Social media and digital strategy for third sector organisations.

Coffee and iPhone on Twitter login screen

Social media and digital strategy for third sector organisations.

Recently, I spoke at a North Birmingham Social Enterprise Network meeting, organised by iSE about social media and digital strategy for third sector organisations. Below you can read what I said, and at the bottom of this blog you’ll find a summary sheet I gave to people who came to the meeting.

“So first to just start with some context:

digital communications and social media are a big deal nowadays. For example, according to new ONS research, in 2016, 82% of adults in Britain used the internet daily or almost every day.

They also found that over two thirds of people who use social media do so at least one a day. To give you a bit of a breakdown of that: 37% used social media several times a day, 32% at least once a day, 11% at least 3 to 4 times a week, 10% 1 to 2 times a week, and 11% less often than once a month.

And a third of people say they have followed or supported a charity on social media in the last 12 months.

Nowadays, when they want to find a business to provide a service (like finding a plumber), 97% of people go online to find that information. 8% of adults now carry no cash at any given time because they have contactless cards and don’t need to carry small change, and 77% of UK consumers avoid going outside at all by buying something online at least once a month.

According to Google, small businesses with a strong online presence grow twice as fast as those with minimal or no online presence, and are 50% more likely to sell outside of their immediate region.

So people are using the internet and social media a lot now! For example, in one minute online 120 hour of video are uploaded to YouTube, 50 billion messages are sent on WhatsApp, 342,000 tweets are posted, 41,00 photos are uploaded to Instagram, and 3.3. million updates are posted on Facebook. And these numbers go up every year.

Prepare yourselves because digital has changed the way we do things like access and engage with information, people and organisations. But this isn’t a bad thing,

I want to now just talk about why social media is great!

There are so many advantages to using social media, for example anyone can use it –  from huge organisations to tiny ones, celebrities to complete unknowns! So even if you’re a small organisation, if you do social media well you can potentially reach a huge audience. And that’s another good thing about social media, we really are talking about huge audiences, for example around 30 million people use Facebook every day, just in the UK. Obviously you can’t reach every single one of them, but social media gives you access to audiences of a huge size – we could never hope to get a mailing list so big or hand out that many leaflets!

The obvious example of success on social media for third sector organisations is the Ice Bucket Challenge. For those who aren’t familiar with the Ice Bucket Challenge, it was a fundraising campaign from the ALS Association which involved dumping a bucket of freezing cold water over your head, making a donation to the charity, and then nominating friends to do it next. The campaign went viral on social media and raised well over $100 million over 30 days. The money raised funded a number of research projects, and the ALS Association just this year announced that one of those projects has had a break-through identifying a new gene associated with the disease, which could lead to new treatment possibilities.

But, I don’t really want to focus on the Ice Bucket Challenge too much because really this is a fluke, a one off, and success on social media doesn’t just mean a one-time huge amount of money. It’s not $100 million or bust!

As a more realistic example, in 2014 the children’s charity Merlin ran a fundraising campaign called the Plumpy’Nut Challenge. It involved people spending a day only eating a product called Plumpy’Nut, which is used to fight nutrition, it’s a kind of peanut paste high in calories. They had a very small budget for the campaign, so it was designed to work best on social media – for example, the packaging that your Plumpy’Nut arrived in had “Are you ready to save lives?” written on the outside so you could tell what it was even without opening it, and people were encouraged to share pictures of themselves when they received their package. Also, a low fundraising target was set for individual’s taking part, only £50 per person. Merlin hoped to raise money and reach a new audience of 21-25 year olds who didn’t have an existing relationship with the organisation. The campaign cost £6000, raised £40,000 and reached over a million people who had not previously heard of Merlin.

And it’s not just raising money that social media is good for, you can also use it to raise awareness of your issue or tell people about your work and engage with your audience – that’s the ‘social’ bit. For example, the National Trust just recently tried out something new on Instagram – they were celebrating the anniversary of Capability Brown’s birth, he was a famous landscape architect but a lot of people haven’t heard of him so they couldn’t really just do the traditional approach of just posting some images with information about him. They wanted to do something that would help people learn about who he was in a way that would be fun and interesting. So they posted images that presented options for you to pick what happens next, as if you were living Brown’s life. And it went really well, they received almost 200% more comments on these posts than they usually would, and they received press coverage for it because it was so popular. They’ve had so much positive feedback about it and have said they will definitely be thinking about ways to do something like this again.

So clearly, when used well social media can give fantastic returns for third sector organisations.

So, what I’m going to say next might sound a bit weird following that, but I think it’s important.

What is the point of using social media for third sector organisations?

UNICEF’s 2013 social media campaign “likes won’t save lives”, highlights a really important point, for third sector organisations in particular. Just to explain if you’ve not seen the campaign – UNICEF posted images on their social media platforms reading “Like us on Facebook and we will vaccinate zero children against polio”. It was a fundraising campaign which argued that while likes are nice vaccines cost money, and therefore they needed people to make donations. Whether you agree with the way they did the campaign or not, it’s kind of difficult to disagree with their point.

There are plenty of articles that make the point that charities shouldn’t bother with social media at all, but that’s not my point. My point is that everything we do online should be achieving something, otherwise why spend our limited time and resources on it?

The thing is that third sector organisations already know what they want to achieve – we have clear organisational aims. Provide refuge for victims of domestic abuse, find a cure for cancer, reduce income inequality, or – in this UNICEF campaign’s case – vaccinate children against polio.

