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The No. 1 Social Media Marketing Mistake Nonprofits Make

Nonprofits are getting good at social media. Real good. They're raising money, recruiting volunteers and generating supporters.

But there's one misstep I see often that might be holding them back from realizing their true potential:

Only performing outreach through one branded channel.

Most nonprofits have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. A few might even have a Google+, Instagram or Pinterest page. This is great! The problem is when their outreach efforts on behalf of the nonprofit begin and end with these branded accounts.

Leveraging your employee, board member, donor and volunteer's accounts can be more powerful than any of your branded accounts.

Strength in numbers

I conducted a quick search of five small nonprofit Twitter accounts based in Indianapolis. Their follower counts were 607, 558, 614, 1366 and 876.

If those branded accounts represent their only channel for Twitter outreach, they're speaking to a very limited audience.

However, if you combine the branded account with 5-10 employee accounts who also advocate on behalf of the brand, their potential reach would increase exponentially.

Not only is there strength in numbers, there's agility. 10 supporter accounts can post at different times throughout the day to 10 (generally) unique audiences. There's a strong risk of unlikes and unfollows if one brand page posts too frequently throughout the day to the same audience. According to Waggener Edstrom, 43% of fans “unlike” nonprofit Facebook pages because they posted too often. That means you might only get one or two chances per day to generate clicks.

Humans don't acquire fans. They make connections.

According to the 2012 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report from NTEN, Common Knowledge and Blackbaud, nonprofits spend an average of $3.50 to acquire a Facebook fan, and $2.05 per new Twitter follower.

As a human user with a Twitter account, when was the last time you put a dollar amount on a new follower, or actively invested dollars in generating new followers for your personal account?

You don't.

As an engaged user, you actively join conversations, share interesting content and make new connections often by just being yourself.

This is more difficult for branded accounts who speak from behind a logo, especially when starting from scratch. A new brand is unknown to everyone, but a human who is creating a new nonprofit has existing friends and followers.

According to the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study from M+R and NTEN, nonprofit brand Facebook pages averaged 2.5 actions per 1,000 fans. That's a .25% conversion rate. There are many possible reasons for this: low organic reach, weak calls-to-action, etc. 

However, I think something else is at work.

Consider P2P:

You've likely seen a request for donations come across your Facebook feed from a friend or family member who is running a 5k on behalf of a favorite charity. Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns of this nature have exploded in popularlity. According to Network for Good, P2P giving rose 60% in 2013, compared to only a 13% increase in overall giving. This equated to 20% additional dollar growth. P2P has grown over 250% in the last four years.



Because humans like to support humans. It's more natural and tangible than supporting a brand. Giving $5 to your co-worker's daughter Sally or your neighbor Kevin is easy because you know them and you want to support them. They're raising money for something very specific, and often times make heartfelt appeals based on their personal experience or history with the cause.

Imagine if every staff member at your nonprofit made regular appeals in this manner.

Brand advocates carry a lot of trust. According to, 92% of consumers trust brand advocates. This same psychology is at work in online fundraising.

If your executive director, board chair, director of development and communications director aren't active on social media on behalf of your nonprofit, it's time to get them up and running. They likely already have existing audiences that you can tap into right away.

Don't throw them to the wolves!

Before you get too excited about creating numerous brand advocates, you'll need a few things to get started:

  • Training: make sure they know the best practices of each network
  • Strategy: make sure they don't spam all their networks randomly
  • Goals: make sure they know why they're doing what they're doing. Measurement is your friend!

For more help getting started, check out my Guide to Better Social Media Marketing Through Employees.

What luck have you had with leveraging human social media accounts on behalf of your nonprofit? Let me know in the comments below.

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