Each morning when KUOW social media producer Brie Ripley gets to work, she asks herself the same question: How am I going to bring journalism to social media today? Ripley has been with the station for just a year, but as their second full-time social staffer, she has been able to innovate and grow audiences in the social space. More specifically, Ripley asks how she is going to bring region-specific stories to the accounts, which she says is key in reaching audiences and engaging with them.
When digital director Jodi Westrick was hired at Michigan Radio, she knew her new station was excellent at telling stories with audio and website content. Her goal was to expand the reach of those stories to new and different audiences.
Westrick and her team began synopsizing the station’s reporting on the Instagram platform using single images, slideshows, and video. These Instagram posts link back to the full stories using instructions to “visit the link in our bio.”
Back in 2012, a tiny radio show called 99% Invisible was desperate to continue production of what seemed to be a wildly popular podcast. With few options, host and creator Roman Mars popped up a page on the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter and asked his small-but-loyal fan base to keep his show in production. They answered. More than three times over.
The success of 99% Invisible’s Kickstarter campaigns captured a lot of attention in public media. Since then it’s become clear that crowdfunding isn’t ideally suited to support the overall health of a public media station. Rather, the best candidates for these campaigns are stand-alone projects over which an audience feels a sense of strong ownership, and projects that likely could not exist were they unable to meet their funding goal on Kickstarter.
KPCC (Southern California Public Radio)
In 2018, KPCC acquired a shuddered altweekly called LAist. The acquisition was part of a transformative digital strategy aimed at growing and diversifying their audience. Though they purchased the website, they needed funds and supporters to bring it back to life and incorporate the assets with existing KPCC assets: enter Kickstarter.
In 2017, St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU) Digital Media Specialist Brendan Williams made a connection that led to the station’s most successful social media experiment to date.
The station was paying an agency to, among other things, deliver brand content for their social media channels like image carousels and animated video aimed at listening options. But the investment yielded little ROI. KWMU's digital team realized they were making tons of content in-house that could be repurposed. They could easily take a portion of money they were paying the agency and divert it toward in-house experimentation in paid social media ads.
The station had an appropriate target in mind for the leads: a daily content-based email that they were looking to grow. Williams’ team had experimented enough with paid Facebook ads to know they did a pretty good job generating email leads.
So, KWMU decided to reappropriate some of its agency budget to pay for Facebook and Instagram ads promoting the station’s daily content email.
Heather Mansfield of Nonprofit Tech for Good recently hosted a social media Q&A with Greater Public. (Members can always view the full webinar on-demand.) Heather offered station tips on Facebook-sponsored content, how often to post to Facebook, and how to set engagement benchmarks for social media platforms.
Greater Public members can register for Heather's next social media Q&A, scheduled for May 4.
Q: How helpful are Facebook-sponsored posts?
A: It's getting more difficult to apply best practices across all sectors and brands because Facebook changes its algorithm all the time. But I will say that I am very lukewarm on Facebook advertising unless you have thousands of dollars, the right ads, and plenty of time to invest.
I started buying Facebook advertising two months ago. My practice had been to post something visual every two days and I'd get 10,000-15,000 people reached. It was a reliable rhythm.
Then a client gave me $250 to experiment with Facebook ads. I'd pay $50 for a sponsored post and it would hit a 25,000 reach. But next thing I know, all of my non-sponsored posts are reaching just over 1,000. During the two or three weeks following my sponsored posts, my reach dropped by 90%. These are the lowest numbers I've had since I began using Facebook! I don't find it any coincidence that my numbers started dropping significantly from the moment I started purchasing advertising.
In fact, I was experimenting on other platforms too. I had a $1,000 budget to experiment with advertising across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, and I have to say it was the worst $1,000 I've ever spent in the 10 years that I've been using social media. My best guess is that they want to get you hooked on advertising by plummeting your reach when you're not paying to sponsor the content.
I have read some case studies that indicate that large-scale experimentation is worth it. For example, the African Wildlife Foundation spent $50,000 on Facebook advertising, which they were able to turn into about $120,000 in donations. But most nonprofits I know can't make a $50,000 investment in Facebook advertising. And, in my own little thrifty world, sponsored posts have only diminished my overall reach and engagement.
Q: All of our Facebook posts have visual elements, yet we only reach about 500 users, or occasionally 1,500. We post three or four times daily. Any advice?
A: I know from studying Facebook that 1,500 reached means about 10% of that actually saw the post. What reach actually means is that it was published to the news feed of 1,500 people. But if it was published to someone's newsfeed at 8:00 a.m. and that person didn't log on until four hours later and didn't bother to scroll down, then they didn't actually see it. I don't pay a lot of attention to these reach numbers unless I see a drastic increase or decrease. Then I can ask what was going on to cause the change? That helps me learn what type of content sparks interest in my audience.
