Nonprofit Social Media: Who is driving your content?

This past week I was fortunate to spend a few hours with the marketing, communication and development professionals from a group of nonprofit human service providers in the Chicago area. The focus of our meeting was an open discussion of the experiences, successes and challenges that each of these organizations face with regards to digital marketing. During the course of the meeting, two recurring issues continued to present themselves to the group:

  • Content Curation, and
  • Engagement

Recently, I wrote about the ongoing challenges of Content Marketing, especially within small and mid-sized charities; however, I was surprised to learn that there was a major obstacle that I never considered that is contributing to the Content Marketing challenges facing a majority of charities: Content Control.

Naturally, a large number of nonprofits noted that they continued to struggle with creating new content for social media and subsequently attributed a small number of fans to the lack of content.

I noted that my colleagues should not base success in their digital marketing efforts upon the number of social media followers or growth in raw numbers.  Rather, we should judge success upon follower engagement and subsequent calls-to-action.

During the infancy of social media marketing (which can last for years), community managers focus too heavily upon creating content and restrictive posting schedules.  As a result, we are often spreading our resources too thin, searching across wide swaths of the organization in order to stick to our “post a day” schedule.  On the other hand, seasoned community managers have learned to test and measure content, allowing them to pinpoint specific programs for content and subsequently increase engagement metrics.  As you develop relationships with programmatic leaders and you produce consistent, quality content, you will soon find that leadership feeding you additional content without your asking.  Before you know it, you will find yourself in a position of being able to choose from a stockpile of potential content.

A second concern highlighted by members of the group was low audience engagement metrics.  This group of community managers was producing content on a regular basis, but concerned that there was little social engagement or sharing of content.

From my perspective and experience, I would argue that the solution to this problem is essentially the same as above.  Social media engagement is not driven by a community manager, but rather their community.  The best method of increasing engagement is to refine their content based upon which types of content are engaging the audience.

The Community Manager Should Drive Content!

As our group discussed the value of content marketing and methods to increase engagement, I was surprised to learn that a number of community managers were not making direct decisions regarding content.  I was even more surprised when another member of the group informed us that because programmatic leaders knew what was important to their programs, they were the individuals that determined what content would be posted across social media platforms.

Let me put this as simply as I can.  Any time that your organization is involved in an activity designed to engage the general public, that activity is a MARKETING ACTIVITY.  Social media is nothing more than a specific platform within your digital marketing arsenal.  Therefore, your organization’s marketing professionals should have direct and final control over how this marketing medium is utilized.  Successful engagement across social media requires a careful measurement of who your audience is, content consumption, ROI and a strategic approach to outreach.

Programmatic and administrative leaders are bogged down by their own job responsibilities and will naturally place a higher level of importance upon their own programs or projects.  Their jobs are vital, but they are often time-starved and their responsibility is first and foremost to their individual program.  The same way that you would not hire a Doctor to represent you in a legal proceeding, why would you allow someone with no marketing experience or background to control a marketing activity?  Technical programmatic information, which typically only applies to a subset of the general public, is best suited for an easy-to-find page on your website; and not as content to be force fed to your audience across social media platforms where the audience will not react well.

When my daughter was an infant, we would attempt to feed her a healthy dose of fruits and vegetables.  During one feeding, we introduced her to Carrots.  Unfortunately, after eating half a bottle, she reacted to the carrots with a projectile eruption resulting in a fine spray of orange that covered the floor, me and my wife (I’ve still never seen anything like it).  Obviously, carrots are healthy; but, she did obviously did not react well to them.  Rather than attempting to force-feed her the rest of the bottle, we disposed of it and waited a very long time before we attempted to feed her carrots again.  Social media marketing should be handled with the same level of care, if you’re audience is not positively reacting to your content, then it is futile to continue to force-feed them more of the same poor content.

What we can learn from St. Jude

I often use St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as an example of successful nonprofit digital marketing.  Naturally, I found it ironic that just a day after the meeting mentioned above, I received an email from the organization addressing the very issue of who controls your content.  As a subscriber to HopeLine, I received an email from St. Jude asking me to complete to a short survey about the eNewsletter and featured content.  This was not an internal email, it came directly from the marketing department and it was specifically designed to allow the organization to better engage the general public across their digital marketing platforms.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital understands that Social Media is a marketing activity.

So the question I ask is this:  Why would we approach social media and digital marketing any differently?

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