ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Monday, June 25, 2018 - 9:09am

posted by
Danielle Connolly
Spring 2018 Alumna, ASU Master of Nonprofit Leadership & Management

In today’s day and age, it’s no longer a question of “Should we use social media?”, but rather “How can we use social media to achieve our mission?”. Organizations cannot afford to post randomly, without strategically thinking about what they post, where they post it, how or if they are engaging followers, and what they are aiming to achieve or gain from every post. To make matters trickier, many nonprofits do not have a social media team, or even a social media person. To get the most out of every post, there are some key components organizations should consider and implement. 

To whom are you speaking?

The first step would be to think before you post; whom are you trying to reach, and what are you trying to get out of them? If you are unclear on these questions, then you are posting blindly and will have no way to measure whether or not your time and energy spent on social media is paying off. Think of the target population, and then you can strategize on what kind of content that population will be interested in.

Social Media Capital

The next step in creating an effective social media strategy is to build your social media capital, or the, “social resources in an organization’s social media network that can be accumulated, mobilized, and expended to achieve organizational outcomes,” according to an article by Guo and Saxton. . Organizations need to do more than just collect mass followers, because while followers are important, the number of followers alone does not equate success. Remember, it has been shown that, “[w]hen stakeholders are engaged in social media platforms, they may be more likely to engage with the organization in other ways,” according to an article by Carboni and Maxwell . Organizations need to build and strengthen relationships with their followers through dialogue and interactions. These relationships can be strengthened, “through some combination of reciprocal following, through sharing and liking the users’ messages, and through mentioning and acknowledging the user in targeted social media messages." Your organization must then make a call to action to your followers. This is the “what now?” move for your organization by asking for what you need; donations, volunteers, resources, etc. Conversion is the quintessential reason for utilizing social media. 

Plan Ahead

Another important component of strategic social media usage is strategically thinking and planning what your organization will post, because random blind posting will not get the results you are looking for. This actually matters when it comes to stakeholder engagement because it has been shown that while photos receive more engagement than videos, external links, or plain text, and longer posts have more impact than shorter posts. Another thing to consider is balance. If someone feels bombarded by posts, or if your organization floods their timeline with posts, they are less likely to stay engaged and continue following you, according to Carboni and Maxwell.


Hashtags are an important and easy way to stay relevant and reach more than those who follow you. “Hashtags, short words or phrases that  follow  the  hash  or  pound  sign  (#),  such  as  #StopDiabetes,  #HIV,  or  #MarchforBabies,  are  used  on  social  media  platforms  to  brand  advocacy movements, archive messages for the movement, and allow those not personally connected to a user to see and comment on messages that use the hashtag,”  according to Saxton, Niyirora, Guo and Waters in "Advocating for Change." In a study it was shown that, “the hashtag measure is associated with significantly more retweets than when a hashtag is absent.” As with everything social media related, hashtags need to be strategically thought out because, “organizational messaging becomes more memorable and serves for better brand recognition when a hashtag is more specific, such as #FindaCure or #CancerSucks.” Find some hashtags that resonate for your organization and keep those as “always” hashtags. The “always” hashtags are ones that go on every post; these could include your organization’s name, the city you are located in, some of the resources you offer, or the demographic you serve, as well as what you are trying to accomplish within your organization. There should also be post specific hashtags that highlight what that specific post is discussing or showcasing. Research into the hashtags is necessary to make sure none of the hashtags are copyrighted or being used in a mocking or inappropriate manner. Hashtags should be revisited every so often to ensure that they are still being used in the proper manner, and if an inappropriate or mocking use starts, that hashtag should be dropped from your posts.

Track Your Metrics

One last thing your organization should consider is deciding how you are going to track and measure your social media usage to stick to only the relevant and successful posts. This is especially important if your organization does not have a social media person yet. Luckily, there’s an app for that. There are many online tools that your organization can utilize to easily track all of your social media through one application which minimizes time and effort spent on it. 

Social media is the future of advertising, and everyone is on it; even those in generations that are not typically deemed technologically adept. The idea is to start thinking about social media as strategically as you would more traditional marketing. Although social media is generally a cheaper more immediate way of marketing, there still needs to be a clear strategy on how to execute it to achieve your marketing goals.

Danielle Connolly is a graduate of the Arizona State University Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program. She completed her undergraduate studies at University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014 with a degree in Sociology. Passionate about opportunity youth, she is currently a career advisor at Arizona Center for Youth Resources in downtown Phoenix. Danielle plans to continue her career working with opportunity youth, as well as advocate against mass incarceration and for the rights of formerly incarcerated individuals. 

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