Creating Your 'Virtual Porch'
As you drive or walk through neighborhoods in our cities and towns, you often see people gathered together on porches. They’re talking, laughing and learning, pausing for a few minutes to spend some time with each other. They value the community of family and friends they know they’ll find on that porch.
Your goal with social media is to create a “virtual porch,” a welcoming, reliably satisfying environment. If you’re successful, people will want to stop and spend some time with you and their friends. They’ll share stories, they’ll learn from each other and they’ll grow closer to your organization.
Whether your organization is new to social media or already at the stage where you are looking beyond basics, here are some points to consider.
Don’t just ‘let the kid do it’
Too many organizations rely on an intern or the young “tech geeks” to manage their social-media platforms. Sure, it’s OK to let them post, if you provide the content, training and guidance about the tone, impact and character of those messages. Never let someone who isn’t experienced and passionate regarding your organization’s mission and impact have control of your message.
The person on the front line communicating with your social networks should be well-trained regarding your mission, your policies, your goals, your expectations and your risk thresholds.
‘Did we put that on Facebook?’
Just as you have a marketing or outreach plan, you should have a social-media plan. As you integrate social media into your organizational plans, maintain awareness that “social” is more important than “media.” While forming a plan for social-media outreach, consider the following:
- Target: Who do you want to talk to?
- Channels: Where are they? What social sites are they most actively using?
- Content: What do they want to hear? What are their interests?
- Timing: How frequently will you post?
- Outcomes/Goals: How does that help you?
Types of audiences
The goal is to increase engagement and turn as many passive followers as possible into “loyalists.” Some people choose to be consumers online and rarely engage or contribute. Even if they don’t visibly engage, as long as they receive your content, you are connecting with them.
- Loyalists: First to comment, share and take action. They love you.
- Stalkers: Follow you but rarely respond even though they pay close attention to your posts. They engage when something really interests them.
- Lurkers: Like the stalkers, they pay attention — but they might not be fans. They can be very vocal if they see something they disagree with.
- Test drivers: Maybe a friend suggested you or they stumbled upon you. They’re not really engaged — yet. It’s important you connect with them or you lose them.
- Event-specific: The group that comes and goes depending on events. They can be #hashtag-sensitive. Like test drivers, they may drift off if not engaged by your content.
What are the ‘must have’ accounts?
● LinkedIn (16th most visited website in the U.S., 40 million+ unique monthly users): LinkedIn has the highest concentration of educated, high-income influence leaders, decision makers and business owners. You cannot afford to be unavailable to professionally connect with these powerful, often otherwise online-elusive individuals.
LinkedIn is an excellent networking and prospecting tool. Be sure to search for your organization’s company page. Check it for accuracy. If it doesn’t exist, create it.
● Facebook (third most visited, 135 million+ unique monthly users): Facebook users are “addicts.” More than 90 percent of them visit Facebook 30+ times each month. This is fertile ground. Users often make their first contact with a nonprofit’s website through a link on Facebook. Facebook users are among the most likely to actively share things they like with their friends and communities.
● YouTube (second most visited, 170 million+ unique monthly users): Second only to Google, YouTube has effectively replaced traditional television for millions of viewers. Considering that YouTube searches occasionally surpass Google searches, your organization needs to be in this space. If you’re interested in appealing to a younger demographic, be aware that YouTube reaches more 18- to 34-year-old viewers than any cable television channel.
● Twitter (fifth most visited, 90 million+ unique monthly users): Twitter is the most active mobile social media. Users expect and receive immediate feedback from a rapidly growing group of businesses and nonprofits. If they have a question, comment or complaint, they’ll tweet you and expect a response.
It is crucial that you monitor your organization on Twitter — the faster you respond, the better you foster relationships and squash complaints.
● Pinterest (11th most visited, 60 million+ unique monthly users): Often scoffed at as a place “where women share pictures,” Pinterest is the fastest growing of the social-media sites. It is crucial in engaging a younger female audience.
Pinterest is more than a pinboard. It is a visual bookmarking system where users can save a visual representation of a link to a website. To make your posts “pinable,” always include a shareable photo on your Web pages.
When should I post and how often?
“When” depends on your audience and the lifestyle of your community. Frequency depends on the channel you use. The life cycle of a social-media message varies drastically depending on the platform. You can think of social media in terms of traditional media analogies.
- LinkedIn is like the Sunday paper, only it arrives on Monday or Tuesday. Most users check out LinkedIn once a week, while at work on Mondays and Tuesdays. Post at least weekly. If you post multiple times a week, your most important content should be posted Sunday or Monday for greatest reach.
