While there are thousands of articles talking about various techniques and tools businesses can use to boost their profits, nonprofit marketing is a bit of an obscure topic rarely discussed in the wider marketing circles. When you think about successful marketing campaigns, it’s rare that your first example will be a nonprofit. However, nonprofits also need marketing strategy AND their marketing goals aren’t too different from those of businesses: raising awareness, conversions (i.e. gathering donations, encouraging people to volunteer) and so on. Therefore, it’s only logical to assume that nonprofits can benefit from the same strategies and tools that businesses are using, adding their own goodwill twist to it.

One of such strategies is social listening. It’s actively used by brands to promote their products, find potential customers online, analyze the market, and monitor competitors. Social listening for nonprofits can also be extremely useful and downright essential in some cases, if you know how to do it right — and that’s exactly what we are going to learn today.

In this article, I wanted to run down a list of social listening use cases for nonprofits and explain how exactly your nonprofit could implement them in your own marketing strategy: what actions you need to take in order to make social listening work for you.

Imagine that you have a magical tool that lets you know the opinions of people around certain issues, topics, and persons. You can find out how aware people are of a particular issue, for example global warming, how they feel about it, what aspects affect them the most: melting ice caps or CO2 emissions. All this information is available not just for a vague group of people aka general public, but for specific target groups and communities that share the same language, country, or use the same social media network. You can use these insights to shape your message, see which groups might need more focused attention when it comes to raising awareness, find the best communication channels, ultimately improving your marketing and reaching your goal of making the world a better (and more climatically-balanced) place. The thing is, it’s not a magical tool, it’s a social listening tool.

But before we can figure out in detail the many ways nonprofits can use social listening, let’s quickly go through the basics and answer the question: what is social listening?

What is social listening?

In simple terms, social listening is the process of gathering and analyzing online posts both on social media and news websites, blogs, and forums. A social listening tool allows you to collect all the posts that include keywords and keyword combinations you choose and analyze them based on demographic and psychographic categories, such as authors’ gender, language, location, sentiment expressed in a post and so on.

It means that whatever your organization, niche, and goal are, you can find out what people think about your organization or topic of interest, how they talk about it, and even start interacting with these people. Social listening tools don’t just examine large amounts of social data, they also give you access to all the mentions they find and enable you to engage with them. You can respond to tweets and comment on Facebook posts oftentimes right from the social listening app.

So now that we have an understanding of what social listening is, let’s talk about the various ways it can be of use to nonprofit organizations. Of course, every organization is different and faces its unique challenges on its way to help people and make the world a better place. This article covers the most common social listening use cases for nonprofits and breaks down each one of them into steps. Without further ado, let’s get to the first use case – reputation management.

1. Reputation management for nonprofits

Reputation is extremely important for any organization, but for nonprofits, whose whole existence is based on doing good, being good is downright vital. One negative opinion can quickly go viral and cause a lot of damage to your organization: people will pull their donations, stop volunteering, and ultimately stop supporting you entirely. That’s why seeking out these negative opinions and handling them is an essential part of nonprofit marketing.

How to manage your reputation with social listening

Luckily, social listening makes finding posts that can potentially harm your reputation very easy. All you need to do is set up a monitoring alert with the name of your organization and key persons (if they have any public presence).

Besides, if you’re closely working with a celebrity or an influencer, it might be useful to monitor their name as well, especially if they have a strong association with your organization.

Once you set up monitoring, you’ll get access to various analytics, including sentiment analysis which we’re interested in right now. Take a look at the sentiment analysis: ideally, the share of negative mentions should be really small.

If there are no sudden spikes in the number of negative mentions, you can go to your mention feed and filter it to only see negative posts so you can deal with negative opinions one by one.

If you suddenly see a spike in negative mentions the course of actions is pretty much the same — with one additional step. Once you filter your timeline to only show you negative mentions, sort them by reach. This way it will be easier to find posts that have reached the most people first, which will help you deal with the most damaging posts before moving on to other mentions.

2. Raising awareness for nonprofits

So you took care of your reputation, and now it’s time to actually promote your views and explain to others why it’s important to join you. Raising awareness on social media can take different forms: advocating for those who can’t advocate for themselves, educating general public, launching a campaign or working with an influencer. Social listening tools can help you at every step of this journey.

How to raise awareness with social listening

Think about the phrases people use when talking about the issues you’re working with. For example, if your mission is to promote recycling in more households, then people talking about it will probably mention use of plastic, plastic waste, zero waste lifestyle and so on. Set up a monitoring alert with these phrases.

Go to your mentions and start engaging with people! If there are questions about household recycling — answer them, if there are incorrect opinions or misinformation — disprove it politely. Social media gives us a unique opportunity to interact with people we don’t know and might never meet otherwise, so use it to promote your views!

Another way to promote your mission and reach many people at once is working with an influencer. Many social listening platforms offer influencer analysis — go to the tab and check out influencers who used the phrases related to your niche.

Here’s a screenshot of influential accounts who posted #HeForShe hashtag

That way you’ll be able to find prominent online voices who already care about the issue you’re working with and will be happy to collaborate with you.

3. Attracting volunteers and donations

Education and raising awareness help you get closer to your goal of taclking something that is wrong with the world, but it’s not what makes your organization sustainable; what does is direct support from your backers. That’s why most nonprofits encourage their followers to donate their time or money. Social listening can help you find the people who might want to help but just don’t know how and offer them to support your organization.

How to attract volunteers and donations using social listening

Once again, you’ll need to set a monitoring alert but this time we’re going to use the Boolean search mode. This is a way to combine different keywords to create a specific search query — most social listening tools provide users with a Boolean option in the settings.

Set up an alert that contains keywords related to your niche as well as phrases that people would use when they express desire to help. Here’s an example:

Now you just need to check your mentions feed from time to time, respond to relevant posts and guide potential donors or volunteers to your organization’s website.

One more fundraising tip: you can also create an alert with keywords related to your niche and words like “grant” or “open call”. Most social listening tools notify you of new mentions, so when there’s a grant announcement, you’ll get the news immediately right in your inbox.

No matter what niche you’re working in and which changes you want to engender, these use-cases should be relevant for your nonprofit. However, there’s one more thing that distinguishes business and nonprofit marketing, and it’s the budget. Most of the time, nonprofit organizations don’t have as large of a marketing budget as businesses. Moreover, this money would rather be spent on the issues you’re working with, and not the tools that help you tackle these issues, right? So, for nonprofits who are trying to choose a social listening tool, one of the deciding factors is the price.

Fortunately, there are a lot of social listening tools that offer discounts or even programs specifically designed for nonprofits. The discounts usually vary from 20% to 50% off the regular pricing and other benefits may include pro-bono training on nonprofit social media marketing and lessons or consultations on how to use a tool for better results. When selecting a social listening tool, it’s a good idea to search for such discounts or look up a ready-made listicle of social media and marketing tools that offer discounts for nonprofits.