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Does Social Media Silence Debate?

Woman thinks to notebook A recent New York Times article explored recent survey data that led researchers to some thought-provoking conclusions about social media’s effect on civic discourse. It’s pretty common knowledge by now that people tend to surround themselves with people who agree with them on things. Conservatives and liberals tend to want to live in different kinds of places (75% of consistent conservatives want to live in suburbs or the country, 77% of consistent liberals the city), and they more consistently say most of their friends share their views. That’s on top, of course, of the childhood instinct to gravitate towards people like me.

But how does social media interact with this situation? Does it make it better? Worse? Here’s what this recent research found:

  • People are less likely to voice opinions when they think their views differ from those of their friends. Since their feeds are dominated by people they like, find interesting, or tend to agree with, social media can intensify this tendency and keep dissenters quiet. In fact, people who use social media regularly are less likely to express differing views in the offline world.
  • No politics at the dinner table? Social media is like the dinner table, only more so. Most people said they would be more willing to discuss something controversial at dinner or at work than on social media.
  • Educated people and thoughtful people are quieting down. People with more education are less likely to weigh in on a Facebook debate, as are people with moderate views. People with less education, and people with more fervent or extreme views, dominate the debate.

So it would seem social media is indeed providing a liturgy for our lives, a set of repetitive habits (shaped by algorithms) that affects how we think and act even offline.

What do we do about this? How can we make sure our online habits are having a positive effect on our social interactions and our political discourse?

I recommend two articles to help you start thinking:

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Should Nonprofits Give Up on Facebook?

It’s up to Facebook—but there are steps nonprofits can be taking to deal with Facebook problems.

If you’ve been frustrated by Facebook lately, you’re not the only one.

Facebook keeps changing things behind the scenes, and it seems like every time it does, nonprofit and business users suffer. While individual users complain whenever the company changes the site interface, organizations have it much tougher. I recently spoke with a colleague who does communications consulting for a number of California nonprofits, and she’s noticed some pretty decided trends. I’ve seen many of the same things. So I reluctantly decided I had to address this, and let you know two things:

One, I do still think Facebook and nonprofits can have a future—but Facebook is going to have to make some changes pretty soon. Two, there are some important steps nonprofits should take to make life easier for themselves, regardless of what Facebook does.

The problems with Facebook

The problems I’ve seen with Facebook boil down to three things:

Cost.

You might have noticed the recent changes to Facebook ads. I, for one, noticed that they don’t let me automatically promote my most recent post any more (which had been a big time saver). I also noticed that the dollars don’t seem to go as far. With a 5,000-like page, I used to be able to reach 2,000+ people with most posts in half a day with $3-5 in ads. Now I’m lucky if I reach 1,000 in 24 hours. This, of course, was on top of the changes from a few months ago that had already made your page likes nearly worthless—because instead of being able to, you know, post things to the people who had told you they wanted to see your stuff, you had to pay to do it. Organic reach, i.e. the percentage of your followers who see your posts without you having to pay for it, was already way down. Now, so is paid reach.

If you’re Burger King, that’s not a big deal. What was once free advertising became cheap advertising, and now slightly more expensive cheap advertising.

But if you’re a small nonprofit, the cost-benefit ratio starts to go way down when the cost starts to go up. And I’m not just talking about the ad cost. There’s the time cost; staff has to put in a lot more hours keeping a page active hour by hour than they do to send an email update. And there’s the financial cost of the almost inevitable consultants (like me) you have to hire in order to know how to use a constantly changing platform effectively--not a problem with, say, Twitter. (To see more of how all this is affecting nonprofit customers, look at B. Traven’s graphs here—I’ve had similar experiences; this is real.)

On which note…

Unpredictability.

The algorithms. The interface. The options. Facebook changes all the time, and rarely is it easy to figure out where something went or why. When nonprofits are making tough budget decisions about how to spend their precious communications and development dollars, it’s a little hard to get excited about an option that keeps changing. Can we reach 100,000 people this month with X dollars? Will it be the same next month? A year from now will it cost us thousands of (nonexistent) dollars a month just to stay in touch with our own followers?

Nonprofits make their budget decisions a year in advance. Things that aren't predictable enough to fit into that model often don't make it into the budget (or not in significant numbers). It's tough for even the most Facebook-loving communications director to sell his boss on a major expenditure when he can't show with any expectation of accuracy what it will buy. (Here's a good look from Hubspot at the kind of conversation he SHOULD be able to have with his boss!)

Value.

