One of the most frequent questions that I and other communications consultants get asked is this:

Which social media channels should my organization use for which messages to get the best results?

We all desire straightforward answers and easy-to-make decisions. While I understand why people ask this question, it is often the wrong question to ask. If you’ve caught my popular social media trainings, you know I recommend five better questions to help you take a more strategic approach to evaluating a social media channel’s usefulness.

But, it’s a nonprofit fact of life that sometimes we need some general guidelines to start us off on strong decision making paths. Especially in the nonprofit sector, we don’t always have the time or resources for vigorous evaluations informed by the larger organizational strategy (which is one reason to work with a consultant). Sometimes we need just enough clarity to help us get to work.

Just remember, social media decisions that work for one nonprofit will not necessarily work for your organization. How you use social media must be informed by your organization’s goals, audiences, brand, and other unique qualities.

Let’s look at the value of three popular social media channels that nonprofits often consider as part of their social media efforts.

Facebook

Why nonprofits should use Facebook. Facebook is so pervasive (some might say invasive), it’s practically obligatory for nonprofits to have some sort of presence there. Used wisely, it can amplify your messages and engage new people in your cause.

When nonprofits shouldn’t use Facebook. Facebook uses a mysterious algorithm to decide which of your posts to show to whom. If you don’t have the capacity to regularly share high-quality content, the patience for playing its algorithm game, and some money for Facebook Ads, you may not get as much out of Facebook as you’d like.

Nonprofit messages that get the best engagement on Facebook. The algorithm gets tweaked constantly, so it’s important to keep up with changes. Generally, the best performing Facebook content evokes a strong emotional response. Facebook rewards consistency, so try to post at least once a day, including weekends, varying the format to include links, images, and other post types. Facebook also wants to dominate video, so Facebook live streaming and video shares currently seem to get priority placement.

Twitter

Why nonprofits should use Twitter. Twitter thrives on conversations. People who share a common interest in a topic often use Twitter for virtual networking, resource sharing, bandwagon building, and good old arguments. Twitter has also been an effective rapid-response channel for building political and social awareness, and activating people to take action.

When nonprofits shouldn’t use Twitter. Using Twitter to engage people in conversations that yield meaningful results takes patience, time, and commitment. Twitter has a distinct culture and conventions. If you aren’t willing to remix your messages to leverage features like mentions, hashtags, tweet chats, and threads, your messages may not spread far.

Nonprofit messages that get the best engagement on Twitter. Timely content fuels Twitter. Use an editorial calendar, listen for breaking news in your issue area, and keep an eye on Twitter trends to join relevant conversations before they die off. The media has also flocked to Twitter. If you position yourself as an issue expert through your tweets, journalists might find your nonprofit when they need sources for articles.

Instagram

Why nonprofits should use Instagram. Instagram is refreshingly simple and uncluttered. Nonprofits can use Instagram to engage people, particularly younger adults and teens, through visual identity and storytelling. As a mobile-first platform, Instagram is great for grabbing people’s attention while they’re out and about living their lives.

When nonprofits shouldn’t use Instagram. Visuals rule on Instagram. The words in your carefully-written caption are secondary to the image, and may be overlooked. If your nonprofit can’t commit to delivering your messages visually through a steady variety of graphics, photos, memes, and videos, Instagram may not pay off.

Nonprofit messages that get the best engagement on Instagram. On Instagram, you must show instead of tell. Hashtags can help people discover your content, but compelling images are what will make people stop scrolling and engage with your message. Be bold, be on-brand, be confident, and be creative with your visual messaging, and Instagram users will reward you with their loyalty.

Which social media channels are you most excited by?

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are strong contenders for your nonprofit’s suite of social media. But, there are plenty of other social media choices such as Snapchat, Reddit, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, and more.

Which social media channels are you excited to use to share your nonprofit’s messages and engage your audiences? What questions are you asking as you evaluate the social media channels that can help you get the best results? Leave a comment below to join in the discussion.

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Lauren Girardin

Lauren Girardin

Marketing and Communications Strategist at Lauren Girardin Consulting
Lauren Girardin uses her creative chutzpah to help nonprofits engage their communities and tell their stories. She shows organizations how to experiment bravely in their social media, blogging, content marketing, web content, brand messaging, and other digital and traditional communications. She counts Caravan Studios, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Essential Access Health (formerly California Family Health Council), GovLoop, NEOGOV, Points of Light, Rebuilding Together, TechSoup, TeenSource, and YTH among her clients. Reach her at lg@laurengirardin.com.
Lauren Girardin
Lauren Girardin