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Activating Ambassadors: Social Media Savvy for Nonprofits
By Chris Barnett / July 1, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...

Our Jessica David offers strategic social media tips for nonprofits thinking of expanding in the social space.

Plan well

Social media is less controlled and more informal than traditional communications. That’s what makes it both fun and incredibly compelling. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan just as carefully before you deploy it. Like any communications tool, if not used well, social media can cause damage. Be smart about what social media platforms make sense for you. Not every organization needs an Instagram account and not every organization can staff a Twitter feed. Who are you trying to reach and where do they already hang out?         

In advance, think through some basic questions like, what content do you have to share. What’s your desired tone? How will you respond to questions, feedback, or even criticism? Who is responsible for generating content? Will you have an approval process?

Staff for it

The best advice I ever received about social media? Don’t assign it to an intern. If you’re going to venture into the realm of social media, it deserves and requires high-level attention. After all, this is your brand in the public square.

Think about your ambassadors too. What are the pluses and minuses of your leadership or staff members using social media accounts professionally? (Also, keep in mind that people who are representing and associated with your organization are likely using social media.)

Offer quality content

This is the most important. Social media offers more engaging communication opportunities, but due to sheer volume, you need better content than ever. Luckily, nonprofits have an abundance of good information to share! Personal stories, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and data can be engaging.        

In the age of the smartphone, multi-media stories with photographs and videos are easier than ever to generate. “Cover” events or meetings like a news photographer or videographer would. Create and use hashtags, and join in relevant conversations.

Many organizations have completed impressive crowdfunding campaigns with smart social media outreach. And don’t be afraid to ask questions of your network. Repurpose your content as many ways as you can, so you make the most out of any story or message. (Just remember to customize the content to the platform!)


Social media is about interaction. It’s a multi-sided conversation. Share postings from friends and partners. Respond when you’re asked a question. And observe: What can you learn from nonprofits you admire? Whose accounts are most engaging to you and why? How does your network respond to different tones or content areas?

Please, please, please do not create a social media account and disappear a day/week/month after announcing your arrival. Do not reappear at random, lengthy intervals to share a bunch of content at once. Do not ignore inquiries or respond inconsistently.

Find your balance

I’m a big believer in the importance of striking the right balance – whatever that means for your organization. Social media is about appearing in front of a group of people over and over, so you’re giving a cumulative impression.

Occasionally, take a step back to reflect on your content. What percentage is reactive versus proactive?  How do you balance across content or functional areas? How much do you generate, and how much do you share from others?         

Social media is often about being in the moment, so it often requires a recalibration to be certain you’re hitting all the important notes. And be sure you’re not neglecting longtime stakeholders who may not spend time on social networks; ideally, social media is just one component of a communications strategy.

Use the tools available

There are lots of tools out there intended to make your social media management easier. Tweet Deck or HootSuite can help you manage across multiple social media accounts.       

Storify can turn a series of hashtagged tweets into a cohesive story that could live on your website or be repurposed via a newsletter. Be sure you provide easy access to your social media accounts (or, better yet, the feeds themselves) on your website.

Track results

Most of the major social media platforms provide basic ways to track your interactions and visibility. Some of the more advanced tools also provide good analytics. Track your performance over time and look for trends.

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