George Weiner is the “Chief Whaler” (a.k.a. founder and president) of Whole Whale, a digital agency based in Brooklyn, New York. Members of RegentAtlantic’s Neighborhood Nonprofit Group (NNG) recently asked Weiner for advice on improving a nonprofit’s new or fledgling social media marketing program.
NNG: First of all, how does being active on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest (and more) really benefit a nonprofit?
Weiner: The key benefit is that it gives you an opportunity to develop real relationships with your stakeholders. This is the first time in history you and your audience have had the chance to communicate in real time or directly message each other over media, rather than you simply marketing to them. Plus, your stakeholders now expect your organization to be on social media. If you’re not, it can raise social-validation questions about your nonprofit. It’s like not having a website: Stakeholders will seriously wonder why you don’t have an online presence.
NNG: How should a new nonprofit — or one that’s not yet on all the social networks—get started?
Weiner: Choose which platforms are most important to you. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are probably musts. Then you can decide whether to add others. Even if you’re not ready to actively post, at least create a presence for your nonprofit on each network. Select a “handle” — a social media name related to your nonprofit that isn’t already taken. Put up a welcome post that at least says: “Welcome to our Facebook page! We’ll be more active very soon.” Link back to your nonprofit’s website.
Next, utilize some easily accessible information. Link to blog posts your organization has already written. Upload existing footage to YouTube of your CEO speaking at local events — video that was just sitting in storage. Create a YouTube playlist of top human-values speakers or whatever connects to your mission. Later, you can come back and get serious about engaging on each social network.
NNG: Are there risks to incorrectly managing social media?
Weiner: There can be—but they’re more likely to be risks to your nonprofit’s reputation than actual legal action. That’s why it’s important to develop a clear understanding of how your nonprofit will use each social media account, what “tone” your social media voice will be (warm, irreverent, intellectual, etc.) and what your protocol is for crisis communication or inappropriate messages.
For instance, if someone posts a comment about an at-risk group, your organization’s response needs to remain keeping with your mission and not sound too casual or flippant, just because it’s on social media. If someone posts a legitimate-sounding cry for help, you need an internal process for handling those messages. You don’t want a social media intern to ignore it or — as an extreme example — offer unauthorized medical advice online, for instance.
NNG: Having significant numbers of “followers” on each social media platform seems important. How can a nonprofit boost their numbers of followers?
Weiner: Followers are important, but keep the numbers in perspective. They are sort of social proof that your organization is well connected. If you are a national, reputable nonprofit but have only 200 followers on Twitter, that might look odd. However, you don’t need millions of followers. Check the number of followers obtained by similarly sized nonprofits in your community. Those are good benchmarks.
Gaining legitimate followers is a slow process for every organization. You might want to focus a contest or promotion on one social site at a time, and drive all of your traffic there until you have more followers, then move on to building another social media platform. There are also some inexpensive ways to do advertising campaigns with the goal of adding followers. One way is to get a Google Adwords grant that offers $10,000 per month in search advertising. We explain that process on our site.
Also, don’t expect to turn social media “friends” into donors overnight. That takes time. Learn more about that on our site.
NNG: What’s the best way to use keywords to bring followers to our social media posts?
Weiner: Keywords actually aren’t as critical to audience engagement as you would think. Be careful about thinking that the “right” keyword in your post will automatically bring people to you. Just use words and phrases that would naturally pique your audience’s interest. An exception to that is Twitter. It’s absolutely essential to use 1–2 hashtags (no more) to join in on national dialogues. But please, don’t try to make up your own clever hashtag! Look at the hashtags that are already being used within the conversations you want to join.
NNG: Any final advice?
Weiner: If you’re getting pushback about using social media from executives within your nonprofit, learn more about their concerns and address them directly.
Are execs worried about the time required? Agree to limit social media marketing work to three hours per week over six months, then review whether it’s been effective. Is someone worried that a Twitter comment might lead to a PR disaster? Review your crisis communication plan and apply it to social media “what ifs.” If an old-school exec just doesn’t “get” social media, try education. Highlight what similar nonprofits are doing effectively online. Find articles and free online classes about social media (we offer a bunch).
Regularly remind your leadership team that your stakeholders are on social media — no matter what their age. Your nonprofit absolutely needs to be there, too.
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Please note that RegentAtlantic does not recommend or endorse the services of George Weiner or his firm, Whole Whale, a digital agency based in Brooklyn, New York.
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