The Catholic Fundraiser

Leveraging Social Media 101: Messaging to Trending

Posted by Amelia Burke-Garcia on 6/1/17 9:55 AM

Keyboard with social media icons

Globally there are more than one billion people on Facebook and YouTube is the second most used search engine in the world. In terms of U.S. users, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, as of August 2012, 69 percent of online adults in the USA use social networking sites.

Research shows that minorities use the popular social media platforms, i.e. Facebook, similarly to non-minority groups. In addition, while smartphone penetration is lower amongst minority populations, these groups are using advanced features on their basic mobile telephones to engage online. Some of these differences can be explained by the younger demographic age profile of ethnic minority groups.

Demystifying Social Media Myths.

When I work with clients or staff on social media projects, I always start by providing an overview of how to use social media for their work. But in order to do so, sometimes I need to focus on demystifying some social media myths.

  1. “Social media is cheap.” Again, at one point, social media had this halo of a “cheaper channel for message distribution.” In reality, it costs money to manage social media handles, and there’s such a thing as paid social media, i.e. social ads. Recently, this is becoming more common knowledge, and with Facebook’s shift towards a “pay to play” model, this is becoming more commonplace. The fact remains, social isn’t cheap or free. It costs money and requires an investment.

  2. “Let’s make a viral video!” This is one of my favorites! No one can just develop a video and make it go viral unless you have GREAT content. And babies and puppies. And cats. And Ryan Gosling. If you’ve got all of that, then maybe, just maybe, you will have an immediate viral video. This isn’t to say that there aren’t levers that can be pulled to get a video in front of more eyeballs, but it isn’t magic, and it does require planning and work.

  3. “I’ve started a Facebook page so, CHECK! I’ve got social media covered!” Another favorite! Social media is so much more than just Facebook and Twitter: There is so much more in social – outreach, listening, paid ads, etc. – so think about it more broadly and realize that “doing social media” doesn’t mean that you need to have a Facebook page. There are ways to engage that do not require these mainstream direct-to-consumer platforms – and that might make it easier to jump in and ultimately more successful in terms of your goals.

  4. “Let’s just delete all the negative comments so no one will see them.” Social media is meant to be transparent, and thinking you can just delete all the “bad stuff” won’t work in social. Think about it like a relationship - if you are committing to it, you are committing to all of it - the good, the bad and the “delete-worthy” stuff too. 

  5. “We’ve got to have this all figured out before we jump in.” Social media is constantly changing; new platforms are emerging, old ones fade away; populations migrate; devices and platforms change and evolve. The simple fact is that if you are waiting to start your social media until you understand it all and have it all figured it out, you’ll miss out on so much opportunity. Consider how to start slow and bite off small pieces until you are comfortable. 

Here are some guiding principles of social media usage.

Sometimes we have to make the hard choices or say the things that our clients or stakeholders do not want to hear. The principles below are factors that should guide your work when working with your internal and external stakeholders and constituents in order to drive recommendations when it comes to social media planning.

  • Know your social media pole position (of influence). The term, pole position, comes from motorsports and refers to the car sitting in the lead position. Google defines it as “a leading or dominant position.” For social media, this means understanding why consumers would want to come to you for information or resources. What puts you in a leadership position in your industry? You need to figure out the “why me?” and then have the answer to that question drive your content and engagement strategies. 

  • Humanize your brand. Remember social media is social. As such, think about the personality attributes of your brand. Social media requires dialogue and response, so how will you talk with your customers? How will you address conflict? How will you handle criticism? How will you handle compliments? All of these are connected to your brand’s voice, but this becomes exacerbated in social media because of the multidirectional nature of the medium.

  • Commit and organize. Assigning resources to social media is critical for success. Many companies assign a junior level person, an intern, or a part-time employee to do social media for their organization or project. Unfortunately, while this may seem like a budget-friendly approach, it won’t lead to success in the long run. Social media is 24/7, and appropriate resources need to be allocated to support a venture into social media. Keep in mind that just because a more junior person may use social media frequently doesn’t mean that they are properly equipped to manage social media on behalf of your brand or company. Consider social media as an extension of your public persona, and ensure that it has the senior-level leadership and guidance that any other marketing channel would require.

  • Remember “relationships 101.” Think about the first time you went out with your partner. Would you have gone out on a second date with that person if he/she had only talked about themselves? Probably not. This is the same in social media. It’s not about you - it’s about a dialogue. You earn the right to talk about yourself.

  • Fully utilize your assets. Social media extends the value of your assets. What I mean by that is you probably have a lot of content already – presentations, white papers, videos, audio clips, images, key points, data, graphs/charts, etc. – and before you set out to create all new social media content, look through your coffers to see what is already in existence that can be re-purposed and repackaged for use in social media. This helps to extend the value of what you have already invested into the development of that content. Additionally, look for that content that you created but never used. For instance, outtakes for that promo video you created, the pieces of an interview that got left on the cutting room floor, or behind the scenes footage from a photo shoot. All of this unused and unseen content is currency in social media and gives your following something special that no one else has seen. What a better way to say, “thank you!” for being a member of our community.

Time to get started with a social media strategy.

In order to get started in social media, you do not have to start a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Let me repeat that, you do not have to start a Facebook page or a Twitter account.

I detail out a few tactics below that may be ways for you and your organization to get started, without committing to a social media profile.

