21 Ways Non-Profits Can Leverage Social Media

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21 Ways Non-Profits Can Leverage Social Media

By Rich Brooks
Published November 2, 2010

Like their for-profit brethren, many non-profits understand that using social media can help them reach and engage their audience, create momentum and build community.

However, there’s uncertainty around how to create a sustainable social media campaign, although the tools are plentiful and often free.

Here are 21 ways non-profits can leverage social media

#1: Use a blog to tell your story

Treat your blog like the digital printing press that it is. Use text, photos and videos to tell stories of the people you’ve helped, those who are still suffering and the impact you’re having on the community or the world.

#2: Make sure your stories are shareable

Use tools like the retweet button, Facebook like button, and Share This to allow your blog visitors to quickly share your story with their networks.

#3: Make it easy to subscribe to your stories

Make your RSS feed impossible to miss by putting it “above the fold” and highlighting it. Since RSS isn’t as widely adopted as it could be, make sure you use a third-party RSS feed provider with RSS to email options like Feedburner, Feedblitz or AWeber.

#4: Use video to tell your story

Videos of volunteers building a house or driving a school bus to collect school supply donations can be incredibly persuasive. Be sure to leverage YouTube’s Nonprofit Program that offers such benefits as call-to-action overlays, listing on the nonprofit channels and the ability to drive fundraising through a Google Checkout “Donate” button.

#5: Create a Facebook page for your non-profit

Organizations doing good works are infinitely more “likeable” than traditional businesses, so get involved with the half-billion–plus people currently using Facebook. Make your page more engaging by including a custom-designed, branded landing page that includes photos and video. Make sure your wall is set to show posts not just from your organization, but also from your fans so they’ll be more likely to engage you.

For more detailed information on tricking out your Facebook page, read How to Customize Your Facebook Page Using Static FBML.

#6: Get into the Facebook news feed

“The future of Facebook is the feed,” says social media consultant Jaica Kinsman. In other words, people may not visit your page every day, but they may see your news in their news feed. Getting people to like or comment on your Facebook content improves the chances that more people will see it in their feed, an algorithm referred to as “EdgeRank.” TechCrunch goes into more detail about Facebook’s EdgeRank here.

#7: Post photos or videos, and “tag” volunteers

You can take photos of fundraisers, blood drives and bean suppers (popular here in Maine!), post them to your Facebook page and tag volunteers to thank them for their help. This will draw attention to their good work and spread your message to their friends. Use this strategy judiciously. This can also work on Flickr, but it doesn’t have the same reach as Facebook.

#8: Create a Facebook Group for your cause

Facebook Groups have some advantages over Fan pages, such as the ability to send emails to members. Although there’s some chance you might be diluting your non-profit brand, you could create a group around your cause, whether that cause is to end poverty, feed the homeless or support women’s rights worldwide.

#9: Use Facebook ads to raise awareness

Goodwill Industries of Northern New England used targeted Facebook ads using gender, age and location filters to affordably promote new store openings. Calvin Gilbert, who runs much of Goodwill NNE’s social media, reported that they used Facebook exclusively to promote the opening of a store in South Portland. The ad campaign netted them 929 new fans, 2,776 clicks to the Facebook page, and created a record turnout at the grand opening.

#10: Use Facebook Events and LinkedIn Events to spread the word

These powerful social networks allow you to promote your events for free and make it easy for people to share events with friends and colleagues.

#11: Use Foursquare, Gowalla or Facebook Places to promote your events

Alex Steed, a consultant to non-profits, recommends creating events on popular location-based apps and having volunteers check in as they arrive. This is a good idea for conferences, but also for things like clearing trails, purpose-driven marches and volunteer beach cleaning events.

For more advice on promoting your event, check out 12 Ways to Promote Your Event with Social Media.

#12: Go local with Twitter’s advanced search

Since many non-profits do their best work close to home, it’s important to listen to local conversations. Use the Advanced Search at Twitter to find, listen to, and engage with nearby “tweeple.” At a meeting with a non-profit organization last year, one of the board members told a story where someone he was following on Twitter was sharing how he was being unfairly evicted from his apartment. The board member reached out to him and got him the information he needed to avoid eviction.

#13: Start conversations around hashtags

If your audience is active on Twitter, start a conversation around a hashtag to get people talking, whether it’s #climatechange, #endhunger or #beatcancer.

#14: Ask for the retweet

Metrics show that when you end a tweet with “please RT!” you’re more likely to get people to retweet your message. Since most non-profits are cause-based, a “please retweet” request seems less self-serving. Still, use judiciously.

#15: Create a banner that stakeholders can add to their avatars

Whether adding a green tint to support democracy in Iraq, the yellow LIVESTRONG banners or ribbons of every color for every cause imaginable, people love to wear their causes on their sleeves or at least on their avatars. Services like Twibbon make it easy to jump into.

#16: Use Eventbrite to handle event registration and money collection

Although there are many event marketing tools out there, Eventbrite has one of the easiest-to-use interfaces out there, and has plenty of built-in social media sharing tools. They also offer a non-profit discount.

#17: Find potential board members on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is full of successful entrepreneurs with non-profit board experience. Be sure to join local or cause-based LinkedIn Groups and start engaging with future board members now.

#18: Improve conversations and collaboration with a wiki

Many non-profits must overcome the challenge of an all-volunteer board whose members are spread out through the region or even throughout the country. Other non-profits struggle without a physical office space. By using a free or inexpensive wiki, board members can be kept up-to-date on changes and work collaboratively from remote spots.

#19: Put your presentations online with SlideShare

If your organization puts on presentations to raise awareness and increase donations, make that work go further by posting your slides to SlideShare, the “YouTube of presentations.”

#20: Get more out of your photos with Flickr for Good

Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site, is donating 10,000 one-year Pro accounts to non-profits. You can learn more at their Flickr for Good page.

#21: Use Google Grants to drive traffic to your website, blog and other social media presences

Laura Quinn of Idealware recommends that non-profits apply for Google Grants, a program from Google that gives approved non-profits thousands of dollars of free sponsored ads in Google search results. She goes into more detail in How Non-Profits Can Promote Themselves Online.

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