those interactions?

The key is listening.

Here’s why listening is the ideal starting point to engaging new and prospective followers in a meaningful conversation:

1. You Can’t Broadcast Until You Have a Community

If you’re boasting only single or double-digit follower counts on your active social networks, your posts are the equivalent of shouting into a void, especially when you consider that algorithm-controlled networks (like Facebook and Instagram) limit the visibility of your posts to only about 10% of your followers.

And shouting into a void isn’t the best way to gain followers.

One of the best ways (not the only way) to gain followers is to monitor ongoing conversations, and engage with them if it makes sense to do so. Listen for mentions of your brand name, your cause, your events or any other topic that is on-brand for you.

2. Listening Gives You an Authentic Reason to Engage

Savvy nonprofit marketers will identify social media users in their community who are either influential, in a position to help (geographically close, civically engaged, etc.) or both.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to simply spam these people by bulk-tweeting to them or tagging them in promotional posts. It’s no surprise that these messages are often ignored. Social media is not the same as mass email marketing.

Once you have identified those you want to have a conversation with (either through listening or direct research), engage them individually either around a conversation already in progress or by initiating a new one that is unique to just them.

This kind of interaction is much more authentic than blasting out the same message to a large group of people and hoping one or two responds.

3. Broadcasting En Masse is Not Effective

If you are using a tool that lets you schedule and distribute content en masse to multiple social media networks at once, you may want to reconsider.

Sending the same update to all of your networks at the same time is universally regarded as a bad idea. Each social network has its own unique community, style and cadence expectations. It’s also counter-intuitive to the whole idea of being “social.” When you’re at a party, do you go up and talk to people individually or do you shout from the corner of the room and hope someone hears you?

But, most importantly, this isn’t a function that you should look for in a donor database. It’s not your donor database’s job to broadcast to social media. It is its job to measure engagement from social media (Twitter is arguably the best network for this because of how open and personal the interactions are).

Does your nonprofit organization engage in social listening? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!

For help with generating the rest of your content, be sure to download our free eBook: The Three A’s of Nonprofit Social Media.