SparkNotes: 5 Things to Know About Social Media This Year

January 31, 2012

Part of our SparkNotes blog series on social media.

1. No time like the present to revamp. 

The first couple months of a new year are a great time to take a closer look at social media strategy (or to create one). Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does social media play an appropriate and creative role in supporting my work?
  • Am I posting consistently?
  • Do my posts/tweets have interesting and relevant images?
  • Are they accessible to a wide and diverse audience?

If you answered "no" to any of these, your social media might not be as effective as it could be. Think about why you use social media and how it amplifies your voice and your mission. Here are some suggestions.

  • Think "value add." Your social media pages should not merely echo what your main website says. Instead, they should enhance your readers' experience and offer something unique and user-friendly.  SocialBrite has great tips for revamping your Facebook page.
  • Do more with less. Even a tiny team (of one) can use social media effectively to support its mission. There are several free dashboards to help you consolidate and manage your social media to-do list  -- for example, TweetDeck (which is what we use, and love), HootSuite, and Seesmic. You can schedule Facebook and Twitter posts in advance and keep track of your effectiveness.  They are also available for mobile so you can tweet, schedule, and track on the go.

2. Enage, engage, and engage some more.

Engaging your friends and followers is what it's all about. Unlike a website or even a blog, social media is specifically designed for conversation -- it works best when it's not just a "push out" vehicle but an interactive way to discuss your mission, work and ways to connect. A few tips:

  • Use your "real" voice(s). Just like real conversations, people using social media want to interact with other people, not automated robots. Let your personality show in your posts. Aim for an upbeat and personable tone and include humor, gentle snarkiness and pop culture references in moderation, as long as you maintain the integrity of your organization.
  • Ask, don't just tell.  As you sculpt your organization's voice, don't forget about your audience's knowledge and interests so you continue to draw them in (and not drive them away). Want interaction? Ask questions, and respond to the answers.  
  • Close the loop. When you ask for action, be sure to let folks know any results of that action--whether it's a changed policy or practice, or simply the numbers of people who took action.

3. No Wallflowers Allowed

Know this: very few organizations post too often, especially when getting started.  The more you post, the more people you are likely to reach. Don't worry too much about "audience fatigue," that's old-media thinking (as long as your posts are relevant).

Also, being a wallflower at the social media party does not work. Don't be afraid to reach out to organizations that are natural allies, and see if they have contacts to whom you can out as well to get more eyes on your posts.

Hint: once you’ve gotten your numbers up a little, it’s good to maintain a 2:1 ratio of followers/friends to those you follow and friend.

4. Make Lists

Twitter allows you to organize your followers in lists -- for example, by the type of content they post such as "nutrition news"; by type of organization, such as "child & youth focused"; or by a category like "our partners." This help you segment groups for targeted messages.

Be forewarned: the Twitterverse can see your lists and who is in them (so be nice).  Done right, lists signal that you know who people and organizations are and what they do. When you make a fellow organization feel recognized like that, it's likely they will return the favor.

5. Election Year Do's and Don'ts

It's an election year, so that means a lot of strong opinions (even more than usual) will start showing up on your channels. As a nonprofit, there are some limits to what you can legally post or share. To avoid crossing any legal lines, know the restrictions and keep a close eye on your tweets, posts, and responses. The Alliance for Justice and Nonprofit Vote are two great resources that offer free and low-cost advice to nonprofits.

In addition, we worked with partners and the Alliance for Justice to hold a webinar on what's legal and what's not in an election year, including social media. Here's the recording and super helpful slides.

Want to see us cover something in our SparkNotes? Send Alison your ideas!


Alison Beth Waldman is Editorial Assistant at SparkAction. Email her at alison[at]

Alison Beth Waldman