Social Media Best Practices for Nonprofits – A Comprehensive Guide
25 proven social media strategies to grow your following and drive action
Social media marketing can feel a bit overwhelming these days. There are literally dozens of social media channels to choose from, hundreds of features within each channel, and tactics galore. Furthermore, if your organization doesn’t have a deep understanding of the purpose and function of a given channel, you may feel like you’re spinning your wheels without much to show for it.
To help you better understand how to leverage the power of social media, we have compiled the following 25 best practices. By the end of the post, you’ll know things like: the best times to post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the best kinds content for social media, how to track and measure your campaigns, and the components of a great social media plan.
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#1 — Choose the right social media channel for your cause
Every social media channel has a different purpose, functionality, and audience. Here is a breakdown of the most popular channels to help decide what’s right for your organization:
- Facebook: Mainly geared towards news and entertainment. The current emphasis is on video content, especially live streaming. Note also that Facebook currently sends more website referral traffic than any other social media channel.
- Twitter: A news and conversation tool. Retweeting and curation are encouraged. Live streaming video is very popular.
- LinkedIn: Professional network. Used heavily for sharing industry articles and general professional content.
- Instagram: A highly visual network for static images and short videos. Not optimal for driving blog or website traffic, because you can’t insert links.
- SnapChat: Although originally focused on private, person-to-person photo sharing, it can now use it for a range of different tasks, including live video chatting, messaging, creating caricature-like Bitmoji avatars, and sharing photos and videos via a chronological “story” that’s broadcasted to all your followers.
- Pinterest: Highly visual platform often used by creative types to find inspiration.
- TikTok: Short snippet videos from singing to dancing to how-to videos. Great for reaching and engaging a younger audience.
- Reddit: A community forum discussing various topics across different threads.
#2 — Identify and analyze your target audiences
With millions of people on social media every day, finding your target audience is more important than ever. Identifying your audience will also help you determine the right social channel for your cause, your posting schedule, the type of content you publish, and your “voice”–all critical elements to your social media marketing strategy.
- Dive into the data – Find out everything you can about your audiences: geographic breakdown, demographics (gender, age, education level, household income, etc.), interests, what content is resonating, how often they take action (email open rate, conversions, etc.).
- Develop personas for each of your target audiences – Persona Development is the process of synthesizing audience data–from analytics, team interviews, and mini-focus groups–into specific user profiles and scenarios.
#3 — Set your KPIs, tracking, and benchmarks
Key Progress Indicators (KPIs)
KPIs are measurable values that demonstrate how effective your social channels are performing. For example, if your goal is to, “Grow your Facebook audience to 100,000 followers,” your KPI could be the rate in which you are adding or losing Facebook followers. Generally speaking, KPIs fall into four different categories:
- Awareness — Impressions, Views, Reach
- Growth — Followers, Likes, Subscribers
- Engagement — Reactions, Clicks, Comments, Shares
- Conversions — Event registration, financial contributions, recruitment
Wondering how to set your KPIs? We recommend looking at three data points to get started: (1) past performance of your channels, (2) industry averages (below), and (3) your marketing and/or development goals.
Tracking refers to how your organization is going to technically monitor its KPIs — the pixels placed, the tracking code embedded, the database pings, etc. On social media, a lot of this tracking is already set up within the platform, but if you are looking to use social media to drive action on your website, you’ll need to make sure you have the correct tracking set up on your website or third-party application (which usually requires backend access to your website and sometimes the help of a developer).
Industry Averages + Benchmarks
One of the most common questions we get is, “How we do we compare to other organizations / What are the industry averages?” Although every organization and nonprofit industry is different, there are a few benchmarks that can be helpful to know:
- On average, nonprofits have about 76,000 Facebook Likes and 21,000 Twitter Followers.
- Average growth for Facebook Likes is 4% per year.
- Average growth for Twitter Followers is 7% per year.
- Average growth for Instagram is 43% per year.
