No matter who you are, the size of your nonprofit budget or the length of time you’ve been in business, in today’s world you need ‘social content marketing.’ This is a term I use for the type of marketing everyone must do today to stay in business in our increasingly networked world.
Human beings have always been social animals. The digital revolution has simply made electronic media (email, the internet and social media) our ‘go-to’ place to socialize and connect with our fellow humans.
You’ve got a choice. Will your nonprofit be social or anti-social?
I know it’s a challenge for small and medium-sized nonprofits. Because despite the evolution of marketing over the past decade as we evolved from Web 1.0 (internet) to 2.0 (social media) to 3.0 (mobile), other things have not evolved so much. Most nonprofits continue to have the same number of staff and volunteers to help them execute. Yup! That’s why the technology is so disruptive. Dang!
Yet ignoring it won’t make it go away. Today if you’re trying to connect with folks who will use and/or support your services– and if they’re trying to connect with you – two things must be true:
- Your target constituents must be able to find you, easily, online.
- When they find you, they must encounter content that’s relevant and meaningful.
If you can’t do everything, at least do something. And do so with intention, knowing that your efforts will not be wasted. You’ve got to make your planning and execution count!
Plan and Prioritize Your Marketing
Where social media was once mysterious to many folks, today the mystery may be content marketing. While a bit of a buzz word these days, that’s certainly not all it is. In fact, it’s the heart and soul of your messaging and branding strategy.
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Here’s how I think of it:
- Content marketing is your fuel.
- Social media, and sharing your content, is your igniting fire.
- Email is your fundraising engine.
The way to make your fuel count is to socialize it – that is, use it and get it burning hot so your fuel ignites.
Once that happens, you use that hot fuel to feed the engine that will generate needed contributed support.
It’s a continuum:
Hot content… leads to social ignition… leads to fiery, desirable engagement.
Easy Starting Points
Of course, you need to start with great content. I’ve written about that numerous times, so feel free to check out any of these articles:
- The Difference Between Content Marketing and Social Media
- Nonprofit Content Marketing, Storytelling and Social Media
- Nonprofit Social Media without a Content Marketing Strategy Sucks
- Content Marketing and Social Media: What Nonprofits Must Know
Once you’ve got your content (your marketing fuel) you’ve got to get it into the right hands. You’ve got to get it shared. You’ve got to get it acted upon.
So today I’m going to recommend some very simple media that are easily accessible and very low risk. You don’t need a huge marketing budget or a large paid staff to be successful.
Just a little time and persistence is all it takes. Give yourself an 18-month time period to build your audience and drive engagement. Don’t get discouraged too early. Be willing to try new things. And by all means track and evaluate what’s working and what’s not working. Adjust and tweak as you go along.
If you begin with these three things I can almost guarantee you success. Then you can build from there. Here’s your winning formula:
- A blog
- One social media platform
A Blog: Your Fuel (aka Content Hub)
Nonprofit websites have traditionally been the home for their message.
Today, however, more and more businesses – both for profit and nonprofit – are beginning to merge their blog and website so that they’re one and the same. Some folks simply have a blog; others have a blog tab on their website. Regardless, it’s where all the good stuff is (i.e., the content that’s fresh and relevant and meaningful to your constituents).
Your website/blog is the hub of your activity; a point of embarkation/disembarkation for all your content and socialization. It’s easier to use than a website because you can quickly make changes and not worry about content that tends to quickly get outdated. And folks won’t get weighed down with a long recitation of your history and all the awards you’ve won. You can simply focus on what people really want to know about – who you help, what your outcomes are, and how this might benefit them.
Your blog’s purpose is to inform, interest, engage and inspire folks to become involved and invested with your cause.
Unlike a website, blogs offer an interactive forum where you can tell stories, offer opinions, show your authority, lead discussions, invite folks to share ideas and ask for comments. In other words, your blog is a key part of your relationship-building strategy. A recent article on NTEN by Laura Iancu suggests that your blog be part of a powerful triangle that attracts and retains donors.
Blogs are sometimes compared with e-newsletters, but they’re much better in my opinion because they’re more interactive.
Folks can share your blog posts with their networks, giving you access to a wider audience. Not only can your posts spread like wildfire from your content hub; they can also drive new prospects to your website, e-campaigns and donation landing pages. This is great when you’re in campaign mode, as folks can take action when they’re most inspired to do so.
Using tools like Google Analytics you can track those things that make your blog most effective for you.
See what content your constituents most enjoy. Find out who refers folks to you. See what drives the highest level of engagement. This enables you to modify and improve your communications outreach strategy – no guessing involved!
Pay attention, and give folks what they want. If you want gifts, you must give them. And in a way, blogs are a gift to your supporters – one you can give many times throughout the year in the form of thank you videos, insider news, useful tips and even fun, interactive games. And these are the folks who will share your posts with their networks – leading you right back to more donor acquisition!
Social Media: Your Fire Starter (Pick One to Start)
Social media carries the content on your blog further.
You can take your blog content and repurpose it in miniature bites that are easily digested. And easily shared.
Begin with one to start. Keep it simple. Don’t spray and pray.
I’m not eschewing use of multiple social media sites. If you already use several successfully (i.e., they drive traffic to your website and get you the types of actions you seek), then by all means continue.
