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Tips to make social media effective for nonprofits or any organization looking to grow.

In 2014, nonprofits everywhere were talking about one thing: the Ice Bucket Challenge. It began with a group of friends who shared a video of themselves dumping ice water over their heads and dared social media to do the same—and to support research on ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). The challenge went viral: Facebook reported that more than 17 million related videos were shared between June and September, which were viewed by more than 440 million people. Along with widespread awareness, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised $100 million for ALS research. After watching live as the Good Morning America crew dumped ice water on themselves—in addition to Tom Bergeron of America’s Funniest Home Videos, Matt Damon, Kate Hudson, and practically every other celebrity with access to ice and water—nonprofit staff sat in meeting rooms and begged the question, “How can we replicate this?”

We live in an era when many potential clients, customers, and donors get their information online. When we want more details about an organization or business, we often check out its Facebook page. Social media has become a destination for information—a real-time and highly interactive resource with limitless reach. When used correctly, social media can be a beneficial marketing and relationship-building platform. Well-written and thought-out posts can reach thousands, sometimes millions of people in a matter of hours—a far cry from word-of-mouth or expensive advertising. Social media simply requires time and effort. These tips can help make your efforts successful.

PERSONALITY

Social media is a place to tell your story. Find the right tone for your institution and maintain it across all of your channels. Then, take it a step further and build relationships. Evoke emotion from your followers and they will feel compelled to interact with you, whether it’s through a like, retweet, comment, or share. They might even be moved to attend an event, spend time volunteering, or donate funds.

Make these connections in the same way you would on your personal social media accounts—by sharing things that are important to you. Post photos of the dedicated volunteers who help keep your organization running smoothly, and share videos of success stories or glimpses behind the scenes. If you are a museum, set up a GoPro camera and capture a time lapse of an exhibit being installed, or Facebook Live stream events as they happen for people across the world to see. Real-time content shows your audience that you have fun, live humans working at your organization.

GET THE WORD OUT

Social media is a perfect vehicle for announcements. Splash your event or summer camps, and link directly to the registration page. Sell tickets to your event and talk about news and activities. Don’t forget to create Facebook events; it’s a great way for attendees to talk about details and share photos. Social media users love photos and videos, both to watch and, if they are interesting or entertaining, to share. Tag people in them so that even friends of Facebook followers will see your content. Instagram also makes sharing photos and videos easy, allowing you to show, not tell, followers about your institution and your content. Posting short clips of humorous “behind the scenes” can make your audience laugh, think, and want to visit or volunteer.

There are some nifty tools available that make it even easier to share. Hootsuite, Sprout Social, and Edgar can help you manage all of your accounts within one platform. As your presence grows, these tools become more and more useful. But if you’ve just decided to dip your toes in social media, simple tools within Twitter Ads and Facebook Business Manager can be just as effective for scheduling posts and monitoring your accounts.

QUALITY CONTENT

The most important thing to remember when writing social media posts is to be authentic. Stay true to your established tone and personality. Your audience is smart enough to recognize when you’re trying too hard. Put out content that doesn’t waste readers’ time. Repeat after me: Never post just for the sake of posting.

Create original content for each of your platforms—in other words, do not push Facebook content to Twitter and vice versa. This comes across as lazy and indifferent. Keep tweets short (within the 140-character limit), conversational, and even witty. Use Instagram to highlight your objects and architecture in beautiful photos. Make YouTube videos memorable and live streams engaging.

REACH

This is a tough one: Don’t get caught up in the number of followers you have. Instead, focus on your impressions, or the number of times that your post appears in someone’s feed, and your reach, or how many people have seen your post. If your organic reach is low, set aside a budget for ads and boosted posts, targeting them to potential visitors and donors in your area. By spending a few dollars, you can ensure that your content will not only reach your existing audience but also show up on many other users’ feeds. It doesn’t matter if your page only has a few followers; your post can still reach hundreds, if not thousands, of potential visitors, members, and donors.

ENGAGEMENT

Results also should be measured by engaged followers. It’s better to have 1,000 engaged followers, or those who are actively interacting with your page and posts, than to boast 10,000 followers who never share or respond to your content.

Social media is a long-term commitment. Nothing is worse than starting a social media account, posting a few times, and then letting it idle. If you ignore your page for days or weeks at a time, your audience may take it as a sign that they aren’t important to your museum. Instead, listen to and engage with your followers. Always respond to questions and comments, whether it’s as a public reply or in a private message. When someone shares your post on Facebook, “like” that activity as your page. Interacting with your audience cultivates engagement and creates relationships. Analyze social media insights to determine what makes your followers respond, and then use that information to your advantage.

And most importantly, don’t be the salesperson at the party who only promotes himself or herself. Ask questions, encourage participation, and produce emotion. Highlight your members. Get a young visitor talking about why he or she loves to visit your museum. Inspire someone.

Social media is organic, constantly growing and changing. Nonprofits should be willing and ready to change with the technology. But it isn’t rocket science; you can do this. You may want to stay away from buckets and ice. Otherwise, your Internet speed is your only limit. Soar!