Source: M+R Benchmarks Study, 2020
#4 — Complete your account profiles
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important to fill out your account profile with as much information as you can. Why? Because the information there–including your organization’s name, custom vanity URL, avatar, cover photo, bio, and about us section–are all elements that are used to categorize your channel for providing “page suggestions” or “who to follow” recommendations for other users. If your profile isn’t filled out (especially with keywords that distinguish your organization), you risk not being mentioned or suggested to new audiences.
Include hashtags and keywords you want to be discovered by. Social platforms like Twitter and Instagram will use hashtags in bios for search results—helping organizations discoverability.
Pro tip: On Facebook, make sure “Similar Page Suggestions” is clicked “ON” in your page settings so people can find you after they interact with content on a similar page. Also, if you’re targeting a certain geographic area, set your “Preferred Page Audience” to reflect who you’d most like to connect with. Anyone can find your Page, but Facebook says they’ll, “do our best to put it in front of the people who matter to you most.”
#5 — Hire a dedicated social media manager
There’s a lot that goes into optimizing a social media channel–way more work than someone could do as a “side project.” This is especially true in light of all the changes and trends that are cropping up in the social media world all the time. We recommending hiring a dedicated social media manager to manage your accounts, keep your profiles current, stay on top of trends, post great content, and do a whole lot of experimenting.
#6 — Integrate everywhere
Every online asset you own (website, blog, email, etc.) should have your social media channels integrated and used for cross-promotion.
Here is a short checklist for where and how to integrate your social channels:
- Your website (homepage and all interior pages) should have social follow buttons (not just the icons), and they should be ‘above the fold’ or as a static bar to ensure your audience can easily find them.
- Your blog should have easy-to-find social sharing options built into every article.
- Popups that appear on your website with a social follow button are some of the best ways to convert your website traffic to your social channel.
- All of your channels and accounts should ‘speak to one another.’ Your Youtube account should have hyperlinks to your Facebook and Twitter accounts in the profile and in the description of your videos. Your Facebook About Us section should promote your Twitter account. And, so on.
- Email signatures + newsletter templates should have social channel icons built into them.
- You should also send one-off emails to your subscribers and ask them to follow your page or share a post.
- All of your events should promote your social media channels. On signage, in PowerPoint slides, in the announcements and speakers’ remarks. EVERYwhere.
Pro tip #1: Another great way to get your email subscribers over to Facebook is to ask them a question and have them respond on your Facebook page with a comment. That way you’ll get a flurry of comments on a specific post and increase its reach dramatically.
Pro tip #2: For key pieces of content or high-traffic pages, don’t just settle for the default sharing language built into your share buttons: instead, create custom shareable links! Here’s a tutorial: Create Shareable Social Media Links for Your Nonprofit.
#7 — Know when your audience is online
Understanding when your fans and followers are online is critical to building your channel. First, take a look at your audience insights and see if there are peak times to post.
Then, merge your findings with the best times to post on social media according to 20 major studies compiled by Co-Schedule:
Facebook: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 9 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm are generally the best for reach and engagement. Saturdays and Sundays for the highest engagement. Posting at 3 pm will get the most clicks. Posting at 1 pm will get the most shares.
Twitter: Wednesdays at 12 pm, 3 pm, 5 pm and 6 pm, during people’s lunch break and on their commute.
Instagram: Mondays and Thursdays between 8 am – 9 am.
LinkedIn: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 5 pm.
Pinterest: Saturdays between 8pm – 11pm.
Google+: Wednesdays between 9 am – 11 am.
Pro tip: If you are a national organization with supporters located across the U.S., remember that 80% of Americans are on Eastern and Central time zones.
#8 — Build a content calendar
Creating a content calendar is a great way to both map out content in advance and schedule posts to be delivered at peak times.
Here is an example of a content and scheduling calendar from Sprout Social:
How often should you post? Good question! Although it depends on your audience, here is what we recommend to our clients:
Facebook: 1-4 times per day depending on how large your following is.
Twitter: 3-10 times per day
Instagram: 1-2 times per day
SnapChat: 1-2 times per week
Google+ and LinkedIn: 1-2 times per day
#9 — Post “happy” content
Researchers at Cornell University partnered with Facebook to conduct a study on 500,000 users and found that “happy” content gets shared much faster and wider than “sad” content. That is to say, posts that are amusing, interesting, surprising, pleasure-driving, or exciting will get more engagement than posts that incite sadness, fear, or anger.