  • Listen and Learn. This is a “dipping your toe into the social media pool” approach. A place to get started. There are tools out there like Radian6, ViralHeat, and Google Alerts that will allow you to input taxonomies, and they will search online content for mentions of these terms and phrases. It’s a great way to understand what audiences are saying about a topic or product, what their pain points are, what they love about your product, and track trends over time.

  • Supplement traditional campaigns. While we are often hot to jump into social media, it is important to remember that traditional methods are still important. However, what is most important is to think about branding across the initiatives – social doesn’t live in a vacuum and should be built to be part of the overall campaign it is supporting.

  • Fundraise. Many of you are looking for ways to more efficiently and effectively fundraise for your organizations. Social media is one channel you might consider. Here are some things to consider if you want to use social media to support your fundraising goals.

    1. Tell your story. Similar to the point above, figure out how to humanize your issue, campaign, or initiative. Find stories that demonstrate the importance of the issue through the voices and stories of others. This puts a human face on issues that people may not be aware of and helps them understand why they should care.

    2. Have a call-to-action. If your goal is to generate donations, your social media content needs to tell people that. Make sure you are asking your social media constituents to do what you need them to do.

    3. Create urgency! The fact is that people are busy. Compounding this is the fact that there is a lot of content in social media that people are exposed to. You must create a reason for people to engage with you – and engage with you today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Make sure your social media content articulates why this issue should be important to them right now.

  • Extend value of real-life events. Brands in social media like Red Bull and Coke-a-Cola are all about the offline-online connection. They look at their real-life activities and projects and use those as fodder for social media content and discussion. Consider taking a page from their book and looking not just at your digital assets but your in-person, live events as opportunities to enhance your social media initiatives.

Social media always gives your non-profits challenges to overcome.

I have seen time and time again in my work that people/organizations/campaigns fail for a number of key reasons, like the ones below.

  • They are paralyzed by what they don’t know. They want to have everything figured out before they jump in instead of looking at social media as a platform for test and learn opportunities and taking advantage of them.

  • They lack appropriate buy-in. As a result, the necessary resources to successfully implement a social media plan are not allocated. This one is critical, so listen up. Never try to convince social media, and never try to slip social media into a plan without having full buy-in from all parties involved. The reason for this is that no matter how well you plan your social media, something inevitably will go wrong or something unexpected will happen, and when it does, if there has been no consensus built, then the risk of negative backlash will be much greater. If you build consensus, others around you will feel committed to make it work and will support a strong response strategy.

  • They avoid active participation. Social media is a commitment and requires active participation – both from the regular management of social handles to the active review of data to iterative campaign adjustments based on those data. It also should mean regular reporting and status updates to superiors, team members, clients, and other stakeholders. This helps with improving the campaign, staying abreast of metrics, and garnering continued buy-in. Without these, a campaign will languish, data becomes defunct, and social media will fail to achieve its goals.

Time for evaluation of your social media strategy.

Evaluating strategies to understand what works best should be part of every social media effort. Digital and social media offer the opportunity to gauge campaign efforts in real time and — unlike some offline tactics that require the campaign to conclude before examining the results — iterative campaign evaluation is an attainable and vital process. Evaluation could take many forms, such as performing real-time monitoring of a digital media buy campaign to optimize audience click-through-rates; tracking audience engagement rates to see what content resonates best; or surveying partners about their experience with a campaign to understand if it is meeting their goals. Setting up campaign goals and corresponding evaluation metrics will ensure strategic monitoring and tracking of campaign activities – and ultimately a successful outcome.

Make social media a part of what your nonprofit does.

In sum, many of us face challenges integrating new ideas into our organizations and initiatives - we need to figure out how to convey the need, the benefits of doing it, and the risks of not doing it. When it comes to social, it can be a challenge because people often may not understand it OR they think they understand it but don’t fully grasp all the opportunities. So, in conclusion, here are a couple of tips for making social media a part of what you do: 

  • Determine current barriers to entry & how to overcome them. Different industries and products face different challenges in social media. Some worry about the openness of the medium and negative chatter about their brand; others face issues with positive chatter when it involves making claims about a product that legally cannot be said. Ultimately, for your brand or campaign, you need review the current rules, regulations, and policies that apply to you and figure out how to work within them.

  • Confirm top-level buy-in & support for social media initiative. Social media should never be “convinced” or conducted “under-the-radar.” All parties who have a vested interest in social media should be involved in the decision to enter into it – or not. This becomes especially important when something goes wrong – and I do mean, “when” because inevitably, even with the best planning, something will go wrong. Having buy-in will ensure that those difficult situations are managed appropriately by all involved.  

  • Define marketing goals & establish a vision for social media’s role. Part of getting buy-in from others requires the clear definition of goals for your social media. Ask the big question – what does success look like to you in six months? Sometimes you’ll get a good response, but when there isn’t a clear answer, that’s when the fun starts! It’s your role as the social media manager to help work through the lack of clear guidelines around what a client or organization wants to achieve and help them figure out what is possible and what to expect.

Want to learn more about leveraging your social media? We developed an eBook — Turning Facebook Likes Into Donors and Dollars — to teach you how to turn your Facebook Audience and fans into lifelong donors and advocates.


Written by Amelia Burke-Garcia

Amelia Burke-Garcia is Westat’s Senior Director of Digital Media and Director of Westat’s Center for Digital Strategy and Research and has nearly 15 years of experience in digital, social, and mobile media. Currently she acts as Project Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, where she helps guide the Center’s strategic use of social and digital media to achieve their communication and behavior change goals including building a digital influencer program. She has a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and is working toward a Ph.D. in Communication at George Mason University.