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Chapter 3 Creating a Solid Strategy & Measuring ROI

I recently heard a speaker say that if you put a bunch of people on a field, they’ll probably just mill around. If you toss them a ball, a few may kick it around to pass the time. But if you put nets on either end of the field and paint some white lines, people start playing a common game. The parameters give context to their experience. The parameters get everyone on the same page.

A good strategy creates those parameters.

Often nonprofits get excited about social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) without thinking of the strategy. They start a page and think they’re succeeding when they get 250 fans. But the board isn’t impressed. They expected to see new donations, not new fans. Both are legitimate outcomes, but because the expected outcomes weren’t defined first, both sides get disillusioned with the tools and get a little hurt too.

Developing A Clear Strategy

A clear strategy can avoid that conflict.
People may still get disappointed with the tools, but at least everyone has a clear idea what the organization wants to get from that tool. Knowing the goal frees staff up to use the tools in their unique way. Each site serves a different purpose and has different socially acceptable behavior:

  • Ÿ Twitter is like a cocktail party
  • Ÿ Facebook is sort of like a family BBQ
  • Ÿ LinkedIn is a more like a chamber of commerce business event

Author and business expert Guy Kawasaki uses P’s to describe some sites:

  • Ÿ Facebook is for people
  • Ÿ Twitter is for perspective
  • Ÿ Google+ is for passions

Each has their place and each can fit into your plan; but first, you need to know why you’re using each one.

Always Start With Your Website

The starting point of your social media strategy should always be your own website, and often your organization’s blog. Focusing exclusively on a tool like Facebook leaves you incredibly vulnerable. Should Facebook ever go out of business, or just go down as a result of a glitch or a cyber-attack, you are out in the cold.

A defined strategy with multiple approaches will keep you from being a one-trick-pony. If one site goes down, you won’t be sunk. And you’ll be more aware of other sites that might be better suited to getting you where you want to go.

Components of a Good Strategy

Rather than starting with the specific social media tools, it’s important to start with your organizationalobjectives. The rest of this chapter will look at the larger picture of your organizational goals and strategy. An effective social media strategy comes from looking at this bigger picture.

Questions like these will help get you started:

What Is Your Organization’s Mission?

If you exist to drill wells in developing countries, your strategy needs to rally around that. No matter how many other opportunities come up, if they pull you away from your mission, they’re distractions.

My friend Shanon Doolittle tells nonprofits to look for “mission moments,” things that your organization does that are directly expressing its mission. Then she tells them to invite donors into those mission moments. Extending this to social media will make your nonprofit stand out from the crowd.

What Do You Want to Accomplish with Social Media?

What kind of outcomes do you want? When you start on a journey, it’s helpful to know where you want to end up. It’s the same with social media. Knowing what you want to get out of your effort will clarify your actions. For instance, there are really only three types of nonprofit communication:

Cultivation—raising awareness and educating people on your cause

Solicitation—asking people to give time, talent, or treasure

Stewardship—thanking people for giving and showing them what a great investment they made

Which one is your primary goal with social media?

Most nonprofits aren’t clear here. They really want to use social media to raise money, but they aren’t honest with themselves so they spend a lot of staff time posting updates bragging about the nonprofit. I guess they hope that people will somehow make the connection that they should give to such a great organization.

Trust me, people don’t just “get it.” At least not enough people to sustainably fund your nonprofit.

If nobody knows your nonprofit exists, raising awareness (cultivation) might be your goal, and fans on a Facebook page or followers on a Twitter account might be the kind of outcomes you want to measure.

If you are in a campaign raising money for a project or for your annual fund (solicitation), your ultimate outcome will be how much money is raised. To see if social media is an effective part of your strategy, you want to measure how much traffic those sites are driving to your website’s donation page.

Who Do You Want to Reach?