The unpredictability question, in turn, leads to very reasonable concerns about the value of investing time and money into Facebook. Fewer younger people are using it (a small but noticeable number of my friends have eased off it over the past three years). Initial addiction to the platform tends to lead to dropoff as it becomes more of a time-waster at the expense of real life. Thus engagement rates go down more and more the longer a user maintains an account, so does investing in a Facebook “relationship” with someone actually mean something, or will it just taper off?

What about fundraising results? I monitor the nonprofit social media scene daily, and work with dozens of clients directly, and while I’m aware of many Facebook ad success stories, I haven't spoken with a single nonprofit that has seen a major increase in donations due primarily to Facebook. One of my clients put all its eggs in one basket and did a Facebook-only fundraising campaign for four months, checking most of the right boxes along the way, with minimal results.

A lot of nonprofits are concerned Facebook has just become another big, untrustworthy corporation that’s more interested in its investors than its customers. And yes, organizations are customers, not “users of a free product who have no right to complain,” now that they’re paying for so many things--contrary to some of the snark I've seen, they do have a legitimate reason to be upset.

What's going on?

At this point, Facebook has a lot of priorities to juggle. Besides investors (and that’s a big “besides”), its priority at the moment is individual users. As a user, you don’t see every post from every friend. Facebook tries to prioritize things for you so that you’ll see the things that will most interest you; for example, posts from friends you’ve interacted with a lot in the recent past (comments, likes, etc.). The motivation is understandable—they want to make sure you enjoy using the Facebook product! But the algorithm doesn’t do a very good job; there’s clearly something wrong if I can like a page and stop seeing its content soon afterward, or lose Facebook touch with a close friend because I ignore the snapshots of her lunch for a couple weeks.

I asked a friend at Facebook about this situation, and she suggested there needs to be a significant shift in the way organizations think about Facebook. Instead of the newsfeed approach, where the goal is engagement levels, they need to think of Facebook more as a paid service for reaching a targeted audience for a specific initiative. This is a huge change. It means not only ceasing to put Facebook in the same camp as Twitter in marketing conversations, but also throwing out years of accumulated best practices in terms of engagement strategies.

Meanwhile, new social networks are being invented practically every day, and even Google+ already offers a superior array of services to Facebook that works better (and gives huge discounts to nonprofit customers via its Google Grants program). The audience isn’t quite there yet in any other given network, but sooner or later, nonprofits that want to use social media will trickle into alternative options. A number of my clients have quietly started pushing their content to a Google+ page or maintaining an Instagram account, mainly to stay in touch with their growing number of users who have stopped using Facebook, but partly (in Google+’s case) as a fallback option in case Facebook keeps making life difficult for them.

I recognize the different needs that Facebook is trying to juggle, and I don’t pretend to know The Answer to all of it. But if Facebook wants to retain the business of its nonprofit (and, for that matter, small business) customers, it needs to address the three concerns I outlined in the previous section—most of them with real changes, not reassuring words. The occasional case study of that guy who grew his pet turtle business using Facebook ads won’t cut it, because nonprofits have tried driving (say) event turnout with a modest investment in Facebook ads, with limited success.

What nonprofits can be doing

In the meantime, what can nonprofits be doing?

Have a comprehensive supporter engagement strategy.

If Facebook is the heart of what you do outside direct mail, you’ve been doing it wrong anyway. The real question is how to engage your supporters (including finding new ones) in a way that makes them feel up to date, involved, and important.

On the communications end of things, that starts with your content creation (your blog posts, videos, images, and whatnot that are the primary vehicle for telling your story), and branches out from there into different distribution mechanisms (direct mail, email, RSS, different social networks, Google Ads, etc.). So the first questions to be asking (and to never stop asking) concern who you’re currently reaching, who you want to reach, and what kind of content resonates with those people (free tip: shorten everything you write by 50%). The next (though NOT the last!) questions are about how to reach those people. Facebook should only be one small part of the answer to those questions. (For more on what this should look like, read my piece on “Enlisting the Amateurs.”)

And keep refining what you’re doing so that you spend the most time and effort on the pieces of the infrastructure that get you the best results. Most of the nonprofits I’ve seen that get upset about their bad Facebook numbers also have terrible email open and click rates, terrible website traffic, etc.—usually due to terrible storytelling (more on that in a moment). Social media might be the easy culprit to blame for an ED that thought it was fishy to begin with, but nonprofit communications problems, in my experience, rarely start with any one delivery system.

Use Facebook wisely within that strategy.

A smart supporter engagement strategy is the core of a successful social fundraising effort—“social” fundraising means treating all your supporters like personal friends of the organization who are, potentially, powerful ambassadors for you. (More on that here.)

