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12 Social Media Tips for Nonprofits

Focused and Simple


Sites such as Facebook and Twitter could be a nonprofit's dream market - millions of engaged users and all interconnected.

But just setting up shop and collecting "Likes," "Friends" or "Followers" will not necessarily result in donors and supporters. Sarah DiJulio and Marc Ruben co-authored a chapter in the book, People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities (Wiley, 2007). They provide crucial information for nonprofits who are breaking into social media, ranging from a guide to the "lingo" of social sites to how to plan your entry into social networking.

Here are some of DeJulio and Ruben's tips for getting started with social media without losing your mind:

1. Pick the right social networks.

Michael H/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Don't just pick sites based on the size of the network. Other communities may be smaller but more effective for your organization. It may pay to start small, with one to three social networks, rather than trying to take the entire virtual world by storm all at once.

2. Find an 'expert' to help you.

Look around your organization or community for someone who has experience with social media. It might be a young staffer, an intern, a volunteer. Get that person involved so you won't be starting from scratch.

3. Extend your reach.

Select a social network and then use a 'scattershot' approach. That is, don't just set up a profile or page. Create a group as well and attract more supporters that way. On Facebook, for instance, you can set up a group. Just make sure you understand the rules of the site. For a fee, some social sites will allow you to become an official sponsor of a group or community. This might be worth experimenting with. Many large companies, such as Apple sponsor groups.

4. Prepare to lose control.

There is no way you can vet every word of every person who wants to be your friend or join your social networking group. If you or your lawyers are not comfortable with that fact, social networking probably is not for you. You can set up an approval process for comments that people post, but if you go this route make sure the approval process is reasonable and fast.

5. Know who is already pretending to be you.

There may be Facebook groups for your organization that you did not set up. If you find such a profile or group, reach out to that person. He or she may be a committed supporter who might be willing to promote your content.

6. Make a good first impression.

Try to 'wow' your social media followers right off the bat. Make your profile or page look good. Control what your organization will look like on other people's friends lists--upload a great photo and use a title that will get noticed.

7. Post your edgiest, most viral content.

Social networks are at their best when people are passing content around, and they will only pass yours around if it is creative. Come up with jazzy profile/page names, use video and lots of photos. If it does not make you think 'Cool!' then it is probably not viral, and you need to go back to the drawing board. You might do better with a campaign or a specific gimmick rather than just a generic page plugging your nonprofit. Look around, see what others are doing.

8. Find out which supporters are already on social media.

Survey your members and find out who is active on social media. Send them an e-mail inviting them to become your friend, join your group, or like your page. Incorporate links to your social media in all of your communications such as email newsletters.

9. Communicate frequently.

Update your social media pages with new content daily. Get the word out on important issues and drive people back to your website. Don't be 'static.' Be dynamic. Setting up a blog on your website that is updated frequently can be a big boost to your social media. It's easy to set up automatic reposting of your blog content to your social media.

10. Devote staff time to social media.

Assign a staff person to work with your social media at least part time. Social media has become too big to relegate to spare time. Constant engagement is what social networking is all about.

11. Activate your social network followers.

Eventually you will want to start turning your friends and followers into activists, donors, and volunteers. Make sure your social networking pages always feature lots of opportunities to get involved. Also include donation opportunities on your social networking pages. Even if you do not raise much in the short run, it helps to set expectations for the future.

Be specific when you do ask your social media friends to do something for your organization. And always let people know what happened at an event or with a campaign even if they did not participate. They might get involved the next time.

12. Invest in the future.

The mostly young people you will be dealing with are your donors and supporters of tomorrow. Get into the game now and learn how to use social media or you might be left behind for good.

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