If you want to reach more donors, it’s helpful to have a grasp on who your current donors are. Are your donors typically men or women? What generation: WWII? Silent? Boomer? Xer? Millenial? Where do they typically live? What kind of income do they earn? Are they college educated? Are they more likely to serve in a specific industry?

The more information you know about the donors you want to target, the easier it is to pick the right tools to reach them. I knew of one group that desperately wanted a Facebook page. But none of their supporters were on Facebook. A heavy use of LinkedIn would’ve been a better fit for them.

Pull It All Together

Once you’ve done your best to answer these questions, distill it down to one page of paper. You can use this to share with anyone working on your social media strategy. You can also use this to convince your board or others who are questioning your use of social media.

A SWOT Analysis

Another tool that can help bring clarity in developing your strategy is called a SWOT analysis. This analysis gives you a rubric to look at your

  • Ÿ strengths,
  • Ÿ weaknesses,
  • Ÿ opportunities, and
  • Ÿ threats.

Complete books have been written on doing a SWOT analysis but here’s a quick overview.

What Are Your Organization’s STRENGTHS?

We’re all good at some things and not good at others. Be honest about these. What are you really good at? What do you do better than any other organization? It may feel like bragging, but you’ll just need to get over that. The people you want to reach need to know why you’re worth paying attention to. The things you do exceptionally well will help them see why your approach is different. And how it is worth investing in.

What Are Your Organization’s WEAKNESSES?

And what aren’t you so great at? What do other organizations do better than you? Most of us don’t like looking at our weaknesses, so this isn’t the most enjoyable part of the process. But no organization is perfect. It’s important to acknowledge your limitations. Some of the weaknesses you’ll want to fix, but feel free to not fix them all. Your organization can’t be all things to all people.

Your weaknesses can even become part of your brand. In the 1950’s, rather than apologizing for rude service, the popular Durgin-Park restaurant in Boston’s Fanueil Hall Marketplace started emphasizing rude waitstaff can be repackaged as a “part of the experience.” Or take Avis, the rental car company. In the early 1960’s, they wrestled with the fact that they weren’t #1 in car rentals. They took this weakness into a brand promise that has become a company motto for decades: “We try harder.”

While you don’t need to trumpet your weaknesses as Durgin-Park or Avis did, resist the urge to try to cover them up. People on social media appreciate authenticity. Your honesty will serve you well. And there are people on social media who take glee in exposing anything that companies are trying to hide. Rest assured, in today’s age anything you try to hide will be found out anyway. So why not be honest about it and shape the conversation yourself?

What Represents Organizational OPPORTUNITIES In The Marketplace?

I firmly believe every economy has opportunities. If your industry is in a downturn because it’s becoming obsolete, you may have the opportunity to position your organization to play on nostalgia. If donations in your area seem to be shrinking, your opportunity is to do something remarkable to donors and become a charity of choice. Whatever the case, look at your strengths and weaknesses and look at the condition of your environment. Be comprehensive, look at economics, demographics, work force development, new research, …consider everything you can think of! Then brainstorm ways your organization can, within the context of its mission and vision, seize those opportunities.

What Are The THREATS Facing Your Organization?

The threats can be external—economy, new government legislation, competitors, donation trends, new technology. They can be internal—staffing issues, lack of board harmony, technophobia. Be open about these as you develop your strategy.

Write It Down On A Piece Of Paper

Answer these questions as thoroughly as you can. Don’t get too hung up on whether an item should be listed as a “threat” or a “weakness.” Just get the ideas down. The point isn’t having a perfect example of a SWOT analysis, the purpose is using this information to determine what direction is best to build on your strengths and take advantage of your opportunities.

It Might Already Be Done

The great news is: you probably don’t have to go through this entire process before setting up your social media strategy. Your organization has probably already done all this work. Check with the people who head up your marketing and your fundraising. These folks need to be the external face of your organization so are often in tune with its goals. Or, if you’re in a one-person shop, take yourself out for coffee and have a great chat!

