I have worked in companies that supply technology and digital consultancy to charities for much of my career and many of the IT people I work with have been at least as clued up and strategic as their counterparts in the business world. This is particularly true with charities’ use of social media and I would say charities ‘got’ social media far quicker than many businesses – many of whom are still struggling! – and realised it was a great way to engage and communicate with their audiences.
But whilst many charities have embraced social media, there are still some that seem reluctant to take the plunge. This may be due to a variety of reasons, from lacking the time and resources to do so to being unconvinced of the overall benefits. But as a tool for communication, engagement, mobilising supporters, fundraising and information sharing, social media could have been invented for the third sector and here are ten key benefits for anyone working in a charity that is yet to be convinced.
1. Listen to your supporters. Where else would you get the opportunity to engage on such a one-to-one level with your key audiences. People talk all the time on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+. By having a presence on these sites a charity can learn what its supporters are saying and sharing about that charity and competing charities. That can then shape the nature of their social media correspondence and indeed can help their entire communications.
2. Drive traffic to your website. A charity’s website is its window to the world – a chance to capture attention, show what the charity does, engage and involve supporters and raise funds. Social media will drive traffic to a website more than any other tactic, giving more people the chance to see for themselves what a charity is about.
3. Help improve your online search results. Search remains the main way in which many people discover a charity and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) should be a key part of a charity’s digital communications strategy. An active presence on social media, sharing and distributing keyword rich content will improve a charity’s placing on Google and other search engines, ensuring that more people find it online.
4. Raise more money. A key strategic goal of all but a few charities is to raise funds in support of their service delivery. Convio recently audited 700 charities across the globe and 93.7 percent of those raised more online revenue in 2011 than 2010. Social media can drive visitors to an online donation page, directly via a request for funds or indirectly, when a user sees a trusted member of their network donating.
5. Inform about your work. Social media provides a platform on which supporters of charity can share and distribute messages and information to their personal networks – never has it been easier to share content about what a charity does. Literally at the click of a button, information can be shared with thousands of people and as it is coming from someone they know and trust, the message is all the more powerful.
6. Let your supporters spread the word about you. Building a relationship with a charity’s most passionate and influential supporters is made much easier using social media. Once those supporters have been engaged, and provided with the required information and tools, they are then able to promote a charity and in turn influence others to do the same.
7. Mobilise grassroots support. The real-time nature of social media makes it possible to mobilise grassroots support far quicker than could ever have been possible previously. A good example of this was after the London riots of summer 2011 – the very next morning thousands of supporters had been gathered to help the clean-up operation, all driven using Twitter and Facebook.
8. Have a two-way conversation. Providing a human face / voice is also made possible using social media. The chance to engage and talk directly with supporters encourages loyalty and engagement compared with previous ways of communication such as direct mail, which were one-way and static.
9. Gain new supporters. Social media is a powerful acquisition tool that allows a charity to swiftly gain new followers and supporters. These contacts can be added to a CRM system and communication with them can grow from there, using social media or another medium according to their preference.
10. Increase trust and loyalty. Ultimately, social media can increase trust and loyalty in a charity’s supporters by allowing them to share their voice and communicate directly. Social media is an open and honest way of communicating and can encourage a whole new way of thinking in a charity – if a Twitter account is set up to communicate in this way, why can’t a charity’s CEO take this on board when addressing other stakeholders?
Social media is a must for any charity that wants to raise funds, raise awareness and engage with its supporters and should be a central component of communications strategies right across the third sector.