This is why you need a social media strategy. Because, if you don’t know what you want to achieve from social media, how can you know if you are achieving it? And how can you know if it’s supporting your work?

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing against likes, once you’ve written a strategy that may be one of the things you want to increase. But to do that you do need a social media strategy – something that sets out your plans for social media, why you’re doing it, and what you want from it.

Your strategy should help you transfer your organisational aims into social media aims. For example, I’m currently working with a client who is doing some research into what their audience is interested in and passionate about, so right now they’re concerned with link clicks (as in people clicking on the link to go to the survey), and survey completions. How many people like the posts about the survey is useless information if no one fills it in. On the other hand, another client I worked with wanted to get people talking about their issue, so they were interested in how many people commented or replied to their posts. Again, likes and shares weren’t interesting because they wanted people to say something not just pass on their posts.

So each strategy is different.

Because each organisation’s aims are different – and your strategy should reflect your aims. This isn’t something you can do off the shelf, it’s a personal thing. It’s like, for example, if you were setting up a new organisation, you wouldn’t use a standard mission statement or vision. This is the same.

So, what should a strategy include?
  • Your organisational aims – what is it your organisation does, why, and what is it you want to achieve?
  • How your organisational aims translate into social media aims – which of those aims can social media support and how
  • Who your target audience is – young people, women, parents? Etc. All of this will determine not only what kind of thing you post on social media, but also what social media sties you want to be on
  • How do your aims translate into social media language – you’ve got aims like increase visibility of the organisation, or increase online donations, but how do these translate into the outcomes you can achieve on social media – do you want likes, shares, comments, link clicks, people signing up to your newsletter?
  • How will you know if you’re succeeding – as I’ve just said, what social media outcomes will you be looking for, and how often will you measure those outcomes

So, I just want to finish with a couple of bits of ‘what happens next’ points.

Once you’ve written your strategy,

don’t just put it in a drawer and never look at it again – if you do that, it will have been a waste of time, it can’t do you any good if you don’t use it. It’s important to make sure that when you’re posting on social media you’re thinking about how it fits in with the strategy and how it helps meet the aims set out in it.

A good strategy will tell you what to post and how – and where to put your focus, for example if you want to get people talking about your topic you might want to focus on interacting with people (looking on hashtags, replying to other people’s posts, etc.), if you’re aim is to raise awareness then you might want to focus on creating content that is sharable, etc.

There are a lot of resources, and articles, and training out there that will tell you how to be ‘good’ at social media, but as I’ve said your aims on social media will be different for every organisation so what is ‘good’ is different as well. Your strategy will set what you want to achieve and how you’ll measure your success, so you’ll know if you’re doing well on social media by focusing on those things and not on the ‘rules’. I’m not saying there is no value in it, there is research that says that people engage with posts with photos in more than those without, but it’s just they’re not hard and fast rues. For every ‘rule’ you can find about how many times to post or what to include, you’ll be able to find an account on social media that is breaking those rules and doing well.

The important thing is, if you are saying something that is interesting to your audience they will want to look at it, that’s what you are going for. And remember that not everything is interesting to everyone, so you’re always going to exclude some people, so don’t worry about it, this is why you set out a target audience in your strategy, so then you don’t need to worry about reaching people outside of that target audience.

And the final thing I want to say it, give it some time. Social media is fast-paced, yes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your new strategy a real test. Review it after three months, six months and then a year, after that you can reduce how often you review it (again that will vary for each organisation), but in the beginning in particular it’s good to test, see what happens, and test some more.”

At the end of speaking I offered an opportunity to people to ask questions, so if you have any now, let me know in the comments.

After reading this blog I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that Fancy Guppy can offer you support with social media and writing a social media strategy. We’re really passionate about this, and hopefully you can tell from this blog that we don’t believe that a ‘one size fits all’ strategy is worth the paper it’s printed on. Having a strategy designed for your particular circumstances and aims is so important. We’ll support you to write a strategy that works for you. If you’d like to discuss how Fancy Guppy could support you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Briony Gunstone and Susan Pinkney, YouGov and CAF  (July 2016) Appetite for donation

Google Digital Garage, at Birmingham Business Growth Show (14th September 2016) Tell Your Story Online: Improving your digital presence

Austin Clark, Charity Digital News (24th May 2016) Phone payments on the rise as people shun cash

Centre for Learning and Teaching (November 2014) What happens online in 60 seconds?

Kate Rose, Rose McGrory Social Media Ltd (2016) UK Social Media Statistics for 2016

Nicky Woolf, Guardian (27th July 2016) Remember the ice bucket challenge? It just funded an ALS breakthrough

SOFFII (26th February 2014) Merlin’s Plumpy’Nut challenge: fun, easy, something anyone could do

Kirsty Marrins, Third Sector (15th September 2016) National Trust’s winning tap-to-choose Instagram game

Amar Toor, The Verge (3rd May 2013) UNICEF tells Facebook ‘likes’ won’t save children’s lives

Open laptop displaying Fancy Guppy's January 2018 social media calendar.
  • Kate Rose
    Posted at 12:03h, 07 November Reply

    Thanks for the credit on our Stats article 🙂

    And a +1 to your point about strategy being vital. Social Media is just a tool in your toolbox, and organisations need to have a clear understanding of how it’s going to help achieve an objective. Otherwise “aaagh, I have to post something on Twitter” just becomes a timewasting item on your To Do list!

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