There are plenty of blogs on how to make the most of social media, so why am I writing one more? Firstly, a lot of top tips for social media content are focused on businesses. Of course, these ideas and methods can be adapted to charities, but I think it is also helpful to have content that is specifically tailored to not-for-profits (such as the many brilliant contributions to the CharityComms blog and the great articles from Charity Digital). Secondly, I think it’s important to recognise that many charities are working with a very limited comms resource and that some will be a team of only one. I’ve worked with lots of small teams over the last 15 years and we’ve managed to achieve great things on small budgets. So here are my 24 social media tips for small charities.
1. Be realistic
One of the biggest issues I come across as a comms consultant is people underestimating how much time it takes to manage, plan, create and post content on social media. What’s more, trying to do too much can put you off doing anything at all as you can start to feel like you’re constantly failing. Work out how much time you have realistically to work on social media each week and work back from there. Consistently doing one or two quality posts each week is better than trying to do one a day, getting behind and eventually abandoning it all together! As a rough guide, this is how much time I allow for various tasks:
- Copy for Instagram post – half an hour
- Image creation for Instagram post – half an hour to an hour depending on what you’re creating
- Copy for a Tweet – 15 minutes
- Scheduling a post – 5-10 minutes
2. Create a simple plan
I often come across people who are put off social media as they don’t have time to create a strategy. I’m a strong believer that you always need a plan, but if you don’t have the time, resource, money or skills to produce an all singing all dancing social media strategy then a simple plan will do. I would start with three aims, SMART objectives and audience segments, alongside a simple ‘test and learn’ framework, a content calendar and some hashtag research.
3. Deal with the negatives
It’s happened to all of us – we log on to do our daily checks and someone has left a negative comment. What do you do? Who do you call? Who needs to be involved in making a decision? When you work in a small team, creating a process or policy to manage negative/rude/ridiculous comments can seem too time consuming. But creating a simple flowchart that will help you quickly ascertain a course of action is key to saving time in the long run. Think about who to involve (it might just be you), what the scenarios might be and what course of action will be taken for each.
4. Take inspiration from others
Keep a swipe file* for social media so when you’re lacking creativity or have a big campaign coming up you can look back at some of the content that has stood out for you and take inspiration from it.
* A swipe file is a digital or physical folder where you keep all the fantastic ideas you’ve encountered over the years. Think of it like a professional scrapbook designed to inspire your future comms plan.
When you’re short on team members and short on time, it’s easy to start feeling like you’re getting left behind when it comes to staying on top of hot trends and topics. You might not be able to read every latest piece of social media research or attend every big conference, so set yourself an achievable learning goal. That might be reading one blog a month on CharityComms, listening to the latest Social Media Lab podcast while having your morning coffee, or looking out for relevant chats to join from Charity Meetup or Twitter’s #CharityHour.
6. Keep track of ideas
One of the frustrations I hear from clients is not having the time to try out new ideas or trends because all of their time is used on planning, creating and sharing everyday content. Make sure you have somewhere to park your ideas – I find Asana helpful for this, but others swear by Trello, or why not use good old fashioned post it notes! Then, when you come to plan your next month of content, take a look back at your ideas board and see if there is anything you can test. Doing this little and often can provide some insight and feed into future social media plans.
7. Keep it simple
Cut yourself some slack. Whether you’re the only comms person in your organisation or you’re the CEO trying to do social media on the side, you won’t be able to achieve as much as a charity with an all singing all dancing comms and marketing team! Keep it simple and consistent while you’re building the habit, then throw in and test a new idea every now and again once you’ve got the basics down.
8. Get social
Mingling with your community is critical to growing your followers, increasing engagement with your posts and, ultimately, encouraging people to support your cause. It’s easy to get sucked into mindless scrolling, so set aside 15 minutes each day to like, comment and reshare posts from your community and the hashtags you follow.
9. Lead by example
Like and share your own content, and ask friends and family to do the same.
