The Perils and Pitfalls of Social Media

publication date: Dec 3, 2018
author/source: Margaret Buttner

“Activate your followers, don’t just collect them like stamps.” – Stacey Kehoe – founder of Brandlective Communications Ltd.

There’s no doubt that social media for non-profits is here to stay, but depending on the size of your organization, it can be just “one more thing” that has to be taken care of. Here are some considerations to take into account between your development and marketing/communications team (and a few pointers to prevent things from going wrong).

Budget Although social media is certainly more economical than using traditional media such as print, radio or video, some budget should still be allocated. For example, for a small team, using Hootsuite, Loomly or a similar service may be more economical than allocating staff time. Regardless, for special events such as galas or charity runs, a staff member or trusted volunteer should be onsite to manage and post in real time.

It’s not about us – it’s about them Some charities fall into the trap of just talking about themselves, rather than recognizing the real subject – the donor(s) or sponsors who made the project or event possible.

Social media is just not for special occasions I’ve recently observed a charity that has a great story to tell, but has gone silent after two or three random tweets (after an 18 month silence). Lack of consistency means followers will quickly lose interest and turn their attention (and perhaps their donations) to a charity that is constantly providing impact stories. Likewise, if you suddenly start a flurry of tweets on Giving Tuesday or the day before your next gala, your followers will feel manipulated.

We’re here! Standing out in a crowded social media universe, especially if your cause is one of a number raising funds for similar causes (cancer for example), is not easy, so there’s a need for creativity with a Twitter/Instagram handle that is unique but memorable. Twitter alone has over 320 million users, so try tricks such as adding underscores or adding your location to stand out. The same rules apply for hashtags – be memorable, check to see if they are already used, and make sure they are easy to remember (and spell).

Social media is not stakeholder communications At our charity, we implemented a donor survey earlier this year, and found out that only one-third of our constituents follow us on Facebook, with smaller numbers following us on Twitter. More traditional forms of news are still our norm although we do use social media extensively for storytelling, contests and much more.

You’ve been tagged A photo can go viral for the wrong reason and can be very difficult to remove. A good example of this took place earlier this year when a tweet appeared showing pre-peeled oranges at Whole Foods – resulting in the #orangegate hashtag when the astute photographer commented: “if only nature could find a way to cover these oranges so we don’t need to waste so much plastic on them.” 8 million views later, a no-doubt sheepish Whole Foods acknowledged the error of their ways!

Lack of staff commitment Social media is meant to be shared. The more staff you have posting or reposting among their own networks, the better. Working as a team demonstrates commitment and that reflects well among your followers. Another caveat. If they are switching between work and personal accounts, ask them to doublecheck the account before posting. Although their vacation pics or political rants might be fine on their personal account, it could be embarrassing on your public one!

And one last piece of advice…

Pride of authorship When in doubt, check with a colleague before posting. For example, I sent a draft of this article to a fellow fundraising friend whose opinion I value and she provided excellent feedback. Fundraisers and marketing staff sometimes have different takes on the same message; a quick poll can help avoid embarrassing viral moments later!

Margaret has been a fundraiser since 2001 and is currently Manager of Annual and Planned Giving for the Pacific Salmon Foundation. She often manages social media for local sporting events in her spare time.

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