Social media are websites or applications that allow people to create and share information, ideas, interests or images. They’re virtual communities which allow people to talk to their friends, peers and others. You may already be familiar with three of the biggest social networks: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Why you should use it
Alongside press, social media is one of the most cost effective communications channels. It allows charities to tell people about the work they do, how they are making a difference, and the kind of support they need. Charities who share good content on social media are able to reach hundreds, thousands or even millions of people, meaning that they can scale up communications at little cost.
Secondly, social networks are very popular and it makes sense for charities to go where the conversations are. At the time of writing, Facebook had 1.79 billion monthly active users, while Twitter has 317 million monthly active users and LinkedIn has 467 million members.
Social media is different to other channels
Compared to press or advertising, social media enables charities to take their campaigns directly to their audience with no intermediaries. This gives them more control over the message, and allows them to build relationships with their audience in real time. Social media is different to traditional channels as it’s more informal and conversational. This means that organisations need to be prepared for two way conversation and, occasionally, people posting content that they may not agree with.
Social media has been around for some years and those who use it often have high expectations of the organisations who have a presence on the platform. The traditional command and control, top down model of communications simply does not work on social media. To get good results on social media, your charity needs to do more than broadcast corporate messages.
What you can do with it
The great thing about social media is that it’s versatile and has many possible uses for charities.
With changes to fundraising regulation in the offing, social media represents an opportunity for charities to communicate frequently with their audience and nurture strong relationships. However, social channels are not an answer in themselves. Social media is a busy space and charities need to stress test their fundraising proposition to see if it works on social channels.
Social media can be a key means to positioning your organisation – reaching a wide audience and giving it a voice. As part of your charity’s plans to influence the agenda, you should have a ‘hit list’ of MPs, corporates, decision makers, media and influencers such as bloggers to target. You will also need strong, eye catching content with clear messaging and high quality visuals.
Keep an eye on the top blogs in your sector/area of interest and post comments if you’ve got something to add to the debate. Similarly on Twitter, ‘follow’ people who comment on topics relevant to you organisation and if they tweet something interesting, message them back – and/or retweet to your followers.
Social media is very useful for positioning your charity, so that your audience knows more about what you stand for, why you’re different and the impact you’re having. You’ll need to consider what impression you want to give people on social media, and what content and tone of voice will reinforce this.
Social media offers charities the opportunity to bring together like minded individuals. In many ways this is easier for charities than corporates, as shared values and causes are the glue which holds such communities together. For example, if your organisation supports people with diabetes, you can create a virtual community where those living with this condition can support each other. Your charity could be a social media hub, bringing people together, generating discussion and ideas, and amplifying the voice of your supporters.
If you are looking for volunteers, social media is a cost effective way to find them. Ask your existing followers to retweet your ask or share it on Facebook. Be clear about who your ideal volunteer is. If you are looking for local mums, join a group for them on Facebook and start spreading the word.
More and more organisations are using sites like Facebook as a cheap way of communicating with staff. You can set up ‘closed’ groups to create a message board on certain topics – inviting staff to contribute ideas as well as keep up to date with the latest news and updates from the organisation.
Social media is a cost effective way to recruit. Many organisations tweet their vacancy and encourage others to retweet – providing a link to your website where the job description and application details appear in full.
You could also use LinkedIn, the professional network, to draw attention to your vacancy. Again, those interested should be referred to your website for more details. Finally, you could use social media ads to target groups who fit the profile of ideal candidates, eg finance managers in Birmingham.
Do I need a strategy?
A social media strategy is essential. Before you begin using social media you need to understand your audience, what you are trying to achieve, and how will you do it.
Read our guide on how to develop a social media strategy.
With its emphasis on two way dialogue and informal style of communication, social media can feel new and scary to some people. Talking colleagues through the business case (eg it’s an efficient and cost effective way to communicate and fundraise) and showing them how your competitors are using it will help you.
Read our guide on how to get buy-in for your social media strategy.
How to guides
- How to get started with social media
- How to manage social media
- How to run a campaign on social media
- How charities can use Twitter
- How to improve your charity’s Facebook page
- How charities can get more out of LinkedIn
- How charities can use YouTube
- How your charity can use Instagram