In the nonprofit sector, we’re used to hearing we shouldn’t rely too much on limited donor audiences, and that the key to success and sustainability is having a diverse set of income streams while keeping our exposure to risky funding to a minimum. Makes sense, right? As our engagement with supporters, partners, and beneficiaries becomes increasingly digital, are we encountering the same risks by relying on too few social platforms?
Facebook regularly changes its algorithm, often making it harder for nonprofit brands to appear in timelines and reach new audiences. Instagram has made similar changes to its algorithms, timeline, and hashtags. Twitter has become infamously overrun with trolls and bots. So what can nonprofits do to avoid the risks of their online communities being disconnected, damaged, or destroyed?
Diversify Your Presence
You don’t need a presence on every single platform, and you shouldn’t set up accounts if you don’t have the resources to manage them. That said, you shouldn’t have all your eggs in one digital basket, either, and you should ensure you are represented across a variety of mediums for different types of community building. For example, Facebook for group conversations, Twitter for campaigning and mobilization, and Instagram for storytelling. Diversifying will not only ensure you still have supporters to turn to if one of your social platforms becomes unusable but will also get you exposure to a range of demographics unique to each site.
Diversify Your Engagement Methods
Almost all algorithm changes on every platform have disadvantaged those with bad engagement stats, so focus on building the quality of supporter engagement rather than quantity. Having a large following won’t help you if your content doesn’t appear in their timelines, or the platform itself goes under. If, however, people are really engaged with you they will seek you out and sign up for direct information.
At Social Misfits Media, we’re seeing a lot of our clients shift toward engaging with “microinfluencers” for this very reason. Unlike traditional influencers such as celebrities, a microinfluencer tends to be influential on a specific platform and have a modest following. Microinfluencers tend to have more targeted follower bases and a higher rate of engagement with their content. For example, users with 1,000-10,000 followers earned likes at a 4 percent rate, whereas users with 1-10 million followers earned likes only 1.7 percent of the time. Engagement, rather than follower count, is the most valuable KPI (key performance metric) your organization should be measuring.
Diversify Your Ad Spend
If you’re paying for ads on social media to grow your audience, focus on driving traffic to your site or converting people into sign-ups or donations—pay to build on digital spaces that you own. Different platforms call for different approaches to ad use, and you should prioritize the places with the best return on investment. Relying on paid-for promotion within one sole platform is risky, however; what if their system changes in a way that cuts you off from your audience, or their ad prices rise to a level you can’t afford?
Don’t Forget Niche Platforms
Although the big social networks have the numbers, they also have the noise. It’s important to have a presence in the mainstream spaces, to ensure that users can find you when they look. But there are smaller digital spaces that cater to more focused audiences, and you should be there, too. Some examples include Twitch for gamers, AO3 for entertainment fans, and Pinterest for creatives. If in doubt, there’s probably a sub-reddit for your cause area—but remember to always share content that adds value, rather than content that is purely for self-promotion.
Diversify Your Touch Points
Having a really engaged and active audience on one platform is great, but you risk losing it all if the platform goes under, or its system changes in a way that disadvantages your engagement methods. It’s vital to have touch points with supporters across a variety of platforms, and cross-post about your activities on other platforms to let people know you are elsewhere, too.
Prioritize Spaces You Own
Your community on most social media platforms doesn’t actually belong to you—your content, data, and ability to engage with people belong to the provider, and can be deleted or lost with worrying ease, as well as badly impacted by algorithm and terms changes. It’s important to prioritize building community and creating touch points in spaces that you have real control over, such as newsletters, forums, online shops, and membership portals, as well as driving sign-ups for offline touch points such as volunteering, activism, meetings, and events. To entice people to leave a space where they are in control and can come to you, work on making your space really attractive and exciting, and don’t immediately scare your audience off with big forms or boring content.
Diversify Your Repurposed Content
To manage the demands of a diverse social media presence, you can repurpose content across all your platforms. Ensure, however, that your repurposed content meshes with the identity and style of each digital space. As a basic example, you could take branded video content for your organization and post it as a GIF on Twitter, a video on Facebook, and a boomerang on Instagram. On a more complex level, you could share the same user story across several platforms, but with a specific narrative and imagery tailored to each space. If you are used to doing this, it means you will be able to convert your content and community wherever your supporters go if a specific platform goes under, or the next big thing starts up. To ensure consistency and help people find you, use common hashtags, user names, and brand elements in every digital space.
Just as you’d diversify income streams, strengthening your brand across channels will ensure your organization continues to engage with audiences in spaces they already feel comfortable in. Having a clear digital identity and voice—as well as a robust strategy in place—will enable your organization to build the relationships it needs to achieve impact.
Emily Collins-Ellis is a fundraising and communications specialist, working as a senior advisor at I.G. Advisors. I.G. is a strategic consultancy on a mission to bridge the gap between fundraisers, businesses, and philanthropists. Emily’s experience centers on trust, foundation, and major gifts fundraising, and editorial and digital communications, with a focus on LGBT rights, mental health, and human rights. Her role at I.G. includes advising, training, and supporting a wide variety of philanthropists, foundations, companies, nonprofits, and social enterprises.
Erin Niimi Longhurst is senior manager at Social Misfits Media, an organization working with nonprofits and social enterprises to create dynamic social media strategies for marketing, campaigning, and fundraising. Erin has been working in the world of digital content for years, including with leading digital agencies, responsible for creating and implementing successful integrated content, community management, and social media strategies on behalf of global brands. Erin is also a food, travel, and lifestyle blogger and a published author.