If you thought that social media was just a means of catching up with old friends, then think again. This new means of communication has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for connecting with potential customers and finding new supporters, not only for profit driven businesses, but for the non-profit organisations too.
Charities have been hit hard by the economic downturn. Many have seen an increased demand for their services, but donations and funding have declined as pockets are squeezed. Added to this is the lack of grant funding available as governments and professional bodies seek to cut budgets. For charities and other non-profit organisations times are tough, which is why many need to look beyond the more traditional means of fundraising and adopt new methods instead.
Social media can be a great power for good and in a way that few thought possible just a couple of years ago. However, the use of social media by charities needs to be carefully thought out – achieving thousands of followers on Twitter is all well and good but how will they actually help you? Sadly too many charities throw their dwindling resources into collecting followers and friends through social media without ever questioning what to do with them. With traditional funding sources drying up, charities have a real need to try to encourage their supporters to give more often to their causes. Traditionally this would mean increased costs for things like advertising, promotion and fundraising events, but social media changes this because it provides a free means of reaching a far wider audience.
If you are going to try to communicate with a large number of people then your approach needs to be systematic. Having lots of supporters on your social media accounts is one thing- good work, it means you have raised awareness; but you need to be able to convert that support into something useful, which will make a difference.
Many charities fail at this. They find it easy to get people to hit the like button, but actually getting supporters to take further action and do something more meaningful is much harder. Effective use of social media relies on being able to engage with supporters, perhaps on an emotional level in the hope of being able to prompt them into taking a more physical action such as making a donation.
The Power Of Advocates:
A further step is to convert supporters in advocates who begin to promote your cause themselves through their own networks and who develop a longer term commitment to the cause. Charities need to be able to leverage the potential advocates offer. These are the people who can spread your message virally simply by passing it on through their own networks. In turn advocates help solve issues like communication reach and motivating others to support. Leveraging the power of connections through social media can have significant impact on fundraising efforts as well as raising a charities profile. We have all heard and read stories about fundraising campaigns that literally took off because they posted on Twitter. The key to making this work is understanding the impact of influence and that this can achieve greater results than a mere one-off donation.
Leveraging Twitter and Facebook:
What social media does is challenge the more traditional fundraising models and this is something charities need to embrace. Whilst there are many hundreds of social networks out there, Twitter and Facebook are the best known and offer the greatest potential. Chairties like the Red Cross have realised the potential these networks offer and already use them to great effect for the purporses of raising awareness and fund raising.
Twitter itself is simple in its premise. A 140 character status is all that is required through which you can spread your message. The # (hashtag) is used as a means of connecting conversations or topics so they can be easily found, for instance #charityfundraiser could be used on all statuses by charity workers and supporters to connect relevant posts. Aside from your own postings, you should look for relevant topics that you can ‘tap into’ and engage in your own cause. Finding these conversations means you can cultivate support from existing communities who share the same ideals as you.
Facebook is a little more involved, in that you will need to give users a call to action to get them to view your page, befriend or ‘like’ it. Once you have gathered these friends or ‘likes’ then you need to be able to engage them into sharing your message across their own networks and engaging with you on a more personal level through on page communications. Competitions, surveys and questions are a good way of getting supporters involved with your Facebook activities, but you need to keep it regularly updated and use it proactively to encourage that support.
Where many charities fail with social media is not actually making it obivious how supporters can donate. Having built a relationship charities need to ensure supporters take the final action in actually donating to them. Chairties also need to provide links back to their own websites where further information can be found. Some charities have excelled at using cross channel promotion online, providing links back to their websites which invite users to click through, for instance a link to Red Cross jobs via a Facebook status update which gives just enough information to tempt readers to click through and share with others.
Social media offers huge potential to charities of all shapes and sizes. Whatever the cause it is a cost effective means of communication with a potentially global reach. And that is the kind of support you cannot find rattling a bucket in the local grocery store!
Sabrina Grymen is a freelance writer who blogs about charity and voluntary work, including fundraising tips, career advice and the benefits of becoming a volunteer. She is based in London, UK and enjoys music, film and leisure pursuits.