Don’t ditch Facebook just yet. It still offers the biggest and most diverse audience of any social network, and the most powerful tools for growing your audience. It also provides the most organic-feeling way for people to stay up to date with you in an interactive way. But as long as it keeps hamstringing you, be smart about how you use it.

  • Don’t spend disproportionate amounts of time on it, where 30% of your day is being eaten up by something that’s likely generating a much smaller percentage of your revenue—generate universal content (e.g. a blog post) and be disciplined about the time you spend optimizing that content for Facebook (e.g. by creating a visually attractive graphic that draws attention to the blog post).
  • Focus more on drives for specific goals (e.g. event turnout) than on engagement rates, recognizes that that costs money. And yikes, I know that's a big change.
  • Spend your ad dollars wisely; only boost posts that are likely to get significant interaction (why are you making the other kind anyway?), monitor your results, and target your ad audience well.
  • Also keep exploiting holes in the system, which make it more cost effective, as long as they’re around (ask me about those sometime).
  • And keep giving Facebook feedback—let them know when you’re unhappy about something, why, and what you think they can reasonably do about it.

Recognize that “Real life is more interesting!”

In B. Traven’s post (mentioned above), the writer points out that some of the people who go from Facebook addiction to Facebook abandonment have noticed that real life is more interesting.

As Barney Stinson would say, that’s the dream!

Social media is at its worst when it ends up as a substitute for real life. It’s at its best when it serves as a catalyst for it. One challenge I’ve seen with a couple clients in the past is that they were trying to generate strong Facebook content, which meant making people a day-to-day part of what they did, when what they did day-to-day was unbelievably boring. If there’s no life to the organization, how can you plug people into it?

Good Facebook use, like good use of emails, phone calls, in-person meetings, print materials, website updates, and everything else, should connect people to real-life benefits. Relationships, glimpses into what’s going on in the office, real-world results with a human face, events, radically rethought volunteer opportunities, and the like. (More on what this can look like here.)

Whether Facebook chooses to make itself the powerful nonprofit social ally of the next five years, or whether it decides to drive out its nonprofit customers, your nonprofit should be setting itself up as the hub of a community that is passionate about what you do. That starts with thinking about people (both your supporters and your clients) and their needs first.

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Should Nonprofits Give Up on Facebook?

It’s up to Facebook—but there are steps nonprofits can be taking to deal with Facebook problems.

If you’ve been frustrated by Facebook lately, you’re not the only one.

Facebook keeps changing things behind the scenes, and it seems like every time it does, nonprofit and business users suffer. While individual users complain whenever the company changes the site interface, organizations have it much tougher. I recently spoke with a colleague who does communications consulting for a number of California nonprofits, and she’s noticed some pretty decided trends. I’ve seen many of the same things. So I reluctantly decided I had to address this, and let you know two things:

One, I do still think Facebook and nonprofits can have a future—but Facebook is going to have to make some changes pretty soon. Two, there are some important steps nonprofits should take to make life easier for themselves, regardless of what Facebook does.

The problems with Facebook

The problems I’ve seen with Facebook boil down to three things:

Cost.

You might have noticed the recent changes to Facebook ads. I, for one, noticed that they don’t let me automatically promote my most recent post any more (which had been a big time saver). I also noticed that the dollars don’t seem to go as far. With a 5,000-like page, I used to be able to reach 2,000+ people with most posts in half a day with $3-5 in ads. Now I’m lucky if I reach 1,000 in 24 hours. This, of course, was on top of the changes from a few months ago that had already made your page likes nearly worthless—because instead of being able to, you know, post things to the people who had told you they wanted to see your stuff, you had to pay to do it. Organic reach, i.e. the percentage of your followers who see your posts without you having to pay for it, was already way down. Now, so is paid reach.

If you’re Burger King, that’s not a big deal. What was once free advertising became cheap advertising, and now slightly more expensive cheap advertising.

But if you’re a small nonprofit, the cost-benefit ratio starts to go way down when the cost starts to go up. And I’m not just talking about the ad cost. There’s the time cost; staff has to put in a lot more hours keeping a page active hour by hour than they do to send an email update. And there’s the financial cost of the almost inevitable consultants (like me) you have to hire in order to know how to use a constantly changing platform effectively--not a problem with, say, Twitter. (To see more of how all this is affecting nonprofit customers, look at B. Traven’s graphs here—I’ve had similar experiences; this is real.)

On which note…

Unpredictability.

The algorithms. The interface. The options. Facebook changes all the time, and rarely is it easy to figure out where something went or why. When nonprofits are making tough budget decisions about how to spend their precious communications and development dollars, it’s a little hard to get excited about an option that keeps changing. Can we reach 100,000 people this month with X dollars? Will it be the same next month? A year from now will it cost us thousands of (nonexistent) dollars a month just to stay in touch with our own followers?

