The "Three A's" of Nonprofit Social Media Engagement

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Steven Shattuck
Steven Shattuck



tweet-messageEver since social media gained widespread adoption, one persistent question has vexed individual users and brands: What do we talk about online?

A common rule of thumb that's now pervasive among brand marketers and savvy tech buffs is the so-called "rule of thirds."

This rule states that tweets, posts, and status updates should fall into one of three categories and be spread more or less evenly between each:

  • 1/3 of posts should be about you or your brand
  • 1/3 of posts should be about your industry, with content from an outside source
  • 1/3 of your posts should be personal interactions

While this formula works for most individuals and businesses, it's curiously and uniquely inadequate for nonprofit organizations. Instead, these organizations should focus on three categories of focus in their social media messaging: appreciation, advocacy, and appeals -- the "three A's."

Find out below how you can apply each of the three As in your organization's social posts and updates.

1) Appreciation

A primary focus of your brand's social media accounts should be donor appreciation.

Historically, donors could only be acknowledged through offline means: a phone call, a thank-you letter, or recognition at a live event. Social media allows for high-impact, low-cost public recognition that, when deployed strategically, can create stickiness between your organization and its supporters while generating new exposure. It’s also an excellent way to shift away from broadcasting and drive engagement.

By putting donors on display, you allow them to publicize their philanthropy. Donors feel good when they support a cause they believe in, and they feel even better when everyone knows it. Tagging users in posts, photos, and tweets taps into social media users' natural inclinations toward exhibitionism. Not only are you showing your appreciation, but you’re increasing the chances that they will share and retweet information about your org.

Just as importantly as showcasing your followers and appreciation for them, it's just as vital on social networks to avoid annoying all of your followers by tweeting directly to donors. For platforms like Facebook, in which you might only post once or twice a day, consider a "donor of the day" or "donor of the week" post in which you highlight a supporter and why they give.

Some of your donors, particularly Millennials, may actually prefer social media as a communications channel. Therefore, be sure to include social as an option when you request communication preferences. Don’t be afraid to ask for Twitter usernames or other social URLs, and store them with other contact information in your donor database.

Donors aren’t the only supporters you can recognize publicly on social media. Employees, volunteers, and vendors are all excellent candidates for public recognition and appreciation. After all, your charity wouldn’t function without them.

2) Advocacy

Every nonprofit has a mission and cause for which they advocate. Social media is an excellent outlet for sharing information that raises awareness and educates, outside of the context of fundraising.

Follow other groups that advocate for or conduct research into the topics that are relevant to your nonprofit and share their content. Getting involved with their content -- which can be done by engaging in discussions, asking questions, and sharing stories -- can go a long way in boosting awareness of your cause and organization.

While there is likely a limitless supply of external content that you can share, the cause itself also represents an opportunity for internal content creation. Publish the knowledge that your staff holds in the form of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and webinars, and share it via social media.

3) Appeals

No one will deny that social media has been a game-changer for online fundraising. There’s no reason not to solicit donations directly from Twitter, Facebook, and the like, provided your appeals occur proportionately to other forms of content.

The more specific you can be in an appeal, the better. For example, a Tweet asking for donations of a specific item due to a shortage performs much better than a generic "please consider donating today." Donors like to know where their money is going, so don’t forget to share stories of donation impact.

You also shouldn't forget you don’t have to do it alone. By leveraging Influencers, you can increase your promotional reach exponentially. Include high-visibility donors in planning and deploying social media campaigns. Ask board members, volunteers, and employees to include your organization in their profiles and bios. Make your brand part of their personal brand!

It’s no accident that this is listed third on the list. Internet users are becoming more and more aware of when they are being solicited and advertised to. Concurrently, marketers and fundraisers are always looking for new digital methods of new customer and donor acquisition. This is a volatile combination. When you shift away from solicitation as a primary focus of social media usage, you can begin to build an authentic community around your brand.

A balanced approach to the three A's and the rule of thirds can set your nonprofit organization up for social media success.

What kind of approach does your nonprofit take to social media marketing? Let us know in the comments below.

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