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10 Reasons Why Your Social Media Efforts Are Failing

Without a clear understanding of the opportunities and expectations of online interactions, it’s difficult for many organizations to effectively utilize social media as a marketing tool. Learn from GCN Affiliate Consultant Sherry Heyl, Director of Social Media for Sensei Project, the traps your organization needs to avoid in order to build a robust social media presence.

“Your organization is serving the community, improving lives, and bringing hope to the hopeless. Of course people will want to support what you are doing!” 

This is the sentiment I have heard from many idealistic nonprofit team members. And although the work they are doing is important and beneficial, the people whose support they need have a limited amount of time and resources. To spend those resources with your organization means taking away resources from other organizations that they care about. In many ways, the nonprofit sector is one of the most competitive of all, because everything depends on what you do and why—not on what you sell. To compete, you must clearly and consistently explain what you do and connect emotionally with your audience about why you matter. 

To do this, many nonprofit organizations have turned to social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to share their story. However, without a clear understanding of the opportunities and expectations of online interactions, your social media efforts will fail. The traps are many; here are some common reasons online social campaigns fall flat.

1. You're a downer.

We have all experienced this moment: You are watching a great movie or documentary, you are being entertained, you are relaxing with a snack or drink, and then you are faced with a starving child in a commercial, one who needs your help now. How does this make you feel? The feelings I experience: sadness, guilt, helplessness, smallness. These are feelings people want to run from. 

Yes, emotional appeals are important. But ask yourself: what emotions will get your audience to tune in and take action? When it comes to growing a following on your social media channels, give people content that interests them. Educate them. Empower them. Entertain them. Connect with them. Show the need you are fulfilling, but do not portray that need as being so big it seems unsolvable. Focus on the success stories, the ones that inspire us to be better people. 

2. You’re not taking a stand.

The best advice I ever received: Be divisive. If you want a community of advocates who will shout about your organization from the rooftops, you cannot fear the detractors. When you take a stand that causes people to react against you, you rally like minds to stand beside you. Create content that will stir emotions. If your posts about the need you’re serving are not getting the engagement you would like, take a look at issues where you find your organization on one side of a controversy—then speak out. 

3. You’re not proactive.

People post about what they care about, and many are posting questions and opinions on sites like Twitter. This is an excellent opportunity for nonprofits to listen in on relevant conversations and provide insights. At the very least, proactively engaging in online conversations will create new relationships, any one of which could lead directly to another advocate for your cause.

4. You don’t use high-quality, compelling photos. 

Photos are your most valuable asset on social media. Facebook posts that include photos have a significantly higher level of engagement. Twitter just recently started displaying photos within the stream. Pinterest, a photo-centric social media app, continues to grow in popularity and drive traffic to company websites.

However, as valuable as photos can be to your social media efforts, the wrong photos can damage your efforts. Poor quality photos don’t reflect well on your brand. Your photos should tell a story, inform, and inspire action. 

5. You’re not giving the community a voice.

Every day, people are posting on sites like Facebook or Foursquare, letting their friends know where they are, what they are doing, and what they are thinking. Unfortunately, many organizations ignore these conversations and focus on speaking at people, instead of with them.

When nonprofits share other people’s posts with their followers and fans, it says they are tapped into the community. When a nonprofit asks its community about their favorite fundraising activity, it will learn more about what activities people want to get involved with. When nonprofits join in weekly Twitter chats, they connect with other influencers online and extend their reach.

6. You have no calls to action.

There is a false, maliciously-spread belief claiming social media is only good for brand awareness, and does not translate into revenue. This belief is no more than a self-fulfilling prophecy, which only proves true when social media efforts fail to make any calls to action.

The tricky part: Calls to action need to provide value for your followers, and should only be posted once you have developed a trusting relationship with your followers. Awareness and engagement should still be the primary focus of your social media, but be sure to give your followers the opportunity to take the relationship a step further.

7. You don’t have a distinct voice. 

Oftentimes, nonprofit social media is managed by many people at one organization, all contributing their own personalities, sensibilities, and styles. This can cause confusion in your followers regarding who you are and what they can expect from a relationship with you.

Before posting your first tweet or engaging with your first follower on Facebook, develop a voice—a personality—representing your brand. Is your brand witty or serious? Does your brand get involved with conversations about sports and celebrities, or is it all business? Create a style guide that defines the types of words your brand does and does not use, your style of writing, and your tone of voice. Be sure that everyone who manages your social media can “get into character” before they post.

8. You haven’t defined your audience.

How well do you know the people who typically support your organization? Where are they coming from? What drives them to donate or volunteer? Are they parents or young couples? Where do they get their entertainment? What is their income level? Do they like playing sports?

The better you can define the common interests of your supporters, the easier it will be to create a voice and content supporters can relate to. Without knowing these details, your content may be falling on deaf ears.

9. You’re choosing the wrong channel to focus on. 

Not a week goes by when a client does not inquire about a popular site they recently heard of: Tumblr, Reddit, Google+, etc. When evaluating such sites, many marketers focus on ways to position their brand on the platform. That is a mistake. First, find out who is currently engaged on the platform, how they are engaging, and whether your brand aligns with their values and needs. Having a beautiful Tumblr page is useless if your potential supporters are not on Tumblr!

10. You’re not integrating other marketing efforts.

Social media gives your supporters a two-way dialog and a way to develop a true relationship with your brand. First, however, they need to know where to find you. When supporters visit your website, will they see prominent social media links to all your active channels? Are you leveraging Facebook tabs and Twitter’s Lead Generation tool to capture emails? Do your email campaigns lead your subscribers back to online conversations? The more integrated your separate marketing efforts, the more successful each effort will be.

Although social media is a fairly new way to connect with your supporters, best practices for developing relationships remain the same: The best way to sustain successful social media efforts is to develop a voice, understand your audience, and engage.

Sherry Heyl is currently the Director of Social Media for Sensei Project, a startup agency that was born from the merger of two agencies that have worked in social for over 8+ years. She leads a team of social media specialists working with clients in the travel, entertainment, and nonprofit industries. Heyl was the co-founder of the first social media conference in Metro-Atlanta, SoCon, which is held each February at Kennesaw State University. 

Heyl graduated from Florida State University with a degree in business marketing and english with an emphasis in creative writing. She can be contacted at 404-386-9801 or [email protected]

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