When I start working with a client to help them make the most of social media, I’m often surprised to hear that they’re not encouraging people in their close circle to follow, like and share content. Sometimes they’re not even sharing it themselves! I always encourage the whole team to interact on socials as much as they feel comfortable to do so, particularly the CEO. It’s also fine to bug friends and family now and again to ask them to share things like fundraising appeals and campaign launches. It might feel uncomfortable but most people will be happy to help.
10. Be prepared
In tip eight, I talk about the importance of engaging with your community and liking, sharing and commenting on as many relevant posts as possible. To save time, particularly around a big campaign or launch day, I like to prepare a number of standard answers that I can use and adapt depending on the context. This makes sure I can interact with as many people as possible who have taken the time to tag the account I’m managing. Start by writing two or three responses to everyday questions/comments and add to it over time so you end up with a database of useful copy.
11. Don’t forget the mission
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our social media community knows why our organisation exists, but the truth is that many will have followed you after seeing just a single piece of content that popped up in their timeline and caught their eye. I always advise clients to create and regularly share what I would call ‘mission’ posts that focus on the ‘why’. Ask yourself these questions: Why does your organisation exist? Why are you passionate about your cause? Why should people care? Then create some content and pepper throughout your monthly schedule. As well as engaging your current followers, this is a great way to entice new ones in.
12. Share your learning
One of the biggest barriers to posting regularly on socials is knowing what to post! As well as creating content buckets to map out the kind of content you want to share, use your everyday learning to create content. On Twitter, that could mean sharing a relevant article you’ve just read with a line to tell your followers why it’s interesting or useful. For Instagram, this might be posting a photo of a training session you’re attending with a summary of your key takeaways.
13. Think before you share
Make sure all your content passes the is it interesting or is it useful test. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sharing everything your organisation is doing, and there can sometimes be a lot of pressure from other teams or those higher up to share information on socials that’s pretty dull. Before you post anything, ask yourself, ‘Is this something our audience will be interested in and/or can it help them in some way?’
For example, the fact you have produced a new equality and diversity policy is great, but it will only be interesting to an external audience if you can show how it will increase your impact or help other organisations working in your cause area, for example. Look back at your social media plan (see tip 2) and revisit your aims, objectives and target audience if you’re unsure.
14. It’s not all about you
Give as much, if not more, than you ask for. Asking people to support your cause – whether that’s by donating, signing a petition or volunteering – is a critical part of the work that most charities do. But, like any relationship, reciprocity is at the heart of building engaged social media communities. So make sure you’re not only posting about things that you need, but share posts that are helpful to your community and show thanks to those who are getting involved. This could be sharing (third party) news, amplifying user generated content or celebrating the work done by your volunteers.
15. Be picky
Link to national days if they fit with your plan. It can be tempting to jump on board of every national day out there, but it will only be helpful if it fits with the aims and objectives of your social media plan. For example, international black cat day might be a relevant day to recognise if your charity helps cats, but it’s a bit pointless if your work is focused on older people (unless you have a black support cat in one of your services, in which case this would make a lovely story!) Have a look at what days are coming up over the next three months and add those that are relevant to your content calendar. If there are a few in one week, choose the one that is most closely aligned with your cause so you still have room for your other content. This is especially important when you’re working with very limited resource for socials.
16. Know when to stop
If a post is taking too long to produce, move on. We’ve all been there – we have a great idea for a post but when it comes to writing the copy or sourcing the image we can’t quite think of what to say or find the perfect image. If you’re half an hour into a post and there is no end in sight, save the draft and move onto the next post. Or, if it’s critical to get the information out that day, simplify what you want to say and use an image you already have on file that is ‘good enough’. A manager of mine many years ago introduced me to the saying ‘Don’t let perfection be an enemy of the good’, which I think is perfect advice for social media managers who are super short on time.