Nonprofits make their budget decisions a year in advance. Things that aren't predictable enough to fit into that model often don't make it into the budget (or not in significant numbers). It's tough for even the most Facebook-loving communications director to sell his boss on a major expenditure when he can't show with any expectation of accuracy what it will buy. (Here's a good look from Hubspot at the kind of conversation he SHOULD be able to have with his boss!)

Value.

The unpredictability question, in turn, leads to very reasonable concerns about the value of investing time and money into Facebook. Fewer younger people are using it (a small but noticeable number of my friends have eased off it over the past three years). Initial addiction to the platform tends to lead to dropoff as it becomes more of a time-waster at the expense of real life. Thus engagement rates go down more and more the longer a user maintains an account, so does investing in a Facebook “relationship” with someone actually mean something, or will it just taper off?

What about fundraising results? I monitor the nonprofit social media scene daily, and work with dozens of clients directly, and while I’m aware of many Facebook ad success stories, I haven't spoken with a single nonprofit that has seen a major increase in donations due primarily to Facebook. One of my clients put all its eggs in one basket and did a Facebook-only fundraising campaign for four months, checking most of the right boxes along the way, with minimal results.

A lot of nonprofits are concerned Facebook has just become another big, untrustworthy corporation that’s more interested in its investors than its customers. And yes, organizations are customers, not “users of a free product who have no right to complain,” now that they’re paying for so many things--contrary to some of the snark I've seen, they do have a legitimate reason to be upset.

What's going on?

At this point, Facebook has a lot of priorities to juggle. Besides investors (and that’s a big “besides”), its priority at the moment is individual users. As a user, you don’t see every post from every friend. Facebook tries to prioritize things for you so that you’ll see the things that will most interest you; for example, posts from friends you’ve interacted with a lot in the recent past (comments, likes, etc.). The motivation is understandable—they want to make sure you enjoy using the Facebook product! But the algorithm doesn’t do a very good job; there’s clearly something wrong if I can like a page and stop seeing its content soon afterward, or lose Facebook touch with a close friend because I ignore the snapshots of her lunch for a couple weeks.

I asked a friend at Facebook about this situation, and she suggested there needs to be a significant shift in the way organizations think about Facebook. Instead of the newsfeed approach, where the goal is engagement levels, they need to think of Facebook more as a paid service for reaching a targeted audience for a specific initiative. This is a huge change. It means not only ceasing to put Facebook in the same camp as Twitter in marketing conversations, but also throwing out years of accumulated best practices in terms of engagement strategies.

Meanwhile, new social networks are being invented practically every day, and even Google+ already offers a superior array of services to Facebook that works better (and gives huge discounts to nonprofit customers via its Google Grants program). The audience isn’t quite there yet in any other given network, but sooner or later, nonprofits that want to use social media will trickle into alternative options. A number of my clients have quietly started pushing their content to a Google+ page or maintaining an Instagram account, mainly to stay in touch with their growing number of users who have stopped using Facebook, but partly (in Google+’s case) as a fallback option in case Facebook keeps making life difficult for them.

I recognize the different needs that Facebook is trying to juggle, and I don’t pretend to know The Answer to all of it. But if Facebook wants to retain the business of its nonprofit (and, for that matter, small business) customers, it needs to address the three concerns I outlined in the previous section—most of them with real changes, not reassuring words. The occasional case study of that guy who grew his pet turtle business using Facebook ads won’t cut it, because nonprofits have tried driving (say) event turnout with a modest investment in Facebook ads, with limited success.

What nonprofits can be doing

In the meantime, what can nonprofits be doing?

Have a comprehensive supporter engagement strategy.

If Facebook is the heart of what you do outside direct mail, you’ve been doing it wrong anyway. The real question is how to engage your supporters (including finding new ones) in a way that makes them feel up to date, involved, and important.

On the communications end of things, that starts with your content creation (your blog posts, videos, images, and whatnot that are the primary vehicle for telling your story), and branches out from there into different distribution mechanisms (direct mail, email, RSS, different social networks, Google Ads, etc.). So the first questions to be asking (and to never stop asking) concern who you’re currently reaching, who you want to reach, and what kind of content resonates with those people (free tip: shorten everything you write by 50%). The next (though NOT the last!) questions are about how to reach those people. Facebook should only be one small part of the answer to those questions. (For more on what this should look like, read my piece on “Enlisting the Amateurs.”)

