In the current climate of social distancing and staying home, more people are looking to social media for the sense of community that they’re lacking with in-person events and connections. A social media community has the power to forge new connections and build upon them to create long-lasting relationships with your nonprofit.
The most important rule of nonprofit marketing (and really, marketing in general) is to meet people where they are. Right now, there is a pretty good chance that’s on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Find out which social media channels your audience is most active on and go there. Even if you did not enter the pandemic with a particularly strong social media following, there are ways to use these channels to connect and engage with your audience.
Let’s dig into a few different ways to create and engage a social media community.
Review and Update Your Social Media Calendar
Social media calendars are great for planning ahead, ensuring a regular posting schedule and remembering to post about campaigns, new blog posts and other updates as they occur. However, they become easily outdated without ongoing updates.
If you’ve let your social media calendar slip your mind recently, it’s time for an overhaul. Especially if your calendar includes posts that could be considered insensitive, tone-deaf to the current climate or include outdated information about campaigns and events that aren’t happening.
This is also a great time to rethink the resources that you’re creating and posting about. Are there ways to make them digital? Things like print-out activities for kids, online surveys and polls or other interactive elements can go a long way right now.
Special Olympics New Jersey created resources for their athletes, families and coaches to share with their audience on Twitter.
Listen to Your Social Media Community
To kickstart and facilitate an engaging conversation, you need to first listen. It’s a truth found anywhere and no different in the social media world. Listen up to learn your audience’s challenges, their interests, their senses of humor, their struggles, their passions and musings. Getting to know your audience is key to creating content that inspires them to speak out and join in.
As we all know, things can change quickly. Make social listening a daily part of your routine, even if you just check in for a few minutes each day, to stay in tune with your follower’s current needs, concerns and interests.
While there are more sophisticated paid tools, like Hootsuite Insights, you can also listen in by setting up free dashboards with Hootsuite or Tweetdeck or simply conduct searches and follow hashtags, groups and accounts relevant to your audience to keep up with them.
And, do not forget to use what you learn! You might even create a brainstorm or notes tab of your social media calendar to keep track of it all and visit for inspiration as you’re planning out topics down the road.
How often are you posting now? Do you have the capacity to double it? While you don’t want to become a broken record or inundate your followers with constant asks in their social media feed, it would be okay — and maybe even welcomed — to create more posts with the goal of starting conversations.
Stop thinking about convincing followers to take a specific action on your website. While it hurts the website strategy piece of my brain to type those words, creating meaningful engagement in the moment matters more when your goal is building a social media community.
Spurring conversations on social media doesn’t mean begging followers to comment at the end of every post. It means creating content that inspires creativity, incites a laugh or smile, reminds followers of shared experiences, tests their knowledge or offers a new idea or way of thinking.
A user-generated content campaign is a great way to get people, who are bored and stuck at home, to submit things that you can then share to celebrate your community.
It’s near impossible for even the most engaged followers in your social media community to catch every single post. Creating one predictable weekly post can be a nice way to bring your followers to your page, even if they don’t catch that post in the moment.
For example, KIF1A.ORG publishes a Science Saturdays post every week to update their audience on happenings in their rare disease research space.
Start a Group
Facebook Groups and LinkedIn Groups are great for encouraging and facilitating conversation in a more private and focused setting. But, for a group to be successful, there should be indications of high engagement with your nonprofit’s page first.
Should your nonprofit start a group? Hypothetically, any segment of your audience could be a group — from volunteers and advocates to training groups to forums based on a shared interest. The potential for active conversation is the deciding factor. You know your target audience better than anyone else. Do you think that they would participate in the group that you’re imagining?
Once you create your group, invite followers to join and start facilitating open and ongoing conversations. A strong and united social media community is soon to follow.
Use Livestreaming Tools
Yes, it’s true that in-person events are on hold for the near future. But that doesn’t mean we give up on events altogether. Virtual community events are a great way to foster a similar connection and keep your community engaged in a way that feels more familiar to them.
The continued rise of video marketing has shown us the importance of this medium in connecting with people. It feels personal, engaging and real. And many social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, come with built in tools to stream live video and let your audience know that it’s happening. When everything is said and done, you may even opt to continue livestreaming events on social media.
There are some nonprofits doing great work with at-home video content that’s still interactive. For example, the Houston Food Bank is doing video cooking tutorials for their audience on Facebook Watch.
As you’ve likely learned, creating and strengthening a social media community — no matter what that looks like for your specific audience — is not a feat for the faint of heart. It takes constant monitoring and cannot be set aside when things get too busy in other areas. But, creating these connections on social media can breed life-long relationships for your nonprofit IRL.
Are you up to the task? Have you tried to create or build upon a social media community for your nonprofit? What worked (or didn’t work) for you? Any other insights on how to build an online community? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.