But you may want to rethink your strategy of posting three or four times a day. What I've learned from my own habits is that if I post at 9:00 a.m. and reach 5,000 people, my post at 3:00 p.m. that same day will have many fewer views. There's something in the Facebook algorithm that knows you've posted twice in 24 hours and demotes your posts because you're generating a lot of content.
The Internet is at a tipping point. It’s estimated that by late 2014 or early 2015 the majority of adults will get their information from social networks rather than search engines and that social networks will become the primary source of referral traffic to your website and blog. Any doubts that social networks aren’t powerful or don’t need to be prioritized in your online communications and fundraising campaigns can now be put to rest. The sooner you can master content distribution on social networks, the more likely (and faster) your fundraising and content strategies will result in success. Nonprofits have been experimenting with mobile and social networks for years. Sadly many of them do not fully understand how social networks are different from traditional online communications and fundraising, and consequently nonprofits are making many mistakes that are hampering their success.
The effective use of social networks is a skill not to be underestimated. Each mobile and social network has its own unique tool set and etiquette, and only the most observant new media managers have learned what makes each social network unique and then adapted that knowledge to their content strategy. There are universal best practices that can be applied to all social networks. To avoid being repetitive by listing these best practices in each of the chapters dedicated to social networks, those universal best practices are:
1. Prioritize storytelling over marketing.
The five content approaches of success, urgency, statistics, quotes, and humor should be interwoven throughout your social network strategy. Increasingly, donors and supporters follow causes on social networks. If you make storytelling a higher priority than marketing, then over time your nonprofit’s brand becomes synonymous with the cause(s) you advocate.. In practice, for every five status updates, posts, or tweets, four should be related to storytelling (through blogs, website articles, video, photos, stats, and quotes), while only one should be a direct ask such as a marketing or fundraising pitch. The only exception is in crisis situations where urgent calls to action require mobilizing your social networking communities to donate, volunteer, or participate in advocacy campaigns.
Instagram’s current tool set makes it very challenging for nonprofits to convert their Instagram followers into donors. Over time, through powerful visual storytelling, a station can build a strong brand and grow their Instagram following. But without the ability to link to a donate page inside of Instagram, it’s difficult to inspire your Instagram followers to do more than simply like and comment on your photos. However, provided your nonprofit has the graphic design skills necessary to embed text and graphics upon images, you can use Instagram for fundraising.
The goal of a membership drive is to connect audiences with their treasured public media service. Connection is the very currency of social media, and these platforms can be very effective tools - specifically during drives - to move audiences toward membership.
In a recent webinar for Greater Public, Minnesota Public Radio’s audience relationship & communications manager Jess Horwitz talked about the best ways to use social media during drives to support audience engagement and overall fundraising.
Why use social media during drives?
Jess explains that drive time is the best time to make sure all channels are blazing with messaging in order to optimize fundraising. She creates a planning grid to unify plans for all communication, including direct mail, telephone, on-air, website and email. Social media should support and unify this messaging.
Here are some of Jess’s top recommendations for how make the most of social during (as well as before and after) drive-time:
Do cultivate your social media presence by adding social links to all of your digital communications. Make your social presence consistent and ubiquitous. Create a shareable message that pops up at the end of the donation process encouraging members to tell their friends to support the station: “I just gave and you can too!”
Don’t overextend yourself by creating profiles on several social media platforms that you can’t maintain. Be thoughtful about what your staffing and schedules will allow. An inactive social media profile can be a poor reflection on your station.
Do try to post at least once a day on each platform. If you’re at a loss about what to share from your own organization, look for content to share from other public media sources. Check out #nprlife and #pubmedia, for example. But...
Don’t go on a retweet rampage. Try to balance your Twitter feed with some original tweets and some retweets.
The amount of time that a nonprofit can invest in mobile and social media depends on capacity. Small nonprofits that are not in a position to hire a part- or full-time social media manager should limit themselves to one or two social networks and place the highest priority on their website, email communications, and online fundraising campaigns. Mobile and social media are powerful, but when implemented on a small scale, the power is overshadowed by other more traditional online campaigns. Often small nonprofits try to be active on more than two social networks by sharing the responsibility among staff. While this is possible, it does require a concerted effort and cooperation among all staff that content be distributed effectively and consistently. There still should be one person who is given the directive to research and then communicate best practices as they evolve to other participating staff.
Medium-sized nonprofits at this point should be considering hiring a part-time new media manager or, at the very least, examining how job descriptions could be altered so that the communications or development staff who are currently managing mobile and social media campaigns can be given more time to fine-tune their skill set and experiment with new tools.
The argument against doing this is that budgets are too tight and inflexible. Although this is a valid argument, where there is a will, there is a way. Mobile and social media will soon surpass PC communications and fundraising, and within the next decade it’s very likely that print communications and fundraising will be used only intermittently in niche awareness and fundraising campaigns. Moore’s law concludes that 20,000 years of technological advancement now occurs every 100 years. Applied to nonprofit technology, the speed of advancement now doubles every two years.