Strategically social: a guide for small shops

publication date: Mar 18, 2013
author/source: Karen Luttrell

Social media networks promise small organizations a low-cost opportunity to engage large audiences. Yet that can be hard to do if staff members are already stretched to meet core responsibilities. This new series of articles will help smaller charities use social media strategically.Karen Luttrell photo

In future articles, we’ll discuss choosing social networks to participate in, social fundraising, visual communication in social media, measuring results, and time-saving tips. But to get started, let’s look at what to include in your social media strategy.

Fill in these strategic blanks

  • Organizational goals
  • Audiences
  • Which networks to use and why
  • Types of content to share and contributors
  • Samples of good content from related organizations
  • An editorial calendar with seasonal topics
  • Metrics to use (going beyond comments, retweets and likes)
  • Budget
  • List of online influencers to engage and blogs to follow and comment on
  • Action plan and timeline for launching your social media presence

If your goals are straightforward and you have fewer people involved, you could keep it simple and start with communications planning basics. Who do you need to communicate with and why? What do you want them to know, think, feel or do differently? How will you measure success?

Those answers will lead you to the “how” – decisions about what social networks to try and what to do on each network.  From there you can determine the resources you need. This approach will give you a simple action plan you can use to get started, and adapt as you learn.

Possible reasons for online relationships

  • Public awareness
  • Advocacy work
  • Connecting with journalists
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising
  • Securing in-kind donations to support programs (shelters, housing, programs for low-income families)
  • Increasing event attendance and participation
  • Increasing participation in a cause marketing promotion, online or in-store
  • Keeping donors informed
  • Recruiting and inspiring volunteers
  • Collaborating with partner organizations
  • Facilitating collaboration among members
  • Gathering input from supporters and other stakeholder groups

Whichever goals you pursue, it’s okay to ask for what your organization needs. Just don’t use social media accounts only as a one-way broadcast tool for self-serving messages. That’s a quick way to alienate people and lose friends – literally.

Also, be realistic about the number of social networks you take on. Depending on your resources, you may be best to start with one network or two.

Possible budget items

  • Staff and volunteer time
  • Dashboard services, such as Hootsuite
  • Monitoring services
  • Analysis and reporting services
  • Photography and videography, including services for capturing user-generated video
  • Contest prizes
  • Professional development. (Social media changes rapidly.)

We’ll look at many free and low-cost options throughout this series. But as your community size grows. so will your investment to manage it.

You may find a social media policy template for nonprofits offered by SocialBrite helpful. It will take you through many of the topics we’ve touched on and give you additional considerations about how staff members are permitted to use social media at work. They also offer actual policy examples.

The bottom line is that social media tools can be powerful for your organization, if you use them strategically. Stay focused on why you’re building relationships and how you will measure your success, and you can avoid shiny object syndrome and possibly even minimize the time you spend distracted by great cat videos

Karen Luttrell helps charities raise more money, find more volunteers, and fill programs using strategic communications and inspiring writing. She has been leading nonprofit digital marketing initiatives for 13 years. She volunteers as VP Communications for the Professional Writers Association of Canada Toronto Chapter and manages their social media.

For more information, email Karen or visit

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