10 steps to ensuring you achieve success for your charity online

We know the world is becoming more social online and technology changes so rapidly that you feel you can’t keep up. The Internet allows us to now have a dialogue with supporters instead of them being bombarded with a one-way monologue. But remember, people inherently stay the same – they have a need to connect and social media fulfils that need and facilitates conversations online around brands, ideas and causes.

Social media has become much hyped because of the relative ease with which you can set up a profile online and start talking to your audience. It’s very tempting to dive straight into Facebook or Twitter because everybody else is doing it and because these tools are “free”. But what do they say in the classics? … There’s nothing like a free lunch.

You might have heard about this all but don’t know where to start. You might already be doing some fantastic stuff in the online social sphere (if so, I’d like to hear from you). From experience though, keep the following 10 things in mind.

1. Be ready to share your content

As a first tentative step into the social media universe, why not allow your site visitors  to share your content via Facebook and the other social sites (e.g. Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit etc). You’ve seen the buttons or options at the bottom of articles on all your favourite sites. Search engines will thank you for it too.

Once your audience sees that your site is connected to the greater web, they’ll use the tools. And “social bookmarking” tools are easy and free to implement.

2. Fish where the fish are

Are your supporters using these tools? Find out by asking them. Survey your audience using either a poll or survey on your site or send an email survey to your donor database. This will always help you substantiate your time and investment in the channel.

If they’re not actively using Facebook or Twitter don’t worry. They’ll catch up. You can’t ignore the way the world is changing. The question is, how do you use it intelligently without following the rest of the lemmings?

3. Supporters talk back

Supporters will have things to say about your charity and in my experience, mainly good things. But you need to be prepared for the not so good comments too. What’s the tolerance level internally to feedback, especially feedback made public? How will you moderate comments, if at all? Will you let your audience moderate for you?

Maybe start with a small pilot to convince others in your organisation that this can be positive. The one thing to keep in mind is that the old model of controlling information about your organisation can no longer exist. If supporters are not saying things about your brand on your site they’ll definitely be saying it on other sites. Why not keep them close and respond to them on your own site or Facebook page?

4. Always start with a plan

It’s very seductive to think that because these tools are free, you should use them. If you start something online, make sure you know where it’s going to end up. Countless organisations start Facebook pages or Twitter feeds only to see by week 3 they’ve nothing to say or they no longer have the time to interact with their new audience.

Ask yourself why you’re doing this? What are the benefits? What are the risks? How you’re prepared to deal with them? Do you need help from 3rd parties (i.e. and outside developer or someone to write a social media strategy for you)? Do you have the resources? What are you going to say? How often? Why? What do you expect to achieve?

If you can answer these questions you’ll be well on your way to success in the social media space.

5. The good, the bad and the plain ugly…

Many charities have used social media beautifully to engage with their audiences and supporters as well as raise money too. There are countless case studies to choose from. The one thing they have in common is that these charities approached this new channel with a plan. They knew what they wanted to get out of it.

Take the Dog’s Trust in the UK. They need to rehome stray dogs as they don’t believe in animal euthanasia. Their target market is online (who’s target market isn’t nowadays?). They have successfully used Twitter (www.twitter.com/dogstrust) to alert followers of new strays and they’ve managed to rehome countless dogs. And also successfully raise awareness of their cause.

In the US recently, a congenital heart defect charity in Chicago, USA called Big Love, Little Hearts (twitter.com/BigLoveLtlHrts) used FourSquare (a new geo-social network that allows you to see where your friends are in the world, realtime) to raise $25 000 and save 12 lives.

There are countless casualties in the social media space. There may have been a PR blunder or supporter service hasn’t gone well. Just look at the current BP oil crisis.

Messages on the web spread dangerously fast so have a plan that when things do go bad, you can deal with it in an open, effective and timely way. Get your supporters on side, talk to them, be yourself.

6. Nothing is for free

Although the online Facebook/Twitter/Flickr/ YouTube profile is free to set up online, time and money is needed to create your social media strategy, create the content and keep things updated.

It’s a reality that charities are cash strapped. But just because it costs money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Use your pilot project or create a business case that substantiates the time and investment needed. It’s also a lower cost channel to invest in and I would advise that you don’t ignore it, because it’s not going away.

7. Get a personality

There’s nothing worse than a stuffy, corporate response to a conversation online. Your audience needs to feel they’re connecting with a real organisation, real people with real things to say. Especially if you’re using the channel as a supporter service tool, there’s no need to be formal. Your audience won’t like you for it.

8. For goodness sake, do something!

So you’ve spoken to them online, you’ve spread the message about your latest campaign or initiative. What now?

Your website  (remember him?) needs to take over and finish the job. Make your audience work, but not too hard. Do they need to donate, sign a pledge, download a file? Draw them to your site (not your home page!!!) and let them do something.

Alternatively, it might be about spreading your message. Make it easy for them to talk about you to their friends.

9. Get a little help from friends

It’s been proven that people are more likely to respond favourably to something if they see their friends or family have responded the same way. Facebook have recently introduced “like” buttons for content on websites outside of Facebook. They are revolutionising the way people shop, consume information and donate online.

Try get the new Facebook social plugins installed on your site (again within the context of your bigger digital strategy). Start small and pilot the response. You may be pleasantly surprised.

10. Show me the money!

Where’s the Return On Investment (ROI)? This is the million-dollar question. How do you measure this all? How do you make money from it? Well your website should start showing you visits from Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn (whatever your tool of choice). If you’ve set up Google Analytics properly, it might even show you who’s converting (i.e. doing something like donating or signing up to your email newsletter).

Also look at the bigger picture – especially measuring how people got to hear about your charity, as well as how this has affected your retention rate. You might see some surprising results offline.

There are also great free tools to measure how strong your voice is online, what people are saying about you, how many followers and “likes” you’ve picked up. Start with a benchmark and build from there.

Again within the context of a bigger digital strategy, measure the things that make sense to your charity. But make sure you do measure or else all this activity is in vain.

If all of this is overwhelming, take a step back and go back to point 4. Ask yourself so what? So what if you don’t have a Facebook profile, so what if you don’t speak to your supporters in the online spaces they occupy? What will happen?

Remember your current donor base will not be around forever so you need to start engaging now with younger audiences in their spaces so that you can start to taken seriously and be relevant in their lives.

But above all, ignore the hype, know what you want to achieve, get some help and as that famous World War 2 poster says – keep calm and carry on! 

Follow Lianne on Twitter at www.twitter.com/byrnine

Categories: Digital

Resource Type: Blog

Posted by Beccy Murrell

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