- Facebook is like television. People have favorite channels, programs and personalities. They tune in once a day, maybe more, to check out their favorite channels and programs. Try to post multiple times a week, if not daily. While the best day of the week is disputed and depends on the nature of your followers and community, traffic tends to begin building on Sunday afternoon and peaks on Wednesday evenings. Mobile users can be reached early mornings, between work and dinner, and near bedtime. Desktop users are most active midday and late night.
- Twitter is like radio. They tune in when they have a few minutes, “listen” for a while, switch stations if bored and tune out when they get busy. Tweet often for the maximum impact. Multiple times a day is not overkill. Because the likelihood of a tweet being retweeted drops by 97 percent within one hour, it’s OK to be somewhat redundant with information. Only those followers that have added you to a search or list are likely to see the message repeatedly. Add links early in your tweet to increase sharing. Post during commuting times on weekdays for maximum impact. Also post during major local or national events when Twitter users are especially active. Recently, Nielsen Media released research indicating that Twitter and television viewing have reciprocal impact. Each can increase activity for the other. Consider tweeting during prime-time television viewing to reach media multitaskers.
- YouTube is on-demand television. It doesn’t matter so much when you post, but it is vital that you post. Try to get in the habit of posting something original once a month, if possible. You can also provide a service to your subscribers by sharing relevant informational and entertaining videos created by others.
- Pinterest is like a weekly paper or magazine. Pinners spend time browsing the Web and pinning favorites to their boards. Traffic builds after noon and slows from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Peak pinning time is weekend mornings and late night.
This may seem like an overwhelming task. To increase your efficiency and minimize your time commitment, consider using tools like Buffer, TweetDeck, HootSuite or others to aggregate and schedule your posts. This allows you to manage multiple accounts in minutes each week.
What should I post?
(Almost) always include links, videos, photos or graphics. The likelihood of having a post shared increases exponentially if it is visually interesting and easy to share. Keep the length of your posts short to encourage sharing.
Every message you share should do at least one of three things: inform, entertain and/or activate. When possible, try to do all three things in your posts.
Inform with 50 percent to 60 percent of your posts. These things demonstrate your knowledge, expertise or awareness. Share substance. Warning! “They’re just not that into you.” No matter how much they like you, they’ll share more of your posts if you don’t bore them by only talking about your wants and needs.
Try to include related topics to your cause or local community. Don’t be afraid to post information about other nonprofits in your community. Remember, the average person who supports one organization generally supports six or seven others. Share:
- Your original content — newsletters, blogs, videos, events. This is how you cross-pollinate between your sites.
- Links to good information that other people have produced. Show that you are connected and support other good causes just like your friends and fans do.
- Links to articles, websites, videos or events that are related to your cause or of importance in your community.
- Gratitude — thank people for their engagement and support. Include a link to a “freebie,” something they might value.
Entertain with 25 percent to 30 percent of your posts. “Your company’s social-media personality should be your company’s corporate personality after exactly one beer.” — Ross McCammon, Esquire
Entertaining posts show your personality and establish your voice. You don’t want to be known as the crazy cat video person, so you want to share things that can lead to common connection and start conversations. Share:
- “Behind the scenes” photos, videos and comments.
- Current event reflections.
- Quirky things that you enjoy.
- Silly videos — but don’t do this too often!
Activate in only 10 percent to 25 percent of your posts. Provide opportunities for people to take action, but don’t become a needy bore. Don’t go to the well too often, or people will quit following you or hide your posts. The worst thing you can do is to be considered a spammer. Share:
- Calls to action for your cause. Encourage someone to share your post, visit your website, read a newsletter or blog, volunteer, attend an event, make a contribution, etc.
- Calls to action for a related cause. Show that you’re a good team player in the community.
- The occasional, well-timed ask. Don’t wear out the actual request for cash. Remember, “Cash follows contact.” Increase the amount of meaningful contact you have, and the cash will follow.
Warning! Remove all possible barriers to participation. Every step you ask someone to take means many people won’t. Provide a single, direct link to the next step you want them to take. Don’t make them subscribe, fill out forms or otherwise “pay” for access. Think of your social media as back-loaded fundraising. Show them value first, and they’ll remain engaged and likely give later.
Times have changed
Traditional, one-way “push” marketing has been replaced by interactive, consumer-driven “pull” marketing. If we only treat fans and followers as a remote audience or a target market, we’ll never maximize the potential of social media as a conduit to create and deepen relationships between our online communities and our causes, services and organizations.
Traditional marketing primarily served “us.” Social-media marketing requires that we serve our communities first. If we serve them in a meaningful way, they’ll become more engaged and deeply connected to us. If they feel as though they are connected, then they care more. If they care more, they are more likely to take action. And if they’re willing to take action on our behalf, they become more aligned with our issues and interests, which helps achieve our organizational goals and deepen their lifetime connection with us.
At this point, we’re no longer causes they give to. We become “personal value” that informs who they are.