Making Your Social Media Strategy

Even if you don’t go through the effort of convening all the appropriate groups to do a SWOT analysis or visioning session, taking a step back to see the big picture will help you focus your social media strategy. Reviewing your mission and vision helps you remember why your organization exists and what difference it wants to make in the world.

As you revisit these, your goals for social media may change. Perhaps you planned on using social media to drive donations but now you see that you need to improve employee morale first. Paul Levy, the former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, found that being involved in the hospitals Facebook page helped him communicate as the CEO with employees on the third shift. This allowed him to immediately address their concerns before they became an issue. When he and his team decided he should start a blog, I’m sure he didn’t expect his social media use would help improve employee retention!

An Approach For The Long Term

The reason I’ve taken so much time encouraging you to revisit your organizational history and goals is that the tools keep changing. Ten years ago, Yahoo! Groups was all the rage. It was the go-to tool for establishing online community with donors. Today? Not really. Today the big dog is Facebook. In five years who knows what tool we’ll be using?

Having a plan that’s specific to the quirks of your organization allows you to navigate the whitewater of new tools as they come up. Board members may love Pinterest, but you don’t have to jump on “board” (pun fully intended) right away unless you see an obvious fit with your pre-determined goals.

You’ll find that with the right plan, you can use the tools to find new donors, to identify potential new employees, to support existing caregivers, to strengthen donor loyalty, or even to establish your organization as a trendsetter in its field.

A Cheat Sheet For Choosing The Right Tool

Here’s a really brief cheat sheet that may help you quickly figure out where to start your social media strategy. (In addition to your website and email list of course!)

If your goal is to jumpstart a social media presence, Facebook is probably your best bet. At the time of this writing, one billion people are actively using Facebook. So getting a page for your organization up, and using a personal account yourself, will get you off and running.

If you’re looking to dip your toe in the social media water without needing to get permission from others to be their “friends,” Twitter might be a great fit for you. Twitter has hundreds of millions of users and only space for 140 characters of interaction. You can observe peoples’ use of social media and learn what you like and what you don’t. All without needing to set up an elaborate profile or organizational page.

If you’re looking for a more “professional” experience for your or your nonprofit, LinkedIn may be a more appropriate place to start than Facebook. In recent years LinkedIn has moved beyond a place to post your resumé to a place with active discussion groups and resources.

If you’re looking to give donors or customers a “behind the scenes” experience, creating videos to post on YouTube or Vimeo—and then on your blog—might be a great fit. Video is a very powerful online tool. And it’s easy to do once but use many times.

If your goal is image/picture related—like a building campaign or serving animals or…well just about anything can be suited for pictures—creating a Google+, Flickr, or Instagram photostream might be your best bet. Like with video, once uploaded, any of these images can be used on your own blog, in emails, and, if high enough quality, in print.

If increasing your chances of getting found when people are searching online, Google+ is a great bet. Creating your organization’s page directly influences Google search. Plus there are hundreds of millions of interesting people regularly using this service so you might find some fans.

This is brief but it might help get you started!

Measuring Success On Social Media

One of the most important parts of a plan is figuring out how you’ll measure success. While social media is “social,” it is also really easy to track. Just “getting on ‘the Twitter’” because you keep seeing it talked about on CNN isn’t a plan. Knowing what you think you’ll measure will show you whether this is worth your time. I say what you “think” you’ll measure because, as with any good plan, you need to be flexible. As mentioned above, you might get into social media because you think it’ll get you one thing only to find out it’s doing something even better.

Now that you’ve reviewed your mission and vision, define some goals for your use of social media. Ask yourself why you want to get involved in social media.

Perhaps you’re in fundraising. Social media can be a great way to research donors. You can actually hear what they’re saying about your nonprofit and other organizations like yours. And you can learn a lot about their likes, dislikes, even their demographics. You can also use social media to generate new leads, track donor conversions, and even test ways to encourage donors to increase their giving.