And keep refining what you’re doing so that you spend the most time and effort on the pieces of the infrastructure that get you the best results. Most of the nonprofits I’ve seen that get upset about their bad Facebook numbers also have terrible email open and click rates, terrible website traffic, etc.—usually due to terrible storytelling (more on that in a moment). Social media might be the easy culprit to blame for an ED that thought it was fishy to begin with, but nonprofit communications problems, in my experience, rarely start with any one delivery system.

Use Facebook wisely within that strategy.

A smart supporter engagement strategy is the core of a successful social fundraising effort—“social” fundraising means treating all your supporters like personal friends of the organization who are, potentially, powerful ambassadors for you. (More on that here.)

Don’t ditch Facebook just yet. It still offers the biggest and most diverse audience of any social network, and the most powerful tools for growing your audience. It also provides the most organic-feeling way for people to stay up to date with you in an interactive way. But as long as it keeps hamstringing you, be smart about how you use it.

  • Don’t spend disproportionate amounts of time on it, where 30% of your day is being eaten up by something that’s likely generating a much smaller percentage of your revenue—generate universal content (e.g. a blog post) and be disciplined about the time you spend optimizing that content for Facebook (e.g. by creating a visually attractive graphic that draws attention to the blog post).
  • Focus more on drives for specific goals (e.g. event turnout) than on engagement rates, recognizes that that costs money. And yikes, I know that's a big change.
  • Spend your ad dollars wisely; only boost posts that are likely to get significant interaction (why are you making the other kind anyway?), monitor your results, and target your ad audience well.
  • Also keep exploiting holes in the system, which make it more cost effective, as long as they’re around (ask me about those sometime).
  • And keep giving Facebook feedback—let them know when you’re unhappy about something, why, and what you think they can reasonably do about it.

Recognize that “Real life is more interesting!”

In B. Traven’s post (mentioned above), the writer points out that some of the people who go from Facebook addiction to Facebook abandonment have noticed that real life is more interesting.

As Barney Stinson would say, that’s the dream!

Social media is at its worst when it ends up as a substitute for real life. It’s at its best when it serves as a catalyst for it. One challenge I’ve seen with a couple clients in the past is that they were trying to generate strong Facebook content, which meant making people a day-to-day part of what they did, when what they did day-to-day was unbelievably boring. If there’s no life to the organization, how can you plug people into it?

Good Facebook use, like good use of emails, phone calls, in-person meetings, print materials, website updates, and everything else, should connect people to real-life benefits. Relationships, glimpses into what’s going on in the office, real-world results with a human face, events, radically rethought volunteer opportunities, and the like. (More on what this can look like here.)

Whether Facebook chooses to make itself the powerful nonprofit social ally of the next five years, or whether it decides to drive out its nonprofit customers, your nonprofit should be setting itself up as the hub of a community that is passionate about what you do. That starts with thinking about people (both your supporters and your clients) and their needs first.

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5 Social Media Tips that will Help Increase Your Donations by 50%

Recently, I was delighted to be invited to contribute to Hootsuite's blog as part of an effort they're making to provide more nonprofit-specific tips and resources. Here's my first entry (the original can be found here).

**

Did you know 73% of first-time donors never give again? They don’t feel a part of the organization, they don’t feel appreciated—often they don’t even get a thank-you note—so they leave. That means the vast majority of what your fundraiser does will actually just be plugging holes, rather than growing your donor base.

But here’s another stat: if you get even a 10% higher donor retention rate, your donations go up by 50%. Immediately. Think about that for a minute. Your $1 million budget could become $1.5 million, if you just got a few dozen more of your donors to stick around. And social media can play a huge role in making that happen.

The first trick is building a thank-you culture that extends to your social media. Supporting a nonprofit is usually a social act. Mega-philanthropists put their names on art galleries so that other people will see it. 67% of people who like a nonprofit’s Facebook page say they do so because they want their friends to know they support the organization.

Here are 5 tips to help you build a Thank-You culture on social media:

1. Make sure your social media team and development team are well connected. You need to know what’s going on in the fundraising calendar so you can be of value to it, but it works the other way too—you’re going to be learning things about your donors and their trending interests that are gold for your development director. Get a CRM that helps with this, and preferably one that integrates easily with your social relationship platform.

2. Follow your donors and talk to them a lot. The easiest place to do this is Twitter, by creating lists and adding them to your dashboard. Monitor it daily and talk to your donors about what interests them. Let them know you’re listening. Consider doing this on both staff individual profiles and the corporate one. When a chat involves John from development, the organization, and the donor, suddenly you’re working as a community on a shared project. You can talk about your organization, but only a small percentage of the time, and only after you’ve figured out what elements of your work interest them most.

