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Getting Started with Social Media: Where Do Nonprofits Begin?

Make a Social Media Splash by Keeping It Simple

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We all know that social media can be a powerful tool when it comes to building a community that cares about your organization’s mission. Just by using a computer with an Internet connection your message can reach millions of potential donors, volunteers, clients, or even future employees. It’s quite amazing when you stop to think about it.

Where to begin? With so many social media sites out there, it might be a little overwhelming when starting out.

Don’t worry! In this article, we are going to look at four different places to start building your online presence. By the end of it all you should have a better idea of how to get the social media ball rolling.

1. Your Own Website

Websites for nonprofits have a domain ending in dot org.
Getty Images

Having a website of your own content is extremely important when creating an online identity for an organization. Most times, if people hear about you from a friend and want to learn more, they are going to google you to try and find you. You want them to find you. You don’t want them to find someone else talking about you.

Your website should be constantly updated. You want to give people a reason to come back. This is a great place to share success stories, donation news, the volunteer of the month, and more.

Creating your own site doesn’t require the work of an expensive web designer. You can have one up and running using a number of different content management systems such as Wordpress, Squarespace, or Google Sites. Each of these options is easy to use, requiring very little technical knowledge of HTML to make things happen.

Whichever platform you choose, make sure you are able to easily post new content, preferably in the form of a blog. Blogs allow you to interact with readers when comments are enabled. This is an important step in building your community of mission-minded people.

The Bottom Line:
Today, having your own website is critical and easy to do. While updating content on a regular basis can take time, your site is the launch pad into the rest of the social media world.

Recommended Resource: 11 Website Design Best Practices for Nonprofits - Nonprofit Tech 2.0

2. Facebook

Facebook connects people.
Getty Images

How many of you thought of Facebook when reading the words “social media”? If you did, I don’t blame you. It’s everywhere.

Starting out as a social networking site for college students, Facebook has grown to a network of over 800 million users. That’s a lot of people. For this reason, many websites have Facebook “like” boxes or even Facebook comments, making it easy for people to interact with you using a site they use every single day. Ensuring your agency has a Facebook page is an easy way to build and maintain a network of interested people.

With its recent changes to Pages for businesses, Facebook even added in powerful analytical software called Insights, to help you see what is working and what is not. This is extremely useful when you are just starting to use social media. By looking at the charts, graphs and numbers on your Insights page, Facebook tells you who your audience is and what they "like." Having this information can help you better tailor your message to get more interaction with your community.

Granted, the popularity of Facebook is not without its controversy. There are repeated concerns about privacy every time Mark Zuckerburg changes the site. Being aware of how Facebook shares your information is extremely important and should be on the to-do list of whoever is updating your Facebook Page. However, there is no need to panic once you understand the basics. Luckily, Facebook has improved on providing people with documentation about the changes they are making; so reading up on these things shouldn’t be too hard.

Finally, Facebook is a great place to share the content you have created for your website. Simply add a link to your status, and all people have to do is click to see the latest blog post.

The Bottom Line:
Facebook is a well-established network with which people are already familiar. Creating a Facebook page for your organization makes connecting with new people as easy as saying, “find us on Facebook.” Because of its popularity, training someone on how to update your Facebook Page is easy because chances are that person uses it every day anyway.

Recommended Resource: 5 Ways to Gain From Links on Your Facebook Page - Razoo

3. Twitter

Twitter Blue Bird Logo
Twitter

Perhaps the runner-up in the social media race, Twitter is also a tool that can be used to spread the word on your agency’s mission. The only catch is, you have to do it in 140 characters in messages known as tweets.

Twitter, started as a way to send text messages between friends, has evolved into a network used by so many that it has documented revolutions in the Middle East and let others know that they are ok after natural disasters. Twitter is a powerful tool for nonprofits because many people get their daily news from their Twitter feed.

What makes Twitter different from Facebook, besides the character limit, is the fact that Twitter is much more of a "real time" network. People tweet about stuff as it’s happening. While this can happen on Facebook from time to time, it is Twitter’s norm. Twitter would be a great tool to document an organization’s event as it is happening.

Not all tweets have to be breaking news. Twitter is again a great way to share content from your website. As I said, many people treat their Twitter timelines as a newspaper. Give them something to read and chances are they will read it.

Finally, one unique characteristic of Twitter is the use of hashtags. Hashtags are words with a hash sign (#) in front of them, and are included in a tweet to add context to the message. For example the tweet might read as follows:

What a great event! We raised $10,000 over our goal! Read more about on our blog. http://blog.site.com #specialevent #fundraising

The point of including hash tags in a tweet is that they create an easy way to search for topics. If you asked people to use a hashtag with the name of your event then you could easily pull up all tweets that mentioned your event.

The Bottom Line:
Twitter is another large and established network of people. Finding your organization's voice on Twitter might take some time due to the fast-paced nature of the site. However, using tools such as hashtags to spread your message will encourage others to participate - 140 characters at a time.

Recommended Resource: 10 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Use Twitter - NetWitsThinkTank

4. Pinterest

Pinterest logo
Pinterest

Perhaps the newest kid on the social media block, Pinterest certainly has made a name for itself.

Pinterest is like a virtual bulletin board that hangs in your office pinned with all sorts of things like reminders, articles to read, and photos that inspire you.

What makes Pinterest’s simple concept such a powerful tool when it comes to social media, you might wonder? Well, Pinterest is the leader when it comes to website referrals. Meaning that sites get more traffic from a pin on Pinterest than they do from a tweet or status update. This fact is amazing because, as of the writing of this article, Pinterest was still an invite only network.

The secret is Pinterest’s simple image-focused layout. People like to look at pretty things. If you have a great photo with an easy-to-read snippet of information about something underneath it, chances are someone will click on the photo to be taken to that site and then "repin" it to share it with others.

Many major companies have joined Pinterest because it is so popular with users and helps get more people on their website. Again, let me stress how important it is to use social media to share your own original content.

The Bottom Line:
Pins on Pinterest are mainly focused around images. It is important to keep that in mind when posting to this network. The better the photo, the more "repins" it will get. While still in invite mode only, Pinterest has made its mark in social media by already becoming the top referrer of web traffic to sites

Recommended Resource: 12 ways to use Pinterest for your nonprofit - John Haydon

5. Don’t Get Overwhelmed

Photo of woman with head in a vise.
Ryan McVay/Getty Images

These few sites are just the tip of the social media iceberg. There are other sites out there, such as Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn. But starting with the networks mentioned above is great if you have no idea where to begin building your organization's social media presence.

Just a few things to keep in mind before you go:

  • Don’t feel like you have to take on the entire internet. Sometimes it’s best to focus on building a strong following on one network before moving onto another.
  • Take time to look at which posts are most successful on each site. Not only what message you are sending out there, but at what time. What works for one network might not work for another.
  • Keep networks constantly up to date. People like to see that things have been updated recently. If a person comes to your Facebook page and your last status update was 4 weeks ago, they might begin to wonder why.
  • Pay attention to comments on all of these sites. Interact with those who are interacting with you. That’s how you build a community built around your mission!
  • If you create it, people will share it. Make sure your messages paint your organization in a positive light.

Recommended Resource: The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide - Idealware

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