Nonprofits struggle with content marketing

It is every marketer’s nightmare, but a scenario that repeats itself time and time again across social media: No one is consuming my content.

I’ve posted something every day for the past two months…

- Nobody has shared…
- Nobody has liked…
- Nobody has commented…

I’ve posted articles, thanked my donors, and asked for donations…

- All I hear are crickets…
- This isn’t working…
- Where did everyone go???

I have 500…1000…3,000 fans….

- Don’t they care?
- Don’t they understand?

The single largest challenge small and mid-sized nonprofits face with social media marketing continues to be content.  In the mad rush to take advantage of social media, marketing, communication and development directors often fail to develop a plan, research best practices and simply listen to their audience.  Facebook will never be your organization’s personal bank account, twitter will never be a no-cost billboard, and Google + is struggling to find its own way (providing an entirely new set of challenges for nonprofit marketers).  Yet, everyday, nonprofit directors trudge forward, posting the same irrelevant content under some misguided belief that THEY KNOW best and persistence will save the day.

The reality is that social media is a user driven platform, where individuals exercise their right and voice their opinion on what content is important.  If your audience is not consuming your content, then you need to adapt and generate content that is relevant, consumable, and creative.  You’ve worked hard to gain a follower, but they’re not engaged, then you can never expect them to become an advocate, volunteer or donor.

Expand Your Environment

Working for a nonprofit, you and your colleagues work in a closed environment.  Your daily life is focused on policies, procedures, leadership changes and organizational planning.  However, the general public does not operate within that environment…they are on the outside, looking in…and you must step outside this closed environment to understand what motivates the public.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has provided leadership in cancer and disease treatment and research for 50 years.  St. Jude’s leadership team and employees are among the most recognized in the industry and their ongoing, groundbreaking research and treatment initiatives will save the lives of millions.  Yet, what sets St. Jude’s apart in the world of social media is their ability to create content outside of their closed internal environment.

Facebook fans are inundated with stories and photos of patients, celebrity endorsements and creative opportunities to help the organization.  St. Jude’s occasionally and systematically integrates information on groundbreaking research, but the integration is measured and targeted.  The last employee to be recognized on their facebook page was not a member of their leadership team, or a research scientist or physician that has won acclaim within her community; but rather, an IT employee that received treatment from the hospital in 1970 and now works for the organization that once saved his life.

In the world of social media, if an organization is not generating content that engages their followers, their followers will go elsewhere.

Does your message reflect your objectives?

Why is your organization engaged in social media?

If your first answer is to increase donations, then you may as well plan on failure.  Social Media can be a powerful platform for fundraising, but not when you use it as billboard for solicitation.  Social media is 100% about community and relationships. If an organization cannot demonstrate a sincere willingness to build a relationship, then social media users will abandon them.

The do’s:

The ASPCA, with more than 1,000,000 fans, is a shining example of an organization that understands the value of relationships within social media.  The organization does an effective job of curating diverse content based upon the interests of their fans, while interspersing opportunities for their fans to help the organization.  They provide multiple opportunities for their followers to help the organization, many of which require no direct donation. As a result you notice a high level of user engagement across social networks.

The don’ts:

A local children’s organization I follow (I won’t mention the name), is currently engaged in a multi-million dollar capital campaign.  After several years, the capital campaign has reached approximately 80% of its funding goal, but contributions have slowed considerably.  This past November, the organization decided to revitalize their digital strategy and turned to Facebook for financial help.  Beginning in November, the organization, with a few hundred followers, began the following posting schedule:

  • Post 1:  Third Party blog post or article focusing on children’s health or organization
  • Post 2: (A few hours later) A thank you to a corporate donor
  • Post 3: (A few hours later) Please donate

Each posting round would occur every few days, always in the same order, and always scheduled through HootSuite.  As you can imagine, the organization has seen no follower engagement, no content sharing and no fan growth.

If your audience is not engaged with your content, then it is time to develop a new strategy and new content.  If your audience feels as though you are treating them as an ATM machine, they will not respond, they will not donate and the WILL lend support to another organization.

People talk to people, not computers

Do you know what Care2, ASPCA, Charity: Water, ACS, Children’s Miracle Network and St. Jude have in common?

You will find little or no use of programs such as HootSuite or scheduled posting software across their social media networks.

You will find some use of posting applications and the use of cross-network posting tools. However, the use of such programs is largely limited.  These organizations understand that people talk to people, not computers.

I will be the first to admit that I utilize cross-posting applications and other such as twitter-feed and custom API’s to help manage my social networks.  However, these programs are used lightly and I make every attempt to personally post and respond when needed.

Who cares how many followers you have?

A few months ago I was in a meeting with a Senior Vice President of Marketing for a local manufacturer with a global product line.  While discussing social media, she naturally asked how many Facebook followers our NPO had.  When I answered the question, I was shocked by the juvenile response that I received.  She informed me that there is “no way that a small nonprofit should have more Facebook fans than a global retailer, we should have 10 times the number of fans you do”.

Setting aside the arrogance in such a comment, she was right.  A company with the reach 1,000 times larger than our organization should have a much larger social media following.  What she did not understand is that I could care less how many followers I have across our social networks; my concern is how many of those followers are actively engaged.

I am often approached by colleagues concerned because their social media following is relatively small.  In each instance, I offer two pieces of advice:

  1. Take into account “Economies of Scale”, your raw numbers may seem small in comparison to a national organization, but remember that you operate locally.
  2. Are your followers engaged?  I would rather have 300 fans, 70% of whom are highly engaged, than 2,000 fans who will never act on my content.

If your core followers are engaged, the raw numbers will follow.

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