Are you in marketing?Social media can be a great way to increase your organization’s brand presence. You can use it to get PR. Or to make your website come up more quickly in search engine results. 

Are you in HR? Being proficient at social media can help you attract cool new employees that will really move your company forward. And social media can give you great research tools to find out more about the person you’re thinking about hiring.

Do you support volunteers? Great! There are famous examples of companies creating loyal followings because their customer support was actively engaged in social media. These lessons can be applied to your nonprofit as well.

Are you looking for a way to increase repeat web traffic or visits to your physical location? Building a personality online can be a way to keep people engaged between gifts and increase donor loyalty. You may even find these tools help those supporters become evangelists of your organization or cause.

Are you simply looking for your own career development? Social media is a terrific way to establish yourself as an expert. You can showcase your expertise and have others talk about you for you. This will also help your organization get more exposure and be seen as a place that encourages “thought leadership.”

Or maybe you’re just intrigued with these tools and you want to play with them to see if any fit you. That’s great, too!

Objectives Over Tools

It’s so important to start with your objectives, not with the tools. Technology is moving so quickly, it’s easy to get caught up in “shiny object syndrome.” Like the dogs in Pixar’s movie “Up” who lose all focus when they think a squirrel was nearby, we can easily get distracted by the latest and flashiest website. Resist this temptation. Our ultimate goal as nonprofits is not to be “cool” or “cutting edge.” Our goal is to serve our mission (feed the hungry, protect the land, provide education, etc.) and to serve our donors (nurture relationships with those funding our mission).

Would You Do It Anyway?

To quickly know if your focus is on the objectives, look at your goals and see if they would still stand if all the social media tools (like Facebook and Twitter) crashed today.

  • Ÿ Would your organization still try to attract more donors?
  • Ÿ Would you still want to position yourself as an expert?
  • Ÿ Would you still try to get your nonprofit’s fans to advocate on behalf of your cause?

If so, you’re starting at the right place.

Get People To Take Action

Once you have your objectives, try to choose tools that will be best suited to help. If you’re in an audio/visual field, YouTube, Vimeo, or Flickr might be more obvious places to start than Twitter. If you’re trying to position yourself as an expert, developing a blog and expanding your connections on LinkedIn might make more sense than talking about last night’s party on Facebook.

All of your objectives should then be translated into getting someone to do something. Marketers call these CTAs—Calls to Action. Nonprofit marketing expert Katya Andresen, author of Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes, says your call to action should be so specific it could be something you film.

Do you want them to click on a link? Tell them to “move your cursor over here and click on this link now!”

Do you want people to sign up for your email list? Quickly describe their action so they can see themselves doing it.

Do you want them to buy a product? Tell them which product to purchase.

Refer your service to their friends? Use words to show them how.

Comment on your blog? Tell them how to find the comment field: “We want to know what you think. Tell us in the comments at the bottom of this post!”

Make sure your call to action is something you can measure. That way you’ll know if you’re being effective. And you’ll be able to prove to your boss or board what is working. Here are a few metrics that can be easily measured online:

  • Ÿ Site visits
  • Ÿ Page views
  • Ÿ Average page views per visit
  • Ÿ Time spent on your site
  • Ÿ Number of subscribers to your email list
  • Ÿ Number of subscribers to your blog
  • Ÿ Number of your followers/friends/network
  • Ÿ The number of inbound links—how many sites are linking back to you
  • Ÿ Number of clicks on a link
  • Ÿ Number of “retweets”
  • Ÿ Amount of cash generated by a landing page
  • Ÿ Growth in affiliates to your program
  • Ÿ Amount of site visits coming from search engines or other specific websites (like Facebook)

Set goals and monitor them regularly—weekly, monthly, or quarterly as appropriate. As you measure these, you’ll learn where your best return on investment is coming from, how to communicate to elicit the desired response, and how to allow your employees and staff to have their own “voice” in their online use.


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