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3 Myths and Misconceptions About Social Media for Nonprofits

Nonprofits large and small are using social media platforms to connect with their stakeholders, share stories about their work, and raise money for their programs.

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There is serious power and potential in using these tools for good. However, many organizations still harbor several myths and misconceptions about the actual work involved in getting results for their nonprofit on social media.

Let's take a look at three myths that need to be addressed before your nonprofit enters the landscape.

Myth 1. It's Free

Social media tools are technically free to sign up for and use right away. But consider the time it takes to be successful on social media. You need to learn how to use the platforms, to create great content, to listen and conduct research, to manage questions and comments, to authentically engage, and more. If you believe that time is money, then you begin to see that these channels are not really free.

I see so many nonprofits only thinking about what social media can do for THEM:

  • "How can I promote my events using Facebook?"
  • "How can I get more people to read my blog using Twitter?"
  • "How can we get more donations with Instagram?"

This kind of thinking needs to be turned on its head. Nonprofit social media strategy should be focused on creating value for the audience. You want to become a go-to resource that shares helpful and educational information, entertains, and showcases the impact that donors want to see. Not a single one of your stakeholders is on social media to read about the new award you received or the board retreat.

Expectations of what "free" social media can do also need to be checked. It's not a spigot that you can turn on and off when you want donations. You need to be strategically using these channels to establish trust and build brand affinity, so that when you do a thoughtful, well-planned fundraising campaign, people will respond.

Additionally, many social media platforms have become extremely cluttered and saturated with content. This saturation means that your organization may need a plan to pay for ads. (Keep in mind that a targeted Facebook ad can cost as little as $5.) Every nonprofit is different, but having a small budget to promote certain pieces of content is a best practice; it shouldn't be ignored when creating a social media strategy.

For example, ads can and should be used to promote your online fundraising campaigns, like this Valentine's Day ad from the International Rescue Committee:

Myth 2. Any Young Person Can Run Your Social Media Account

I love this one. A client of mine said that because her 18-year-old nephew loves social media, he could run her nonprofit's accounts.

This is dangerous thinking. Yes, maybe a young person loves going online, and maybe they know their way around mobile apps and social media platforms. But that doesn't mean they understand what it means to use these tools on a nonprofit's behalf.

Having digital skills does not automatically mean that someone has marketing or fundraising skills. Using Facebook, Instagram, and the like for personal entertainment is drastically different from leveraging these platforms to get more donations, deepen relationships with stakeholders, and raise awareness around a cause.

In addition, it's a fallacy that older people are not active online. Pew Research Center found that technology adoption is climbing among older adults, with roughly two-thirds of those ages 65 and older going online and 42 percent owning smartphones.

Success on social media requires a complete understanding of the nonprofit's target audience, its voice, and the kinds of content that will resonate with the audience and help accomplish goals. Younger people may have grown up with smartphones in their hands. However, this does not necessarily mean that they understand how to use them to raise money and increase visibility for an organization.

Myth 3. It Can Be Fully Automated

This is perhaps the most destructive myth pervading the social media space. So many clients ask me if they can simply sign up for a social media scheduling and management tool like Hootsuite or Buffer. They want to blast out the same link to each social network.

Certainly, these social media management tools can be used to monitor hashtags, schedule some posts, run measurement reports, and save time in certain cases. That being said, if you are automating all of your social media content rather than crafting posts for individual channels, your engagement and reach will decline.

Each channel needs to be treated as its own individual country, with its own rules, language, and etiquette. What works best on Twitter does not necessary work on Instagram. If your nonprofit is using social media, you do want to focus on creating a cohesive strategy for each platform where you have a presence. And your strategy needs to focus on my two pillars of content — becoming a go-to resource and sharing impact stories.

Addressing these three myths is just the beginning to develop an effective social media strategy for your nonprofit. Social media remains a dynamic, interactive tool — not a billboard or a one-way advertising platform. Time should be spent managing comments, thanking people in your online community, and participating in conversations related to your cause.

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Additional Resources: Social Media for Nonprofits