Inexperienced Staff, No Written Policy Hurts NPO Digital Strategy

Nonprofits that have been successful on social media are mostly achieving their results through luck, as opposed to design. Only 40 percent have a cohesive written social media strategy. As a result, most are likely missing opportunities to highlight concerns, engage followers or increase donations.

That’s among the data and strategies from The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide, from Philadelphia-based Tech Impact. It offers guidelines for creating a social media strategy that can maximize an organization’s online presence. Worksheets give organization leadership step-by-step considerations for each phase of creating a sound social media presence. The guide is available for download here: https://bit.ly/3cNDhV0

Authors of the report cite data from the Pew Research Center that 72 percent of adults in the U.S. use at least one social media site. Social media use is particularly prevalent among individuals under the age of 40, with 82 percent of people aged 30-39 and 90 percent of people aged 18 to 29 identified as social media users. Women are more likely to use social media than men — 78 percent to 65 percent, respectively.

Another way in which nonprofits often fail with social media is by designating social media management efforts to the youngest person on staff, because they “get it,” but not giving that person guidance about how their work should support larger strategic goals — or relegating social media work as secondary to other job responsibilities. Assigning the management of this type of communication to junior staff without the necessary resources and support is a recipe for social media stagnation, according to the report’s authors.

The guide offers tools for defining goals, determining which audience is desired, establishing a social media voice, creating a social media content calendar, building the audience, creating appropriate content (including text, podcast and video), measuring success, generating an internal social media policy and evaluating various social media platforms based on the desired audience and messaging.

Each exercise is geared toward what the guide calls two essential goals for nonprofit use of social media: building community and communication. Despite the critical nature of these functions, however, many organizations relegate social media oversight to “digital natives” – younger members of their staff who have grown up with the technology. But most organizations fail to clearly delineate how these young ‘uns social media activities on behalf of the nonprofit fit in with larger organizational goals. Additionally, organizations often don’t provide upper management support that would help integrate social media efforts and overall operations.

The guide offers both theory and best practices. Once an organization sets goals – e.g. acquiring new supporters, increasing donations among current funders, rallying support for a cause – it highlights the differences in the platforms based on how each might aid a given mission. Facebook, for instance, offers an ideal way of reaching older supporters, while Instagram gives ready access to a younger audience, one disproportionately favored by Hispanics. Twitter and LinkedIn provide better forums for reaching men, should they be the target audience for either information of fundraising pitches.

Beyond audience, each platform has its own set of content requirements, and each demands a fair amount of “social listening” — monitoring and responding to audience reactions in ways appropriate to each setting. The guide makes the case that this level of sophisticated interaction is usually beyond the unsupervised management of lower-level staffers.

By breaking down these responsibilities, the guide makes a clear case for a division of labor between content creation and audience monitoring and higher-level strategy. Through its worksheets, it offers specific duties that can be included in job descriptions – and which can reinforce to upper management the significant amount of time crafting a strong social media presence takes.

The guide’s authors do not pretend to provide all the answers within the report’s pages. In addition to self-contained summaries, each topic includes hot links to relevant “more information” websites. Its strength is demystifying social media in ways appropriate for all management levels. Organizations that follow the guides steps in implementing social media strategies are given one final reward: a worksheet that helps management set success criteria and evaluate the organization’s social media efforts.