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Allison Gauss
using analytics to improve social media presence

Getting Data Driven on Social Media

By now, nearly all nonprofits have some idea of how social media works, but not all of these organizations know how to make social media work for them. We keep hearing about how important social media is for engagement and spreading awareness, but it can sometimes feel like you’re just reaching out blindly for likes and followers. You may wonder what platforms and posts are actually doing you some good and which might not be worth the trouble.

Fortunately, social media is actually very measurable. Take a look at any Facebook or LinkedIn page; the numbers are there. You’ll find stats on followers, shares, comments, and views. And there are some great tools that can help you find out even more, like which pages people visited before completing your donation form. If you know how to find and analyze these metrics, you can manage your social media marketing with concrete data. In this post, we’ll explore how you can use data (from external studies and your own marketing) to find out which platforms are worth using, what posts engage and motivate your audience, and what changes will help you reach more people.

Where is Your Audience?

At last count, there were 4,266 active social media platforms.

OK, maybe not that many but there are a lot of them. And most small nonprofits don’t have the resources to hire a full-time social media guru. And even if they did, some of these platforms would be a waste of time. There’s no point in building up a stellar profile and posting every day on a web site that your community doesn’t use. So when making a plan for your social media marketing, you need to determine which platforms are going to reach the people who care about your cause.

One way to do this is to check out the demographics of different sites and compare them to your donor personas. A 2013 Pew Research survey on social networks looked into the populations using five major platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

The first thing you should know is that Facebook is a must. It was by far the most popular of the sites, with 71% of respondents using the site. Of the 36% using only one of the five platforms, 84% were on Facebook. However many platforms your organization chooses to use, Facebook should be one of them.

Other findings from the Pew survey showed that LinkedIn is popular among older adults and the college-educated, while Twitter and Instagram both attracted younger users. Pinterest users were overwhelmingly female.

Beyond Facebook, you will have to use your nonprofit’s demographics and donor personas to make educated guesses about what platforms your community is using. Your other option in choosing the right sites is to gather data directly from your supporters. You can ask what social networks your supporters use in your donation forms or by sending a short survey through email. You may be surprised which platforms prove useful.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t really one rule of thumb. Everything is dependent upon your organization, its culture, personality and audience.

What to Post

Once you find out where your audience is, you need to create and post content that makes them want to engage with your nonprofit. While Facebook can be used for short status updates, longer texts, event invitations, images, and videos, some of the other platforms are more specialized in their content. While Twitter is known for its post limit of 140 characters, it is also used to spread links and images. One study found that tweets with images get twice as many replies and retweets. Spend some time researching what gets shared on your social networks to find out how to balance text and images or short posts and long posts.

What you post will make the difference between gaining a follower (who will automatically see all your posts) and being ignored. A survey found that the top two reasons that people “unliked” a charity organization was that the organization posted too much or the user didn’t like the content. One of our guiding principles StayClassy uses in building our blog and participating in social media is that every post should add value for the reader. We want you to know something you didn’t know before.

This is one way decide whether or not to post something. Depending on the platform, you may also post to publicize a cause or event, thank donors and fundraisers, give progress updates, and make an emotional impact. The best way to figure out what to post, however, is to measure the performance of different types of posts.

Measure, Learn, Repeat

The good thing is that many social media platforms freely offer metrics on your pages and activity. Twitter has its own analytics dashboard and Facebook pages with more than 30 followers can access personalized page insights. Many social sharing apps like Buffer and HootSuite also offer their own separate and detailed analytics, insights and reporting.

Another great place to start is to make some lists of your top posts and see if there are similarities between the best ones. Take a look at your top 5 most-shared posts and ask what they have in common. Are they funny? Shocking? Do the posts include images? To get you started, here are a few lists you can compile:

  • Most-shared/retweeted posts
  • Posts with the most comments
  • Posts with the most Call to Action conversions

If you use a Content Management System or Customer Relationship Management system, they can even tell you which pages people visited before making a donation. Make sure your social media accounts are all connected to your CMS/CRM and you will be able to see all kinds of reports on engagement and conversions. If you aren’t using a system yet, Google for Nonprofits offers some of the insights you’ll want to track.

Another variable you should be paying attention to is the timing of your posts. There is lots of information out there on what times of day and days of the week are best for posting to social media. Mediabistro created a huge infographic showing the best times for some of the most popular sites. This data is a great place to get started, but you should take a look at what times of day your profiles receive the most engagement. General statistics can give you some direction, but your own metrics are the best way to find out what works for you.

Keep Up-to-Date

One challenge of social media marketing is that these online platforms evolve so quickly. Not only do new sites go in and out of style, but even the major players like Facebook frequently update their design and functionality. Setting a news or email alert for any platform updates can help you make any changes needed when your site launches a new feature. As for new platforms, you can usually rely on the adage: “don’t believe the hype.”

You will certainly hear about new platforms and networks, but there’s no need to drop everything and make an account. If you keep hearing about a platform, if you are seeing it show up in your networks through APIs, if your audience is adopting the platform, that is when you can take a second look and decide if the traffic and engagement you might gain is worth adding another profile to your duties.

Although social media might seem like a drastic change from traditional marketing practices, you can still use metrics and data to make smart decisions for your organizations. Invest wisely in social media and you will see the returns.


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