3. Connect the social to the real. For example, if you have events, use tools (EventBrite is one) that allow people to see which of their Facebook friends are going, and after they sign up, have a confirmation page that invites them to share the event with their friends. If you can, set up automated emails afterwards for people to share it, and thank them for helping. Take photos of the event, and post them on social media afterwards and tag your donors, thanking them for coming.

4. Tell your donors’ stories. There’s an art to telling your donors’ stories. (Learn more about how to do it here.) Why do they support your organization? Why do they care about this kind of work more broadly? What personal stories do they have that illustrate why it’s important to them, or how your organization’s work has touched them? Regularly write brief blog posts (with photos if possible) sharing their stories, tagging them, and telling the world how special your supporters are!

5. And… say thank you! The obvious one. When somebody donates, post on social media saying “thank you” and tag them. Link it to the donor’s story or a brief reference to something you know about them, or to what that amount of money allowed you to do. “Thanks to Joe Ross for his donation this week! We provided water for four more kids in Africa with your dollars!” or “Megan Carter, you are the best! Thanks for all the help licking envelopes (and talking Star Trek!).”

Not only do these public thank-yous make the donor feel appreciated; if these kinds of things happen regularly, they can create a culture of giving on your social profiles. Other people who don’t give see this stuff and start to imagine themselves being thanked like that; or at the least, think of giving to you as something that people like them do. If they see giving to you as a normal part of membership in that community, rather than as a big jump, you can help your donor acquisition as well as your donor retention!

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Is Facebook dying?

Some are saying so—but is it true? And should it affect your strategy?

One of the hot topics lately is whether Facebook is doing down the tubes. There was the study that predicted it would lose 80% of its users by 2017, there are a number of blog posts wondering how much longer it’s going to be dominant with niche users getting more and more active on other platforms, and of course there’s always been the yuppie hobbie of complaining loudly about how terrible Facebook is (on Facebook).

A few things to consider:

  1. Facebook is still the biggest social network, by a million miles. (You can’t count Google+’s numbers; more people are using it but the stats are still wildly inflated.) Even if it were dying, it would take forever to die.
  2. Facebook is still the only social network that allows you to do everything—text, pictures, video, post links, etc. And since everybody’s always adapting, there’s no telling what changes it could make to become cool again tomorrow.
  3. On the other hand, this topic is a good reminder not to put all your eggs in one basket—on ZERO social networks do you own your followers’ information; if any of them go out of business you’re in trouble. Even “capturing” email addresses is of limited value, because people can give you spam-catcher ones they don’t really use, or change them and forget to tell you. Ultimately, the core of using any communications method in nonprofit operations is to maintain a relationship with a person—and in a healthy relationship, you know more than one way to get in touch with them (and they remember to tell you when they move). What are you doing to build a relationship of mutual value with somebody, across multiple platforms?

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Why You Should Stop Trying to Get Facebook Likes

And what you should try to get instead.

Facebook likes. They’re what every nonprofit wants. They’re what they measure their social communications (or their consultants) by.

And they’re almost completely useless.

I’d rather have 300 likes and really high engagement rates (clicks, shares, views by people who haven’t liked my page) than 30,000 likes and low ones. Because, lest we forget, you’re running a nonprofit. Your goal isn’t bragging rights; it’s building a community around a cause that will help you fight better for it.

In fact, which of those two things you’re obsessed with can tell you a lot about the health of your organization’s fundraising.

Which one of these matches you, and what can you do to get more like the second one?

Nonprofits that are obsessed with likes tend to be characterized by:

  • A lot more attention put into their ads than their day-to-day content
  • One-way content that isn’t designed to provoke engagement
  • An attitude that treats likes (and donors) like commodities
  • The lack of a game plan for turning a like into a donation, or indeed much of any integration of their Facebook activity with their larger development operations

Nonprofits that are obsessed with building a community around their cause tend to be characterized by:

  • Loads of care put into creating and curating excellent, meaningful content that makes the day better for anyone who sees it
  • Interactive content that helps followers become part of the organization
  • An attitude that treats a single like, let alone a donor, like a person who has interests that are worth knowing about (and, when it comes to her interest in your organization, cultivating!)
  • A strong integrated development and communications plan that feeds content and goals to the Facebook team, and takes feedback in return.

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Facebook ads or Google ads?

Priorities, priorities. The real issue: you’ve heard people argue both. Google ads help people find you in web searches, which is where you get most of your traffic from right now. But there’s a lot of talk around social media. Where is the best place to start?

The answer is…yes.

