The provocative article by Matt Collins published last week – It’s time for charities to stop wasting time on social media – immediately reminded me of the now infamous Newsweek piece – Why the web won’t be Nirvana. Clifford Stoll’s piece, written 21 years ago, dismissed the possibility of virtual communities, as well as a shift of commerce and business to networks and modems as “baloney”. In my mind, Collins’ advice that charities should step away from investing in social media is similarly short-sighted…
The provocative article by Matt Collins published last week – It’s time for charities to stop wasting time on social media – immediately reminded me of the now infamous Newsweek piece – Why the web won’t be Nirvana. Clifford Stoll’s piece, written 21 years ago, dismissed the possibility of virtual communities, as well as a shift of commerce and business to networks and modems as “baloney”. In my mind, Collins’ advice that charities should step away from investing in social media is similarly short-sighted.
This attitude towards social media is a problem that comes up time and time again – many organisations set up their accounts, ask for donations and – when they don’t come flooding in – jump to the conclusion that it doesn’t work, or isn’t worthwhile. Social media isn’t a magic bullet, and those who believe so are failing to see its value as an important tool in the fundraising process – especially given that, according to a Pew Research study, 76% of all internet users are using some form of social media.
Social media plays a much larger role in the fundraising process than simply being a conduit for donations – it provides an invaluable set of tools that facilitate the process, from identifying new donors and building relationships, to ultimately making the ask and giving thanks. And the rich data you can gather from engaging with supporters on social can be invaluable for targeting your fundraising, both online and offline.
Simply having a social media profile doesn’t mean you’re going to raise money, just like having a website doesn’t mean you will receive traffic. Charities need to understand the role of social media to support converting cause-driven interest into action. When done right, it can help level the playing field for smaller organisations.
Cystic Fibrosis Ireland (CFI), for instance, has a small central team – but by cultivating and acknowledging supporters through social media, has been able to engage with a larger audience than ever before. Another example of a charity using social to engage and target its supporters is SolarAid, which managed to grow individual giving by 44% through more effective communications targeting, identifying the best subject matter from social media data.
Social media is also unrivalled in its power to influence giving through peer sharing – people are more likely to engage with an organisation or campaign when asked by someone they know. The last #GivingTuesday is proof of this – in 2015 the campaign brought together more than 1,400 charities and generated more than 100,000 tweets – and most significantly, online giving sites showed big jumps in donations on the day.
For-profit organisations often invest in their social channels in parallel with traditional marketing and media; just because donations aren’t flooding in, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a justification for charities to spend money on social media.
According to a Convince & Convert study, 53% of Americans who followed a brand on social media were more loyal to those brands, for example. Charities are usually dependent on more than just cash to operate – raising brand awareness; using celebrity ambassadors’ networks; engaging with corporate partners; garnering support for campaigns; and recruiting volunteers are just a few opportunities available on social media.
It’s vital for charities to be investing in their digital presence and activity and, as Collins points out, search engine optimisation (SEO) is definitely a key part of that. But social media signals also play a large part in improving a charity’s SEO and the relationship isn’t mutually exclusive – neglecting one in favour of the other could have damaging consequences.
Organisations that aren’t investing in social media, are doing themselves a massive disservice and failing to future-proof their communications. Not only are they missing out on valuable insights into their supporter base, they also miss out on engaging and interacting with their next generation of supporters. Future donors are all digital natives and use social media on a regular basis – charities need to do so, too.
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