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7 Social Media Tips for Nonprofits (+ We try them out!)

Community & Social Media

Recently I attended a Donate & Learn event on social media and search engine marketing. (Side note: it’s an interesting model; by asking for a minimum $20 donation rather than a ticket fee they were able to raise over $8,000 for the YWCA Toronto Girl’s Centre).

I’ve made a list of my favourite tips. To prove that these are doable I’ve tried each of them out myself and shared the results where possible:

1. Create list blog posts with odd (or prime) numbers of items

I’ve heard before that list posts are a great way to get traffic to your blog. For example “10 foods that prevent heart disease” or “15 ways to upcycle old tshirts” or “the 13 cutest puppies from our shelter this year” (I’ll leave it to you to think of something relevant to your cause).

What I didn’t know, is that apparently our brains respond better to lists with an odd number of items - or better yet, a prime number of items. It seems that it makes the list appear more legit. I’m not an expert on how our brains work, so I’ll take a more experimental approach - this post has 7 items, we’ll see if it attracts more attention as a result.

Update (1 week later): based on the views & sharing of this post we're seeing, it's working!

2. Use fill in the blanks to boost engagement

One of the speakers mentioned that fill in the blank questions are great for driving engagement. I decided to test that out for myself by posting on Facebook and Twitter: “Fill in the blank: "If I could share 1 thing I've learned about using social media for nonprofits, it would be: _______________"”

Ten minutes later, I checked back on social media and discovered that there had been a huge response! Not only that, but there’s some really great answers so I decided to write a separate blog post about it to share the advice. Here are a small sample:

Of course moderation is key - one of my coworkers suggested his social media person at a previous job use fill in the blanks, and he checked back later to find several fill in the blank questions posted over the last few hours. That's clearly a bit much, but interspersed with other types of content it seems they can be a great approach to engagement.

3. Post pictures on Facebook - especially pictures with words in them

One of my friends from Australia tipped me off to the benefits of posting images rather than links on Facebook, which I’ve been doing ever since. I’ve also heard that it works well to use images with text in them - this could be quotes, tips, etc.

You can go as fancy or simple as you want with this approach. But you don't need to have crazy graphic design skills to create an image that will communicate your message and be shared by your followers, as you can see from this example:

October is breast cancer awareness month. But for a survivor, it's every single day.

John Haydon has some good advice on using images in his blog post Don't just post photos. Post stories!. I liked his suggestions so I used the title of his post for my own example:

Don't just post photos. Post stories!

Credit: Moyan Brenn

I created this image using PicFont, a simple and free online service that let me add text to an image I uploaded. I found the image on Flickr using the handy Creative Commons Search.

4. Use your cover photo to highlight stories

One of the ideas shared was to use your Facebook cover photo to highlight customer case studies (like the GoDaddy example below) or birthdays/fan of the week (like the Dunkin Donuts example).

GoDaddy Facebook cover photo


Dunkin Donuts Facebook cover photo

So I thought - why couldn’t do something similar as a nonprofit? You could highlight case studies, client stories, volunteers, members, grantees - whatever is a good fit for you and keeps within confidentiality rules (of course).

To try this out myself, I used one of the case studies that we already have in a banner on our website home page from Big Brothers Big Sisters (it’s all about reusing content!) and turned it into a Facebook banner:

Facebook cover photo

Of course, not everyone will come to your Facebook page and look at your cover photo - mostly people just see your updates in their news feed. But this can be a nice way to reinforce existing initiatives such as fan/volunteer of the week, case studies and client stories.

5. Provide practical help with how-to videos

YouTube is one of the most popular social media platforms, but many nonprofits aren't really taking advantage of it. Compared to being on Facebook, making videos (especially with any regularity!) can seem initimidating.

We've talked a lot about how nonprofits can use videos for digital storytelling, but another approach that speakers recommended was to make how-to videos on topics you know something about. That way when people are searching for "how to tie a tie" (apparently one of the most popular searches) - or maybe "how to compost" or something related to your cause - then they'll find you.

We're not experts in tying ties, but we do know a lot about technology. For this blog I decided to make a how-to video showing how to place a donation request on our site. In this case my video is a screen cast, so I used Microsoft Expression Encoder (which is free). If your video involves filming someone, here are some great tutorial videos to help you get started.

How to place a donation request video screenshot

6. Have fun with memes

Memes are a fun way to get a message across in a way that is amusing and recognizable to your community. Since I know that conversation can get the creative juices flowing, I asked my coworkers for good meme ideas. They came up with the one below, and Simon even wrote a blog post about using memes for nonprofits.

Success kid meme

7. Ask related organizations to cross-post on their social media accounts

If you've got something big you want to get the word out about, ask other organizations and people you know to help spread the word. Just make sure to be willing to reciprocate if they come and ask you the same favour!

Hopefully some of these tips will be helpful for you. Like anything else, keep in mind your own strategy and goals, don't be afraid to take risks, and have fun!


Great Tips!

I love the tip about odd or prime numbers for your list-style posts, for 3 reasons. ;) 1. I've never heard that one before. 2. It's simple to try. 3. Now I don't have to come up with a full 10 points before I share a post. I've tried the tip about using photos to tell your "story" and I can confirm that PWAC seems to get better response about its networking pub night when I post it to Facebook with a large picture of a frosty pint. Thanks for sharing Tierney! They are all very good, practical tips.

I see what you did there with

I see what you did there with the 3 items in your list... clever... :)

Glad you found it helpful!