Not trying to be coy, but they’re both good things. Ideally, you would be doing both. But which one you should be doing in your situation, now THAT is the question. A look at each option:

Google Ads

The upside: Combined with good search engine optimization on your website (SEO), Google ads allow you to help the right people find you through internet searches. For example, if you offer housing for low-income families, running ads built around relevant web searches (“low-income housing”) will help you pop up first on the list. You can even tailor it geographically so only local people will see your ad. You can almost instantly start driving hundreds or even thousands of extra visitors per week to your website, with reasonable confidence that they’ll be the people you want to find you.

The downside: They’re not cheap. You could find yourself paying upwards of $5 or $6 ­per click for your visitors. And they’re not social—that $6 for that one visitor usually only buys you that one visitor, with no way of connecting with his friends. That is, unless you get him to connect socially while he’s on your site, which brings me to…

Facebook Ads

The upside: Facebook ads allow you to target people even more specifically than Google. Google is inherently limited to people who are actively searching for you (unless you pay for ads that appear in other websites, which are an added cost). Facebook allows you to put posts in the sidebar or even the news feeds of people who you already know would be excited by what you do. On top of that, Facebook ads are cheap (if you know your stuff, you can get someone to like your page for $0.10 or $0.15 per like), and they’re social (meaning every connection is a window into yet another network of friends who might find you exciting).

The downside: They’re slow and they take active engagement, especially if you don’t have the kind of money that would have allowed you to do a massive Google Ads campaign. You can get dozens or hundreds of likes per day, or thousands of post views, pretty inexpensively—but building that up to 10,000 likes and translating it to the activity/email subscriptions/donations you want will generally take weeks or months, and it will take a lot of planning and day-to-day engagement (whereas Google Ads technically run themselves, although you want to tweak them regularly).

Feel free to get in touch with me if you want to talk about this further.

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How do I know which social networks to use?

The daunting question with the simple answer.

How do I know which social networks to use?

The real issue: technology is moving too fast. There are a lot of social networks out there, and they seem to rise and fall in popularity. You’re wondering whether it’s possible to move forward when all your work to build a Twitter following might fall apart in five years if Twitter loses popularity. Or maybe you’re just wondering where on earth to start.

First off, the easy answer: it depends on your mission. You definitely start with Facebook, which has over a billion users and is easily the largest. But after that, what you do dictates which other social networks you should start with, because each network has its own demographics and its own best kinds of media. Broadly speaking, a few of the heavy hitters as of October 2013:

  • Twitter is about conversation. It works well for any organization that deals a lot with news, or policy issues, or fast-paced developments. If your organization is more long-range and slow-paced, Twitter may not be the most efficient use of your time at first. That said, you’d be surprised: I have a client that runs a food bank, and didn’t use Twitter much…but when Colorado Springs caught fire and people were driven from their homes, they were quite glad to be looped in with local news sources on Twitter, because it enabled them to effortlessly spread the word about their services.
  • Pinterest is about images. It’s most effective when you can work with pictures, and its user base is heavily female. It’s increasingly a popular third network after Facebook and Twitter because it has a good track record of driving traffic to your website.
  • Google+ is Google’s version of Facebook. It lets you post pictures, links, videos, everything. Frankly, it’s a lot better than Facebook in most ways. But while hundreds of millions of people have Google+ accounts, most of them are really just Gmail accounts and their owners never get on Google+. For the moment, G+ is best if you’re in a technological or creative space, because those are the kinds of people who frequent it.
  • Instagram is just pictures. Whereas Pinterest allows you to post anything (for example, a wine shop could post its favorite wine country scenery, or pictures of products with links to their purchase pages on an e-commerce site), Instagram only works through your phone’s camera. So it’s good for photojournalism but not so good for more holistic engagement. Its user base is also much younger.

On a larger level, though, the more important question is what you do with people after they’ve followed you on a social network—having a strategy that is about engaging and developing donors and can be tweaked no matter what social networks go in and out of vogue. This is why I advocate a holistic approach that is more about building a traditional donor base with contact info, e-mails, and so on. “Social media marketing” is about, say, getting thousands of Facebook likes. Social fundraising says those likes are inadequate if there’s no mechanism to translate any of them to donations.

My advice is to think of it in these terms: you want to build relationships with these people. Social media is a key starting point to finding them and introducing yourself, but the relationships need to go deeper.

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Why does such a tiny percentage of my followers actually see my posts?

2,000 Facebook likes. 148 people saw that post. The nuts and bolts of Facebook's algorithms (and how to capitalize on them).

Why does such a tiny percentage of my followers actually see my posts?

The real issue: you’ve noticed that even though you have 2,000 Facebook followers, only 148 people saw your last post. What gives?

Facebook’s news feed algorithm is designed with the individual in mind, not you. Since the average Facebook user has at least 150 friends, and probably doesn’t want to see updates from all of them, Facebook biases what appears in her feed based on what it expects her to want to see.

