A simple guide to Social Media for Charities

We all know that social media can be one of the most powerful ways to get an appeal launched or to get your issues heard by a wider audience. Despite the fact that the networks are normally free to use, the amount of time, energy and effort that it can take to maintain a presence on any one platform can be more hassle than it is worth.

One of the main issues for someone looking to set up a accounts on social media can be knowing which platforms are out there, as well as understanding what each site is like. Below, we’ve laid out 8 of the main social networks currently around, and a brief overview of each – along with a glimpse at how businesses and charities are using them.

Popular social media sites for charities

Facebook

Facebook

  • The most popular social network in the world, but largely used by individuals on personal accounts
  • Updates are typically done in the form of status posts, which can include photos, links and text.
  • Brands have increasingly become marginalised on the site, with the hope that they will instead pay for Facebook advertising
  • Still an effective way of pushing social/viral campaigns in many cases
  • Updates should rarely be more than 2/3 times a day, maximum – not all posts are shown to users, so it is best to be selective about what you share.
Twitter Charities

Twitter

  • Updates are restricted to 140 statuses, referred to as tweets – which can include text, photos and links.
  • If a user is following you on the site, they will automatically see all of your updates.
  • Posts can be as infrequent as you like, but anything above once an hour can be considered spammy
  • Users can easily re-post (known as a retweet, or RT) your statuses, giving the chance for content to quickly go viral.
  • Posts can be scheduled through third-party apps such as Hootsuite, meaning that you don’t have to constantly engaged.
YouTube

YouTube

  • The largest video sharing site on the internet
  • Videos can be uploaded either from your personal computer or directly from a phone, and can range from professionally shot documentaries through to mobile phone clips.
  • Unlike other social media sites, YouTube is largely used to place video content on to be linked to from other sites – so that people can easily click through and watch from Facebook, Twitter and other social networks which may not support video uploads themselves
  • Many charities use it as a holding place for their latest adverts, but some also embrace doing video logs of what is happening with their appeals or even daily updates
LinkedIn

LinkedIn

  • Pitched as the social network for business professionals, the site is largely used as a means for people to create links with relevant people in their industry and build mutually beneficial connections for their jobs and careers.
  • Updates work in a similar manner to Facebook, but the tone is generally more serious and to do with updates that are happening with their work rather than anything else.
  • Statuses can either be done to all of your connections, or directly to individual groups for people who have similar interests.
  • Businesses are generally represented by their employees rather than as a brand themselves.
Google+

Google Plus

  • The official social network of Google, and accounts are automatically created if you have any form of Google account (Gmail, Youtube, Google Docs etc.)
  • Updates work in a Facebook style, and can be done either through business or personal pages
  • Although the network does have a lot of members, it is rarely used by most members – and Google themselves are rumoured to have given up on the project, meaning it is unlikely to be worth the effort to become prominent on the site.
Pinterest

Pinterest

  • An image sharing site that allows users to share either their own photos or images that they have found elsewhere
  • Photos can be easily re-pinned by those who follow you, which means that images can quickly go viral
  • Users on the site are largely personal, and use the site in order to create their own mood boards – which means that brands can sometimes get lost, and are usually dependent on other people sharing their photos
Instagram

Instagram

  • A photo-sharing app that is widely credited for boosting the selfie craze
  • Updates are done in the form of photos, and must be uploaded via the app from a mobile phone
  • Accounts are largely personal, although brands presence on the site is growing – and photo updates can be done to push new appeals (especially visual/viral ones) or post visual updates on what is happening with the organisation
Tumblr

Tumblr

  • A blogging platform that allows for photo, text and video updates
  • Usually used alongside a normal website to be able to provide more frequent or informal updates – which can be easily re-posted by users, allowing for posts to become viral quickly.
  • Users are largely personal, but there is large scope for businesses and charities to take advantage of the platform

Where are other charities spending their time on social media?

Given the lack of resources that most charities have available to use on social media, it is no surprise that they are having to be incredibly savvy about how they spend their time and money. Largely, they have tended to follow the advice of going to where your audience are – and with Facebook and Twitter being the two largest sites in the industry, this is where charities have dedicated most of their energies.

If this survey had been done a few years ago, it would likely have shown a stranglehold for those two platforms – but the last few years has seen the types of social media sites around becoming increasingly diverse – with Instagram and Pinterest leading a charge for purely picture-lead sharing sites. These obviously allow for organisations that have great visuals or incredible photos to get a wider audience, but most charities have not really been able to take advantage of this boom due to the highly personal nature of both these platforms – which is why so relatively few have chosen to sign up for an account on either site.

Charities on Social Media

When asked where they are spending their time when using social media, 60% of charities said Twitter, with Facebook being second at 40%. Although the number of Facebook users still massively outstrips those of Twitter, the way each site works means that it is far more productive to tweet than it is to post a Facebook page status update.

The coding of each site means that only posts that Facebook deems to be interesting enough to each individual users will be shown on their personal homepage – and this means that it is now estimated that less than 5% of all the people who ‘like’ a page on the site will see any given status posted.  In contrast, the way that Twitter works is that every update you make on the site is seen by each person who follows you – meaning that the impact of a tweet is entirely dependent on the content and information contained within it, rather than being partly down to luck.

Where should my charity spend time on social media?

Yes

  • Facebook
    Although the impact for most campaigns can be minimal, people do expect for most organisations to have a presence on the site – and if you don’t, there is a chance someone else will set up a page for you and distort your message
  • Twitter
    The most time and cost effective way of getting your message across to the people who are interested in what you are doing, as well as getting new people involved with what you do
  • YouTube
    Worth signing up as a way of keeping a library of your latest videos for followers to view, even if you don’t plan on actively using the site day to day.

Maybe

  • Pinterest & Instagram
    Although both picture-based sites do have the ability to kick-start a viral appeal, this is normally done through individuals themselves using the imagery/hashtags on their own personal accounts, rather than by charity accounts pushing it themselves. For any charity whose work can be highly visual (animal/childrens charities) it still may be worth signing up
  • Tumblr
    Although not necessarily worth signing up for an dedicating time to exclusively, if you do require a blog to supplement your main site, Tumblr is probably the best place to do it as you can also potentially take advantage of an update going viral.

No

  • LinkedIn
    LinkedIn is a great platform – but largely for individuals, rather than charities. If you have limited resources as an organisation, the impact you will get from a LinkedIn post as a company will be minimal – instead, you could ask volunteers/employees to share their work on their personal accounts
  • Google+
    The site has very few active users, and even that number appears to be on the decline. Any time spent attempting to build an audience on Google+ is more than likely time that could be better spent elsewhere.