Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.
These are among the reactions organizations of all types have expressed to the news that Facebook has changed its news feed policy, greatly reducing the number of views for their posts.
Even anger may result when they learn that they’ll now have to pay to attract an audience for the content they’ve carefully and trustingly posted to their Facebook page.
The nonprofit sector, in particular, has relied heavily on Facebook as their primary means of social communication. For many nonprofits, the formula has been to create a Facebook page, ask supporters to “Like” the page, and presto: a content distribution channel that could be managed by volunteers and required very little cash to maintain. In the past, according to Facebook, organizations could expect that, on average, 16% of their “Likers” would see a new post.
Over the last few months that number has plummeted — it’s on a trajectory to 1 or 2%. Facebook has dialed back on this free exposure to increase the focus on article quality, and to generate revenue from sponsored posts.
A recent survey of more than 9,000 charitable and not-for-profit organizations revealed that most share several problematic traits:
An overwhelming number rely on Facebook — 98% use Facebook and 80% say it’s their primary social network.
The vast majority have no documented social media plan.
Many smaller nonprofits rely on one person (often a part-time volunteer) to handle all social media activities.
Less than half measure the results of their social media efforts.
So what’s a nonprofit to do?
From our study and practice of content marketing, we recommend a short list of five proactive, high-priority steps to negotiate and manage the changing face of Facebook marketing.
1. Expand your social portfolio.
Reconsider your social marketing mix. If Facebook has been your overwhelming #1 choice (if so, you’re not alone), then now is the time to think about and learn which other street corners you should stand on. The survey cited above found that, for many groups, Twitter and LinkedIn were high priorities for expansion. Think about your intended audience — be they fans, advocates, group leaders, other nonprofit leaders, small and large donors — and about which social media they follow. Millennials, for example, may be effectively reached through Twitter, while corporate and small-business decision-makers are more likely to be attracted through LinkedIn.
Don’t hesitate to consider options you might previously have dismissed. Do you have photos taken at a function or activity you can share on Instagram? Heartwarming stories that could be at home on Pinterest or Tumblr? Other stories that would attract an audience on YouTube? Because each social platform offers a unique strength, the key is finding the right combination.
In addition, identify staff or volunteers who will take personal ownership of specific social media platforms — customizing your posts and creating new content for those channels. This not only eases the burden on your staff or volunteers of expanding your social portfolio — it strengthens both commitment and buy-in among your people.
2. Empower and educate your staff and supporters.
Communicate with them regularly and consistently about the importance of sharing your message on Facebook and all of the social networks you use. And make sure they know that sharing your published content with their own personal networks is extremely valuable to your organization’s mission and goals.
Remember: each person who shares your content has effectively given you a cash donation, since you’d have had to pay for the added audience the “share” produces.
Personal sharing, with personal thoughts added while sharing, has been shown to be more effective than paid advertising. People trust and are more open to items shared by those they know.
Make it easy to share your content, by adding social sharing links to everything you publish online. Even email communications get greater numbers of views when sharing links are present. Most importantly, to spread the word, ask and keep asking for shares, not just Likes. And don’t forget to thank them when they do share!
3. Concentrate on making high-quality, share-worthy content.
The most common mistake nonprofits make with Facebook is thinking Facebook is about them, rather than about their community. Your efforts should be directed not toward simply telling them about your organization, but toward inspiring your supporters to talk about your cause.
Take a look at the kinds of content you create and post. Are they focused on the current campaign? Fund-raising goals? Events announcements? Press releases? These “all-about-your-organization” posts certainly have a place in your social media mix, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing opportunities for meaningful connection with your audience.
To make that connection, provide educational, interesting, relevant news about your cause and its community — even items in which your organization isn’t immediately involved. Promote your cause through information with an emotional appeal. And we don’t mean “appeal” in the sense of fundraising — we mean appeal, as in…Uplifting. Heartbreaking. Inspirational. That’s putting the “social” in social media.
One last content-related thought: create content (articles, photos, stories, testimonials) that you’d likely share with your own friends. If it’s something you’d share, it’s probably share-worthy to your friends — and their friends, and on down the line. Sharable content offers a built-in ticket to a wider audience. And, Facebook increasingly recognizes and rewards sharable content:
“We’ve noticed that people enjoy seeing articles on Facebook, and so we’re now paying closer attention to what makes for high quality content, and how often articles are clicked on from News Feed… what this means is that you may start to notice links to articles a little more often (particularly on mobile).”
4. Share with tools you own and control.
The fact is that reliance on social sharing tools will always be subject to the priorities, whims, and fancies of the people who own and manage those tools. We like the term “digital sharecropping” as a concept that clarifies — rationally and viscerally — the result of posting your content only on sites you don’t own. The term was coined several years ago by Nicholas Carr, and it’s more valid today than ever before. So don’t rely on Facebook or any other social site as your primary publishing platform. That’s planting on someone else’s land — and we all know how that’s worked out for poor farmers.
Instead, we urge you locate your content and resources on your own properties, those you control, not only online (your website, blog, email communications, etc.), but also in your offline media, such as printed communications and mailed materials. Post new content to your own website first, and only then employ social media to get the word out. Use Facebook and other social media for distribution and broader community sharing, and to encourage dialog about your content and your cause.
5. Plan your social media work, and work your plan.
Managers know they must carefully plan a fundraising dinner event, and a capital campaign will always feature a dedicated team and extensive planning. Sadly, what most organizations fail to do is the one thing that would most ensure their actual success: muster the effort to create an overall strategy and plan for their social marketing efforts.
We urge all organizations — large and small, for-profit and nonprofit — to follow these fundamental steps:
- Set reasonable goals.
Evaluate your resources realistically.
Write down an initial plan, including how you’ll measure results.
Implement the plan and take the measurements.
Examine carefully what the measurements tell you.
Use that information to adjust and refine your plan.
The plan you create can be short or long, simple or complex. What matters most is designing something you will actually put to work, share, and use over time. Get your volunteer base involved, and empower them. Bring them in to the process and draw on their creativity and energy, on their diverse experience and talents. And when you need help, call in experts. (Hint: contact AUMW.)
You can’t create — and don’t need — a plan that’s flawless. Grant yourself permission to make mistakes as part of a learning and growing process. But keep to the plan, revising and improving it as you learn and gain experience.
We know planning can seem like a daunting task whose rewards aren’t always immediately apparent. But planning is a proven pathway to achieve success (and avoid its opposite). Planning facilitates measurement — you can see whether what you’re doing is working, and you can do more of what is and less of what isn’t. It lets you communicate more effectively as a team and, because it’s written down, you don’t need to juggle and track tasks in your heads. Ultimately, planning enables you to accomplish more, with less effort.
This post was a bit long — thanks for reading to the end. Here’s what we hope you’ll take away to your own organization:
Grow beyond reliance on Facebook alone: expand your social media presence.
Let your current supporters and staff know how to help your social networking; educate them and ask them directly for support.
Concentrate on creating content worth sharing.
Base your publishing efforts on your website, your blog, and other channels you own.
And most important of all: create and work a documented plan for your content marketing, which includes your social media efforts.
If you’d like detailed advice or assistance with any of these steps, please contact us.
Follow these steps, and you’ll no longer live in fear that the next fickle windstorm from Silicon Valley will blow chaos through your organization. It’ll be nothing more than bracing breeze — and another opportunity to learn and grow.