How does it know?

Based on her past interaction, what her friends are doing, and other factors. If she never likes her college roommate’s posts, sooner or later she’ll stop seeing them. If she likes your page, she’ll see your updates for a while, but she’ll start seeing fewer of them if she never does anything with them (because it tells Facebook she doesn’t care about your content). On the other hand, a post of yours that she missed might pop up in her feed later that day if 10 of her friends like it. And some kinds of posts, like photos, are more likely to appear in her feed (although that has a lot to do with the fact that they tend to garner more interaction).

If you don’t like the numbers you’re seeing, here are a few things to consider:

  • Are you posting often enough? If you’re only posting a couple times a week, you could be hurting yourself.
  • Are you posting content your followers like? Maybe not. Think outside the box, look at your most successful posts, and give the people what they want.
  • Are you interacting with people? Facebook isn’t a news blasting service. If you’re not engaging your followers, responding to comments, asking questions, posting things that are designed to elicit a reaction, your numbers will drop.
  • Are you adding captions to links? You should be. If you post a link, make sure you post a SHORT teaser explaining why you think people will find it interesting (this could also be a question, even a rhetorical question like “How could they let this happen?”)
  • And, if all else fails, are you promoting your posts? If you’ve fallen into bad habits for too long, even improving your content may not help because so few of your people are seeing your posts. Consider Facebook ads to get new followers, and spending $5 on some of your stronger posts to override Facebook’s algorithm and make sure your followers and their friends see them.

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How many people over 50 are really on Facebook?

Are enough current donors on Facebook to make investment worth it?

How many people over 50 are really on Facebook?

The real issue: running a nonprofit means a lot of decisions about what’s really worth your precious time. If social media is mostly a young-person thing, and everybody knows young people are not a good source of nonprofit revenue, why should that time be spent trying to attract people with money who aren’t there?

The answer: 60% of people age 50-64 are on Facebook, and 43% of people 65 and over are on Facebook. Source: May 2013 Pew report.

That's definitely enough to justify your attention.

It started when the new grandma got on Facebook to see pictures of her newborn granddaughter. Then she realized half her high school class was on Facebook, and reconnected with dozens of friends she hadn’t talked to in years. Then she told the REST of her friends, who started getting on Facebook too.

Many of them use it at least as actively as their kids, and some of them use it more actively than their grandkids. I recently saw a community on Facebook that had attracted 30,000 senior citizens.

Many of those people will still open a snail mail letter—but with the tiny fraction of them who will actually donate as a result, you’re at least as likely to get them to donate using methods that allow them to get involved right then and there, while you’re fresh in their minds. And you’re more likely to keep them.

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Why should I put money into Facebook when it doesn’t get me any donations?

An answer you've probably never heard.

Why should I put money into Facebook when it doesn’t get me any donations?

The real issue: whether you hire a full-time social media guy, contract with a consultant, or just give your poor development director yet another task, social media is an investment. And you don’t know anyone in the nonprofit sector who has told you they’ve hit it big with Mark Zuckerberg’s creation. So why bother?

Answer: you shouldn’t.

I know I’m in the minority when I say that. A lot of “social media gurus” will, in answer to this question, emphasize that social media’s value goes far beyond donations. They’ll tell you it helps people keep in touch with your organization without you needing to put together loads of work-intensive newsletters and reports. They’ll tell you it lets people share you with their friends, bringing in new potential donors. They’ll tell you it makes you seem more human, which will pay off sooner or later. They’ll tell you that you will benefit from it even if you never get a dollar from it.

All that is true, if you use it properly. But if you never see a dollar from it, there’s definitely a serious drawback to spending money on it!

But the reason you don’t see money from your social media is that you’re not using it properly. Having a Facebook page doesn’t cut it. Nor does posting little organizational updates periodically. Nor even does responding to people’s comments.

Social media is a tool, like housefile letters, email newsletters, annual reports, phone calls, and everything else you use as part of your fundraising apparatus. If it’s the black sheep child in the corner, it’s of no value to anybody. If it’s part of the family, if you do social fundraising rather than just “post on Facebook,” it can do a great deal of good. For example:

  • Facebook research can identify and connect you with literally millions of people around the world (or thousands right in your city) who are passionate about your cause, and would be thrilled to learn that you exist
  • Intelligently linked with your website and a smart email marketing strategy, social media can add dozens or even hundreds of people to your email list every day

So in sum: don’t spend a dime on social media unless you’re willing to do it properly.

If you want to get a better sense of what that might look like, I recommend this series of posts I wrote on how social fundraising works.

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