According to a new report released by Blackbaud, over half of not-for-profit organisations in the UK increased their social media budget for 2015. Many have hired more in-house social media staff. However, in the same study the majority of respondents rated their social media efforts as “less than successful”. What is driving this increase in investment, and how can not-for-profits ensure they see a real return?
2014 was hugely successful for not-for-profits on social media – with charities like ALS Association and Cancer Research UK raising millions of dollars in donations. Of course other organisations want to tap into the power of social media too.
Too often, however, organisations that are new to social media focus on getting as many followers and likes as possible, thinking that this might reach fundraising targets or raise awareness of their issues. Or if their objective is policy-driven, they are determined to come up with the next viral campaign to get the President of the US to put an issue on the agenda of the G20 summit.
Clever organisations realise that these objectives are not always realistic. Trying to make every social media campaign a global success could actually detract from the effectiveness of the organisation’s social media activity. So how can not-for-profits measure the success of their campaigns and make sure this new wave of investment is well spent?
1. Focus on clear target audiences
Not-for-profits should take a cue from consumer brands and target specific audiences, working with relevant social media influencers to increase engagement and influence behaviour. Not every issue needs Beyoncé to tweet about it. Not every not-for-profit needs 100,000 followers – but it does need the right followers.
Social media is a cost-effective way of reaching a wide range of influencers from policy makers to celebrities who are actually relevant to specific charity causes. Have a list of target influencers and a clear market segment you want to engage, and crucially, get to know who they are and understand them. Benchmark success based on the quality and frequency of your engagement with these influencers and your audience.
2. Set meaningful targets for engagement rates
Many organisations are now focusing on engagement rates, but defining a successful engagement rate is certainly not a perfect science. The truth is that there is no industry standard – every organisation will be different. Furthermore, definitions of what “engagement” actually means vary widely. It’s important to determine whether that means users are sharing your content, clicking on your website, participating in online conversations, etc.
For example, in a survey by the Case Foundation in collaboration with Social Media for Nonprofits, 22% of respondents said that a 2 – 4% engagement rate is successful. In reality, based on our experience that rate is quite high and hard to sustain even for a large organisation with a very active community.
Instead, benchmark your success based on your current engagement rate and whether the type of engagement you have is what you want. If additional investment manages to increase your average engagement rate and the audience reached are the right people (see point 1) then that is a success. Make sure to be realistic that high engagement rates achieved around the organisation’s special events are not likely to be sustained during weeks when there is less activity.
3. Aim for campaigns to make a return on the amount invested
Another way of measuring success for donation-driven not-for-profits is in terms of money raised. Everyone knows about this year’s successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised $100 million. But is that realistic for the average charity? For comparison, the Cancer Research UK widely-publicised #nomakeupselfie campaign raised £8 million – a lot less than the Ice Bucket Challenge, but still incredibly successful.
If fundraising is the goal of an organisation’s campaign, it is a success as long as the organisation recuperates the amount invested in the campaign and makes a net donation “profit”. Not every campaign will go viral and make millions, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying to raise £10,000 if the cost of the campaign is a fraction of that amount.
The increased investment in social media is a great opportunity for not-for-profits to meet objectives such as fundraising, raising awareness and influencing public policy. In order to ensure the money is well-spent, organisations must think critically about how social media helps them to achieve these objectives and how progress can be most accurately measured.