Beyond Like and Follow: Engaging Nonprofit Supporters Through Social Media

January 17, 2013 by Maria De La Guardia

Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest are changing the face of supporter engagement and the road that leads to the most desirable form of participation—donations. So far, most nonprofits have responded to the challenge by including social media as just another outreach tool in a crowded kit that includes direct mail, PSAs, personal outreach, and more.

But social media isn't just another channel. It’s a full-fledged platform for audience engagement that facilitates increasing levels of participation over a period of time—that is, if organizations can move beyond the paradigm of “like,” “follow” “share” and “tweet,” and begin building a brand experience that creates a deeper connection that allows nonprofits to innovate around their audience. 

Filling in the Gaps

Many people in the nonprofit world have reasonable reservations about social media’s effectiveness in fundraising based on the performance they've seen so far. Social media is strongly associated with the “slacktivist,” a low-engagement supporter who does little more than like and share, but never donates—a stereotype that isn’t backed-up by the evidence. But like any donation outreach, it’s incumbent on the nonprofit, like any brand, to connect with the audience in ways that are meaningful to deepen the relationship. An effective engagement platform must build on the things social media does best, and vice-versa, while filling in the gaps where it's ineffective.  

Take Facebook, for example. Its strength is in content distribution—getting the word out, whether they’re messages, images or video. It leverages existing human networks exceptionally well, taking advantage of our natural desire to connect, contribute and influence one another.

Its weakness lies in offering only limited and non-commital support activities (i.e. sharing content) at the expense of more desirable ones (donating). It fails to cultivate a sense of cumulative participation, personal impact, or create a path from low to high engagement.

So, how can we overcome these limitations? 

Follow Your Role Models!

When it comes to nonprofits increasing awareness and adoption, why reinvent the wheel when you can just grease it? There are countless innovative examples from the  business world of companies that are successfully harnessing the strengths of existing social platforms we can learn from; companies who create value with brand experiences that are more meaningful and memorable to their audience. 

Here are just a few, with the behavioral science principles they’re leveraging. 

Connecting Around What We Love: Spotify

This hugely successful music service has managed to turn a somewhat individual activity (listening to music) into a shared, connected experience via tight integration with Facebook. Users see what their friends are listening to and can share tracks with any Facebook friend. Audience listening behavior is public in the form of wall posts—increasing Spotify’s brand awareness every time users play a song, and building a music community that identifies their love of music with the Spotify brand, who makes it all possible.

Nonprofits may find that by offering supporters easy ways and goal-relevant reasons to connect with each other, they can follow a similar path to increasing  participation and awareness to help advance their missions and make their brand synonymous with it at the same time.

Cultivating a Sense of Sustained Participation: Farmville

The 3-year-old farming simulation game has been particularly adept at using psychology to create long-term participation. Frequent, low-commitment actions by users unlock new levels and content—and the feeling of progress and a psychological reward that keeps players in a trajectory towards higher commitment.

The lesson for nonprofits? Engagement platforms that offer a sense of increasing commitment and impact build a relationship with supporters and can facilitate them coming back for more.

Gamification & Rewards: Foursquare

The location-based social networking site provides users with badges and other rewards for the completion of tasks. Badges are prized by the community, with 58% of users in one study reporting that they are "very likely" to complete a task (such as do a "check-in" at a location) in order to win a badge. 

The lesson? Badges and other forms of acknowledgement are an effective way to usher users through a path of engagement that can be tailored to an organization’s goals, much like digital acquisition marketers do to increase conversion.

Valuing Influence: Klout

The website Klout measures social media users' ability to influence their peers and awards them a score based on that influence. Its new Klout Perks program turns a high Klout score into rewards such as gift cards.

Nonprofits can easily find inspiration in the idea of valuing influence, providing users with easy tools to expand their influence, then rewarding high-influence supporters is a variety of ways.

Putting it all Together

One thing all these approaches have in common (with the possible exception of Spotify) is that the behaviors they use (great social experiences, gamification, rewards) aren't ends in and of themselves—they’re techniques designed create meaningful experiences and emotional connections with the brand in everyday activities, easing the path to adoption and conversion, creating deeper engagement, and making each brand synonymous with the activity they facilitate. These brand-loyal users are more likely to maintain their engagement over a long period of time and become brand evangelists, influencing their own peers to participate.

About Maria De La Guardia

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