#10 — Use a lot of visuals
Your fans and followers are 44% more likely to engage with and share content that contains imagery. Be sure your social posts stand out with graphics like:
- Quote images
- Short videos (30-45 seconds, with captions as 85% of Facebook users play video without sound, and following our 7 Best Practices for Optimizing Video on Facebook.)
- Facebook 360 Photos
- Emoticons (posts with emoticons get a 57% higher like rate and 33% higher share rate)
#11 — Keep your posts short
Writing shorter posts isn’t just handy on Twitter. Keeping your Facebook posts below 250 characters can get you 60% more engagement than you might otherwise see. You can even get up to 66% more engagement if you cut it down to less than 80 characters.
#12 — Utilize tagging
When posting on social media, be sure to tag people using the “@” symbol and use hashtags to join new conversations and increase your reach.
Hashtags should be memorable, unique, and relevant to your organization. However, don’t overload your tweets with hashtags! One to two is good; any more, and your post may actually start to lose interactions, as seen here by a study done by SocialBakers:
#13 — Pin posts
A pinned post is a status update that you manually select to stay at the top of your timeline, meaning that that post will be the first thing your visitors will see.
Pin your best content to the top of your Facebook and Twitter account to get more visibility and engagement for that great piece of content.
Pro tip: Add a featured video to Facebook. This puts a video in a more prominent place (above the About section) and makes it larger on your Videos tab–creating more visibility for that piece of content.
#14 — Help instead of sell
Your main goal on social media should be to provide valuable information and resources that help your audiences solve a problem. This doesn’t mean that you can never advertise or promote a campaign–it just means you should be careful about how frequently you do so.
When developing your content, we recommend using the 80/20 rule: 80% of the content you post on social media should be helpful and valuable to your audience, whereas 20% can be self-promoting.
Want to find great content to share with your audiences? Check out our blog post, How to find social media content for nonprofits.
#15 — Track and respond to what’s trending
Being on top of the latest trending topics on social media is a good way to land in the feeds of consumers who aren’t following you already. On Facebook and Twitter, when people look at what’s trending, they’re able to see the most popular posts related to that topic regardless of whether or not they’re following the accounts.
#16 — Promote your best organic content
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have increasingly become pay-to-play platforms. As you may have experienced, it’s possible to build a large social audience, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to reach those individuals. In fact, the average organic Facebook post reaches only about 10% of existing page Likes.
We don’t recommend buying ads to boost every post. But we have found social advertising to be an effective way to reach new audiences, recruit new supporters, and promote specific strategic initiatives.
- 5 Steps to De-Stress Your Facebook Ad Set Up (And Your Life)
- How to Create Promoted Posts to Increase Your Organization’s Facebook Page Likes
- 3 Tips for Nonprofit Facebook Ad Campaigns
#17 — Find, follow, and build relationships with influencers and similar organizations
Social media is one of the easiest ways to find people and organizations that you care about and to build relationships with them.
- The quickest way to build a community is to reach out to those who are already mentioning or following you. When you’re logged into to Twitter, view your Top Mentions and Top Followers and thank people who mention your organization or who are recent followers. But, don’t stop there. Start building a list of Top Followers who have large followings (5k+). Tweet content at them later and ask them to share it with their followers. If you can track down an email for the user, send them a personalized thank-you note and share some other content with them that you think they would find useful.
- Reach out to owners of Facebook pages with similar missions. Offer a “shoutout for a shoutout” and cross-promote content from other Facebook pages that you admire.
- Review the Visitor’s Posts on your Facebook page and share content from major supporters.
- Join like-minded Facebook Groups that are relevant to your mission and respond to questions, start discussions, and offer resources.
- On YouTube, reach out to YouTube creators — power users who have mass followings. Fun fact: 70% of teen YouTube subscribers say they relate to YouTube creators more than traditional celebrities.
