5 social media marketing lessons from the non-profit industry

Whether private, public, or non-profit, audience engagement is the name of the game when it comes to social media marketing, a recent panel hosted by Facebook Canada concluded – and while the few steps required sound simple, each one is crucial.

The panel, made up of Geoff Craig, chief marketing and communications officer with the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF); Angelique de Montbrun, director of digital media for Free The Children (FTC); Jennifer Nicole Scott, co-founder of grassroots non-profit East Toronto Families for Syria (ETF4S); and moderator Jordan Banks, was assembled by Facebook for the company’s annual Global Causes Day on April 28, where they shared firsthand lessons in social media marketing with more than 40 non-profit organizations – and readers of ITBusiness.ca.

Build a strategy…

“It sounds basic, but you need to know who you’re talking to, what path you want to take them on, and the end result,” HSF’s Craig says. “And you probably need some money to get yourself there.”

At Free the Children, which has more than 3 million Facebook likes, de Montbrun and her staff focus on creating content that fits a unified brand, she says, making sure they’re telling a cohesive story across the entire organization.

Angelique de Montbrun
Angelique de Montbrun, Free The Children’s director of digital media

“Everything that we do within our strategy is overlaid on top of a content map,” she says. “If a piece of content is performing well, then we continue to use it, and if it’s not performing well then we change our strategy.”

Another key element of FTC’s strategy is adjusting content to suit a given platform: For example, FTC uses Facebook to generate leads, and Instagram to showcase its brand for the organization’s youngest fans, de Montbrun says.

It’s equally important to consider new content from the readers’ perspective, which in FTC’s case tend to be globally-minded young people, so the organization often focuses on telling a story through one person – often a child or celebrity – with amplification strategies in place for content that goes viral, she says.

For example, if FTC picks up a celebrity fan, they’ll often interview the celebrity, post it on their blog, pull a 15-second quote from the interview, post that on Instagram, and monitor both posts to see if they gather steam.

…And don’t forget to measure it

Much of FTC’s social media success can be traced back to the organization’s remarketing efforts – its skill at following the most engaged members of its audience from one digital platform to another, gathering as much information along the way so that it can provide the type of content they’re looking for.

To evaluate her organization’s efforts, de Montbrun measures comments, the number of impressions, and reach of every story posted by FTC, comparing them to email sent search engine traffic. The organization can even measure reactions to specific key words, identifying which are performing well in a given week.

“Every single piece of content that we’re creating has a measurable objective that we want to receive out of it,” de Montbrun says. “Every Monday we get together… look at all the metrics and data, and that informs the stories we tell next week.”

Measurement also lies at the, er, heart of any plan laid by HSF, Craig says, with the organization striving to evaluate its efforts every step of the way – and then measuring those measurements.

The organization is also careful to adjust its ROI measurements according to the objective – for example, dividing the number of lottery tickets sold by the cost of producing them to calculate the cost per ticket. Another time HSF used geotargeting to install automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in northern recreational centres and arenas where a high percentage of the population liked hockey, skating, and curling.

“Those AEDs saved 10 lives,” Craig says. “How do you measure that?”

Simplify, simplify

It’s easy to forget how quickly social media marketing has evolved – only four years ago, when Craig started working at HSF, he says the organization had some 60 regional Facebook pages, no digital communication schedule, and only one person assigned to digital in the first place.

Geoff Craig
Geoff Craig, the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s chief marketing and communications officer

Today the company has a proper schedule, two people on digital, and only three Facebook pages – one English, one French, and one for the lottery – but getting there required “boldness of vision,” Craig says, and a willingness to face detractors across the country head-on.

“There were people saying, ‘we need this to talk about our local whatever for heart event, and we need to do these postings to engage our community,” he says. “Well A, the community’s not that large, and B, by the time the algorithms run, nobody’s seeing it, and so a lot of those pages were dormant anyway.”

He hastens to note that HSF was and remains grateful for its supporters, explaining that from the organization’s point of view their goal wasn’t to erase the local pages, but guide them to greener pastures: “I thought of it as migrating our constituents from smaller tents into a much larger tent,” Craig says.

Engage your audience as people, not as followers

As part of a grassroots organization, Scott has learned firsthand the importance of engaging with readers one on one.

“It’s about being receptive to what people post – interacting with them on their level and making it comfortable for them,” she says.

De Montbrun agrees – and says that’s why Free the Children’s communications staff will often engage with commenters directly, letting them know the organization they’re reaching out to is made up of engaged global citizens just like them.

“If someone is following us on one of our social platforms, that means they’re making an investment in our brand,” she says. “So if they want to write to us, we want to have a conversation with them. We want them to know we see them as much as they see us, and that we’re interested and invested in them.”

Great social media marketing doesn’t need to break the bank

ETF4S started last year as a group of six mothers sitting around a table, before graduating to Facebook, amassing 1000 followers, opening a pop-up store, and raising $250,000 – all on a marketing budget of $27.

Jennifer Nicole Scott
Jennifer Nicole Scott, co-founder of East Toronto Families for Syria

“We shared it on our personal networks first, kind of overdoing it just to try and gain as many followers as possible,” Scott explains. “Once you get a base of even around 100 followers, you can start using your page.”

The organization’s advertising budget was just enough to purchase three carefully deployed Facebook ads over the course of six months, she says, with ETF4S focusing on both specific demographics and key locations in the city. They also found other groups and community organizations with similar objectives, and invited them to engage with each others’ members.

Of course, as a non-profit the organization also relied on many volunteers – which if you’re lucky enough to have them can be valuable if you harness their energy and point them in the right direction, Scott says. In ETF4S’s case, the cofounders divided their volunteers into groups and assigned each one a specific task, making sure each group knew which segment they were targeting and why.

Six months later they had the followers, the pop-up store, and an extra $250,000 – not a bad ROI, all things considered.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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