17. Go behind the scenes
Take your community behind the scenes. Add more context and maybe a bit of humour to your socials by taking your community behind the scenes. These kinds of posts can be easy to prepare, particularly if you don’t use photos that need permissions. They lend themselves well to Instagram stories as well as Twitter. A longer form round-up post might be more appropriate for Facebook and LinkedIn. Here are some ideas:
- Show the team at a volunteering away day
- Share what a typical day is like at your service
- Preview brand changes or a project in progress
18. Make the most of events
Make it easy for people who are attending your events to share live on social media. There’s nothing like a live event to create a buzz on your socials, so make sure you have everything your attendees need front and centre, including your handles and an event hashtag. Add it to your welcome and holding slides and make an explicit ask at the beginning of your event for people to share their thoughts.
19. Invest what you can
Boost your posts with small amounts – just £10 can make a big difference to the number of people your content will reach. If you’re new to paid socials, check out each platform’s step by step guide to getting started.
20. Facilitate sharing
Create guidelines for staff and volunteers so they can easily share their passion for the organisation on social media without causing a comms disaster. For a small team, this might simply be a list of dos and don’ts that you introduce at induction. Your list might include:
- Be clear that you are sharing YOUR opinion.
- Be yourself – share, like and comment on the issues you’re passionate about and that fall within your area of expertise.
- Be proactive – if you make a mistake, admit it. Be upfront and be quick with your correction.
- Do anything that could be considered discriminatory against, or bullying or harassment of, any individual.
- Breach confidentiality, for example by revealing trade secrets or information owned by the organisation.
- Breach copyright, for example by using someone else’s images or written content without permission.
21. Collaborate with others
When you’re short on time, it can be tempting to work in a bubble and collaborating with other organisations might seem out of reach. But working with others who have a similar goal can pay dividends in the long run and it doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, if there is an event that you want to share with your audience, get in touch with the organiser. Ask if they have any visual assets you can use and check which hashtags to include. Send them a link to your post once it’s published so they can reshare on their channels.
22. Find your tone of voice
Even if you know what you want to say, you can sometimes tie yourself in knots deciding how to say it. So decide on a tone of voice for social media. If you’re lucky enough to have a brand/style guide, use this as your starting point. Do you want to come across as lighthearted and include humour in your posts? Or do you want to be straight talking and factual? Write a mission statement for how you want to come across and create a list of words that you will/won’t use. It can be as simple as that.
23. Get creative with photos
Create royalty and permission free images for Instagram. For many organisations, spending time and money on photoshoots and professional stock photos isn’t an option. At the same time, gathering and managing permissions for photos of service users and others involved in your charity can be difficult when you’re short on comms resource. Here are five ideas for pics for your Instagram grid!
- Lay out your branded running vest, a collection tin and a pair of muddy trainers outdoors to advertise race places.
- Thank supporters by making a piece of art! Use natural materials in an outdoor space, or items related to your cause laid out on a white desk or piece of card.
- Share a journey by taking photos of your feet! Use a phone tripod and clicker to snap pics of your feet from ground level. Try different poses like walking, kicking up leaves or standing still. Change shoes a few times so you can use the pics more than once.
- Decorate your office in line with the seasons. Choose a clear area to display pumpkins for Halloween, put up a Christmas tree in December and to put a vase of daffodils in springtime. Get your logo in there on a mug, poster or award.
- Get creative with your post it notes. If you want to share something about planning or strategy, decorate a section of your wall with post its. Use different colours to create a pattern, or create an eye catching shape like a heart or an arrow.
24. Think social
If you’re lucky enough to get the odd piece of professional design done, for an annual report or research paper for example, build social media assets into the design brief. Ask your designer for a set of graphics that can be used across the social media platforms you have a presence on. Make sure they are ‘evergreen’ so they can be used for months to come (ie, don’t include a launch date or anything else that will date them).
I hope you’ve found these helpful. If you have, I would love it if you could leave a comment below and share them on social media so as many charities as possible can benefit from them.
Director, Colvine Communications