But if you’re not really using social media strategically yet, or if you’re just counting likes and follows, then it’s time to put a plan in place that integrates your social strategy with all of your content and online marketing. And to do this, you’ve got to prioritize and make strategic use of your limited resources.
Where to begin? Here’s some demographics about some of the top social media options from the Pew Research Center. But demographics don’t tell the whole story. As is often said, your results may vary.
Probably the best advice I can offer is to familiarize yourself with all of the social networks; then determine where your audiences hang out and figure out which features will work best with your business objectives.
Whoever you are, whatever you do, the odds are that your audiences use at least one of the top sites: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Instagram.
The latter two are great for visual sharing, so I don’t recommend starting there unless you have a very visually appealing mission (e.g., zoos; rescue animals; museums).
LinkedIn is a largely professional audience of working age adults. It’s a great site, but not as much sharing and giving goes on there. Though it’s a great place to find new donor-prospects. and an even better way to begin to build relationships with those leads.
Facebook is still the biggest platform, but I just don’t love it. Sue me. If you want to read about it from a fundraising guru who does, check out John Haydon’s blog. He is a guru on the subject!
I happen to think Twitter is a great place to begin because it’s a great traffic booster. It also offers huge opportunities to connect to people who would otherwise be totally outside your reach. And it’s relatively easy to build relationships with folks. I find all of these features to be especially useful for fundraising.
All of these platforms have their uses of course, and you should look at each of them seriously when you are ready.
PERSONAL NOTE: When I began building my blog and consulting business I chose LinkedIn as my preferred social medium. It was a good referral source, and helped me to build my authority and expertise. I was happy with the choice. However… if I had known then what I know today, I would have focused first on Twitter – which has today become the largest source of referral traffic for me.
ANOTHER EXPERT’S OPINION: The folks at Bloomerang recently suggested that nonprofits de-leverage their efforts away from Facebook in favor of owned channels, like email and an educational blog. They suggest diversifying your social media approach by using a range of platforms to tap into different userbases and demographics (i.e., don’t put all your eggs in one basket). I don’t disagree; I just think it’s practical for small to medium-sized nonprofits to really focus on one place – walk before your run or fly – and then give yourself time to assess the benefit. If Facebook didn’t work, then try Twitter. Or LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and so forth.
I hear of few of you in the peanut gallery muttering “but our constituents don’t use social media.” Before you decide the rest of this article isn’t for you, listen up: 72% of American adults who are online use social networking sites. Even among Americans 65+ years old, 43% use social. Recent studies show that, on average, Americans spend 3+ hours each day on social media. So, while it’s possible that your customers aren’t using social, it’s unlikely unless they’re cave-dwellers.
Email Marketing: Your Fundraising Engine (aka Targeted Audience)
As noted above, what’s great about email is that you own your list. Twitter doesn’t own it. Facebook doesn’t own it. You do. So you have a lot more control over whether folks will see the content you’ve crafted so painstakingly.
Control is important. Look at it this way:
- If people don’t see your message on social media, that’s just business as usual. The whole enterprise can be a bit of a crap shoot. For example, Facebook shows your message to less than 10% of your followers. Folks see your tweets if they happen to be on their Twitter feed when you send them; otherwise, your messages remain unseen. Wasted. That’s why one of the main outcomes you should seek on social media is to drive folks to your blog or website and get their email addresses. So you can better target them.
- If people don’t see your email message, that’s something you can potentially fix. Maybe you need a better subject line. Maybe your message should be sent from someone who is more well-known or better liked. Or maybe you’ve got the wrong people on your list.
You need to constantly work on your email list. There are lots of terrific ways to build a targeted email list filled with the type of folks who are likely to want to hear more from you.
Here’s the deal: According to HubSpot your email marketing database degrades by about 22.5% every year. Your contacts’ email addresses change as they move from one company to another, opt-out of your email communication, or abandon that old funky address they only use to fill out forms on websites.
The simplest tip is to put a big, bold sign-up box at the top of your Home Page. Put this box on multiple pages, including your “about us” page, call-to-action pages, volunteer pages, “contact us” page and just about any place you’re telling an interesting story. And monitor your inactive addresses so that you don’t keep emailing and getting “bounces” that make it look like you’re a spammer.
Then, once you have your own targeted audience, you can nurture it with email marketing. There’s a lot you can do:
- Share inspiring personal stories from clients, donors and volunteers.
- Share outcome-oriented organizational stories.
- Engage folks by offering interactive activities (e.g., games, surveys, petitions, advocacy, volunteer opportunities, events).
- Offer little “gifts” (e.g., thank you cards; holiday greetings; recipes; reading lists; “how to” posts or podcasts; inspiring quotes; discount coupons from sponsors).
Try to show gratitude in every email. Remember, these people have given you permission to email to them. Don’t take that permission for granted. There are all sorts of ways to thank folks often, and let them know how grateful you are to them for being such awesome supporters.
When you’ve warmed folks up, and the fire is getting really hot, that’s when your engine is purring and you’re ready to make your “ask” for philanthropic investment.
You don’t need a huge budget to achieve any of these things. You simply need a plan, with timelines and assigned responsibilities. Stick with it and give it a chance. It will work!
The preceding is a guest post by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Claire Axelrad: Clairification was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine.