Rachel Hawkes: Top 10 tips for social media success for charities - part one

There is no tool more powerful for spreading awareness and gaining supporters than social media. Our online columnist gives the first five of her top 10 tips for social media success

Rachel Hawkes
Rachel Hawkes

1. Conversation is king

The key to how you should behave within a social environment is the word ‘social’. This means it is not a one-way street. It is not a place for the charity to just talk about or to itself, nor is it a platform for your audience to do all the talking. 

Don’t be afraid to start conversations. Say you want input and feedback and ask open-ended questions. If you ask a question that can be answered with yes or no, then that’s what you will get in return – if you’re lucky. Spark people’s imaginations and always imagine you’re in the shoes of the people you’re having conversations with. 

Before you post, think of the last time that a brand or charity you followed on Facebook (or Twitter et al) appeared in your newsfeed. Did you take time out from interacting with your friends to respond? If not, why not? If yes, what was it about the message that prompted you?

Consider the different opportunities that you have within the organisation to elicit feedback from your supporters and particularly to engage them in the decision-making processes.

2. Become a consumer

To really understand and ‘get’ social media you have to become an active consumer of it. That means you should get to grips with Facebook by posting links on your wall, make a few tweets, find some blogs that interest you and start following them, leaving the odd comment where relevant and when it adds value to that blog and its audience. 

You can’t expect to run effective and engaging social channels if you don’t truly understand how each of the platforms works and how people interact differently on each of them. There are different rules and codes of etiquette depending on the environment, and the best way to wrap your head around these is to start using them.

3. Openness and honesty

One of the biggest gripes with charity supporters is that they don’t understand how a charity works. This applies to how and where the charity spends money, to the work it does and the day-to-day activities that keep the charity afloat. Social media is one of the most effective ways for you to make sure your charity is not one of those – the end result of which is a more loyal and engaged supporter. And that should be the end goal with social media. Raising funds is important, of course, and we’ve touched upon just some of the ways in which social media can help you to do that. But the real beauty is in creating advocates of your work that go on to bring you new supporters organically.

Being open and honest doesn’t mean publishing the end-of-year financial report in full on your blog or tweeting the petty cash balance at the end of the day. It does, however, mean answering a direct question with a direct answer and openly offering information that you normally talk about. It means being authentic.

Use it as an opportunity to get feedback and opinion on how your supporters feel you are doing. If you are running an event, ask for opinions on where it should be held or break down the costs and ask for innovative ways it can be reduced (for example, cheaper but yummy entrées or party entertainment).

If you make a mistake, own it. Put your hands up, apologise if necessary and outline how you are going to do better in future. Don’t blow it over, don’t try to delete it and don’t be defensive. Act honorably and humbly.

4. Be responsive

Being responsive has two main elements: replying to comments and doing so in a timely manner. 

If someone writes on your page, tweets at or to you, or leaves a comment on your video or blog, then acknowledge that they took time out of their day to do so, and reply. It could be as simple as saying "thank you" or, depending on the individual circumstances, taking the opportunity to engage them in conversation and reply to what they said. Elicit another reply and, before you know it, you have a conversation.

Don’t leave comments to sit and lose momentum for days before replying. Act as soon as you become aware (the best conversations are those that take place in ‘real time’). That doesn’t mean you have to sit and refresh your browser continually, or make sure you are staying tuned to your page after hours or throughout the weekend, but it does mean you should keep an eye out.

This is particularly important if it is negative or has the potential to become negative. Taking too long to answer in such circumstances can infer that your reply has had to go through sign-off, which will instantly make it lose credibility and your audience will lose faith in you (the same goes if you aren’t honest and open). It’s hard to get back from that point.

The last thing to say about being responsive is don’t retweet or post blindly in your eagerness to acknowledge and/or engage with the original poster. First, make sure the content adheres by the requirements of the new ASA regulations.  

5. Integration

Just as you would ensure that your PR and marketing efforts are integrated so the same messaging is across each of your channels, do the same thing online and particularly with social media. If you are highlighting a particular cause or initiative in your advertising or with media, make sure you bring it to the forefront of your social media channels. 

You shouldn’t drop everything else you talk about and do within that environment, but certainly make sure it gets a mention every so often. Consider changing your social appearance accordingly. Change your Facebook page image to highlight the campaign and help keep things fresh. Change your Twitter or YouTube background and reskin your blog.

Crucially, integration also refers to how your website talks to and interacts with your social channels, and how they interact and link with each other. Your supporters should be able to navigate to each of your digital touch points quickly and easily without resorting to a search engine. With Twitter, definitely look to highlight your other social channels on the background, and perhaps consider having this designed by someone who understands the size restrictions of the Twitter interface and can make the best use of this space for you.

It’s not an exhaustive list of tips, but it is certainly a reasonable place to start. The next instalment will cover the other half of my Top 10 Tips:

6. Create interesting content

7. Be flexible

8. Measure and monitor

9. Consistency

10. Get buy in

Rachel Hawkes is an account director at communications consultancy Elemental

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