Social media for charities – the basics

Phil Welsh, VAL's Marketing and Communications Manager, gives some basic tips for charities and community groups to get started with social media.

While so many of us are working from home it’s more important than ever that we do whatever we can to keep communicating, not only with each other but with the people we want to help.

This is an entry-level guide for voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) groups who want to use social media more. If you haven’t fully embraced social media then now is a good time. It’s free to use, so there’s no reason not to make the most of it.

What is social media?

Put simply, social media is a way for you to communicate directly with not just your existing donors, customers and supporters (and vice versa), but also to introduce new people to what you do. Unlike newsletters, which go out to a closed list, what you post on social media can be open to everyone.

Social media can help you to:

  • Drive donations by letting people know about your mission and message
  • Increase sales if you generate income through trading
  • Hear feedback – both positive and negative – from people about what you’re doing

Which social media platforms should I use?

There are lots of well-established social media platforms out there, with new ones popping up from time to time. Each platform has its own particular audience and features and you will need to work out which ones work best for you. As a starting point, there are four key platforms which voluntary organisations can make good use out of:

Facebook

Facebook is the most-used social media site in the world, with nearly 45 million UK users. Even people who don’t ‘do’ social media often have a Facebook account for keeping in touch with family and friends.

Facebook is great for reaching individuals who might want to support your cause. Your Facebook Page can act like a storefront for your organisation, where people can find out more about what you do and directly contact you.

In terms of content, visual posts perform very well on Facebook. Images and videos should be part of your regular content, and things like tutorials and ‘how to’ guides can work well. Facebook Live is also a great way to broadcast interesting things straight to your followers as you’re doing them.

Twitter

Twitter works a lot like a news feed, constantly updating and fast moving. Its unique feature is that it limits posts to 280 characters, forcing updates to be concise and snappy.

Twitter is a good place for reaching a wide audience –businesses, charities, celebrities, media outlets, government and public services can all be found on Twitter as well as millions of individual users. A retweet from a popular Twitter user could share your content with thousands of people.

As Twitter is such a fast-moving social channel with over 500 million tweets sent every day, images and GIFs perform well and help your content to stand out. Short, punchy posts that people can process quickly are also effective. Use #hashtags to join in on larger conversations (but don’t use more than three or they become less effective).

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is generally used as a B2B (business to business) platform. Professionals connect with other professionals both inside and outside of their industries and build a network.

You can create a LinkedIn Page for your organisation, but LinkedIn is more of a personal network than a business one. Make sure that you also have your own up-to-date personal account and use it with your Page to build new connections and find potential new customers or donors.

Blog posts, how-to-guides and interesting news articles work well on LinkedIn, especially so if they have a ‘professional’ angle or are industry-specific.

Instagram

Instagram is possibly the most straightforward of all the social networks. Do you have fun and engaging photos of what or your organisation does? Then post them on Instagram.

Instagram has some of the highest engagement rates of all of the social media platforms as people are more likely to hit the like button when they see an image that catches their eye. You can use hashtags to let more people find your content, and Instagram Stories create a sense of urgency by letting you post short videos that last only 24 hours.

General tips for posting

  • Have a plan: Whether this is a full social media strategy, a calendar of planned posts or just thinking ahead a few weeks, think about what you want to achieve from social media and plan your content accordingly.
  • Don’t be silent: There isn’t a ‘right number’ of posts to send per day – the exception is that posting every hour of every day will eventually annoy people into unfollowing. Post as often as you are able to, but at least once a day.
  • Monitor your posts: Look at the performance of your posts. Do more of what people engage with, and less of what they don’t. Every platform has a tool that tells you how your posts are performing so spend some time to learn what’s working for you and what isn’t.
  • Create actions: Your social posts should be a ‘hook’ to ask your followers to take some sort of action. That could be a link to donate or buy, a poll or question to answer, a video to watch, or a link to your website where you can tell them more about something. A post without an action could be a wasted opportunity.
  • Engage with people: You don’t have to just post. You can share others content if it’s relevant and get involved in conversations with real people who you might convert into fans.
  • Use scheduling tools: There are loads of tools you can use to schedule posts, like Buffer, Hootsuite and others. They usually have a free option – consider trying one to help you arrange your key posts for the week.

Get support from VAL

If you are a charity, community group, or social enterprise and you need additional support around marketing, we provide regular free training sessions.

We can also offer advice on issues that affect charities and social enterprises, from fundraising/ investment to proper governance and managing volunteers.
If you need more support with anything, you get can in touch via:

helpline@valonline.org.uk
0116 257 5050

Phil Welsh

Phil is VAL's Marketing and Communications Manager. He has over 10 years experience in content and digital marketing in the voluntary and private sectors. Contact him via phil.w@valonline.org.uk or on Twitter at @PhilWelsh_VAL