#18 — Reuse your best content
Don’t be afraid to repost or repurpose some of your best blog pieces and social media posts. Users are busy and aren’t online 24/7. Meanwhile, often times an algorithm determines whether or not your followers even see the content the first time around. It’s likely that this content is new to even your existing followers.
Change up the title and language, and repost your best stuff to reach new audiences.
#19 — Remind your Facebook fans how to find you
As you’ve read, Facebook has increasingly become a pay-to-play platform, meaning most of your posts will only reach about 10% of your page Likes, unless you pay to reach more.
Remind your Facebook fans (with a paid post and an email) that they can:
- See content from your Facebook page by clicking on the “Pages Feed” link on the left sidebar.
- Update their notification settings from your page to see all of your posts.
#20 — Encourage people to share your posts
If you’re a fundraiser, you know that the #1 reason people do not give to an organization or cause is that they were never asked. The same goes for social media. Don’t be afraid or shy to ask people to “Like” or “Share” your content, within the post and with some text overlayed on your image. In fact, if they do, they’ll not only help spread the word about your organization, but Facebook’s algorithm will make it more likely that that fan will see more of your content in the future because they interacted with it. So you get short-term and long-term benefits, and your fans see more of your content which they signed up for in the first place. Win-win-win.
Pro tip: Send an email to your staff asking them to share a post or retweet a tweet — be sure to make it extremely easy by creating a shareable social media link that takes someone right to the share box when they click on it. If you don’t know how to create a share link: Create Shareable Social Media Links for Your Nonprofit.
#21 — Embed your posts and video on your website
Embed your posts and video on your website to increase engagement.
Don’t stop at just posting on Facebook or Twitter. Embed those posts, videos, and tweets on your website. Not only will it provide a different kind of content for your website, but as long as that web page is getting traffic, people could potentially interact with that post again and give you some residual engagement.
#22 — Be hyper-selective about what you post
A study from Edgerank Checker found that between February 2012 and March 2014, organic reach for the average Facebook Page dropped from 16% to 6.5%. We as marketers need to switch gears from untargeted, frequent publishing to targeted, selective publishing.
The goal is no longer to “spray and pray.” Instead, it’s to get as much interaction from a single post as possible. Each post published to a Facebook Page can be targeted to a specific audience (whether or not it’s sponsored), which may improve overall interaction with that post among other people who are likely to find it more interesting and relevant.
#23 — Host contests and giveaways
People love winning prizes, especially if it’s for a good cause. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social channels all have plugins or third-party sweepstake capabilities that can drive some real engagement with your brand and cause. Not to mention, contests are also good for growing your following if you require someone to “Like” your page or follow your account before entering the contest.
#24 — Create Community Guidelines and a Response Plan
If you’ve been managing a social media channel for any length of time, chances are you’ve come across negative comments, or worse, you’ve witnessed bullying or harassment.
As a page admin or community moderator, you have an obligation to ensure that everyone in your community feels safe and welcome. However, you also need to create space for other community members to respond and guide the conversation to a more positive and educated level. This not only transfers the ownership of moderation to the community but will result in more honest engagement in an “open forum” down the road.
Community Guidelines explicitly outline what your community is about and how people are expected to interact with each other. This should be a public-facing document on your social channel or website that you can link to when someone is in violation of the guidelines. Your Response Plan is an internal document that details certain scenarios and responses for each. For example, if someone posts X, our plan is to respond with Y statement, and carry out the following Z measures (like blocking someone, reporting them, etc.).
#25 — Use tools to boost efficiency
If you’re a one-person marketing department, you’re constantly strapped for time. The good news is, there are plenty of tools and apps that can help keep you on track and be more strategic.
Pro Tip: If you’re a one-person team, remember quality over quantity. You don’t need to be on every platform just be on the platforms right for you. If you can’t invest in all right away, start small and scale as more resources and content become available. Your strategy won’t get off the ground successfully if you spread yourself too thin.
That’s all folks!
Want to learn more about how Media Cause can help leverage your social channels for more impact? Drop us a line. We’d love to chat!