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social media marketing is a one-to-one relationship-building tool for businesses. Though it allows you to speak to many at once, the interaction feels more personalized to your customers. They're "friends" or "followers," after all.

Social media cuts through the barriers between the average person and a company, and lends itself to engagement and a wide array of mutual benefits.

For nonprofits, social media marketing can be just as advantageous as it is to businesses. It's a great way to build support for your organization, grow the ranks of your volunteers, and increase donations. For your social media marketing to be fruitful, however, you need to be extra vigilant about your communications.

Social media marketing can be planned well ahead of time, but there's a variable of spontaneous communication as well. It's important to respond to those who support you on social media, whether that's a simple matter of replying to comments or engaging in extended conversation—a feature that makes social media effective.

That also means anyone managing the accounts for your nonprofit needs to have a firm handle on some best-practices to ensure that your organization maintains the reputation it has built.

There are topics that may inflame or could be misinterpreted, so you'll likely want to develop a list of things to avoid discussing on social media. The person maintaining your social media accounts speaks for the entire organization, so any opinions or controversial stances should match the nonprofit message specifically, else they should be avoided.

As social media marketing evolves, new tools and platforms continually emerge and advances improve the way you can reach and interact with people; ultimately, though, a lot of best-practices center on the human experience for your volunteers and followers.

Best-Practices for Your Nonprofit Social Media

The following list of best-practices gives some insight into strategies and protocols to help build a solid social media profile and better engage your followers:

  • Target your market. Before you decide which platforms work best or what type of content will offer the best conversion, you should make a concerted effort to know your audience. There's a difference between the content a Baby Boomer prefers and the type of interaction Millennials most appreciate.
  • Focus on specific platforms. It's tempting to jump on the next new social platform that's captured people's imaginations. It's important to pay attention to data about any social media platform you use, but you don't want to take on too many platforms... and fail at most or all of them. It's better to select platforms with the most potential benefit for your organization.
  • Develop targeted campaigns. Doing so goes along with knowing your target audience. Develop content that speaks to specific groups and people. It's OK if you have more than one type of audience member; you can create multiple targeting campaigns.
  • Interact with your followers. Responding to comments and thanking audience members for sharing your content goes a long way toward making them feel included. It builds goodwill that can lead to dedicated volunteers. At the least, it's another person who has good things to say about your organization.
  • Use your analytics data to improve. You can and should study the analytics behind all of your posts. You can see how well each piece of content was received in shares, likes, and conversion. You can then better position your content for future posts.

Mistakes to Avoid With Your Nonprofit Social Media

  • Using generic messages. Social media works best when you're talking to a specific audience. Though you can post information of a more generic nature, don't fill your entire profile with things that don't speak to anyone in particular.
  • Failing to update. One problem many organizations have is keeping their posts on a regular schedule. Letting your social media accounts sit idle for too long will mean a loss of followers and engagement. It's difficult to see marked growth when you're not updating regularly.
  • Sharing only appeals for funds/commitment. You're on social media to get more exposure for your nonprofit and to aid your cause. Everyone knows that, and there's nothing wrong with that reasoning. However, if you post only to ask people for money or time, it's off-putting. Offer content that provides value, and which they can enjoy and share. This isn't to say you should never publicize your charitable needs—of course you should. But don't make your social media account only about garnering funds and time commitments.
  • Ignoring comments. One of the best ways to build loyalty in your followers is to interact with them. You don't necessarily have to respond to every comment on long comment threads, but at least thank people in a general comment. But don't ever ignore a complaint. A legitimate complaint should be dealt with immediately in a diplomatic and apologetic way.

    That said, no matter how great your marketing team is, sometimes trolls will find their way onto your platform. They should be blocked as soon as they've displayed degrading or negative behavior. The important thing is that you maintain a high level of comfort and courteous discourse for your audience as a whole.

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Online, you can find some great resources for nonprofits, including strategies for social media.  In general, though, best-practices are often a matter of communicating on a human level, because that's what social media really does best: It creates a more personal experience.

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Social Media Best-Practices for Nonprofits (And Mistakes to Avoid)

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image of Jeremy Silverstein

Jeremy Silverstein is vice-president of operations and vehicle dispatching at Goodwill Car Donations.

LinkedIn: Jeremy Silverstein