Howdy family! VISTA Jeffrey Helton here with another (hopefully informative!) blog post. Our topic for the week is social media, so let’s get that the pages of this Facebook turnin’:

Social media is a phrase that once made me squirm. Isn’t all media social? I wondered. This buzzword and the fact that it was touted by so many online “experts” left me cynical. I feared that I couldn’t get on the internet without someone selling me something or attempting to manipulate me. Where’s anti-social media when you need it? (Maybe that’s what Netflix is?)

But no matter your personal thoughts on social media, it’s sort of an inescapable part of modern life, at least for the time being. If you’re looking at this blog, you’re glancing at a basic form of social media. If you’ll at the top of Grow Appalachia’s running header, you’ll find a couple of links to our social media. You (or someone you know) is probably on Facebook, and no, there’s no need to call a support group. Other examples of social media outlets include Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and even YouTube. Although it’s fair to be skeptical of our reliance on these corporations, nothing’s perfect, and we’ve got to do the best that we can with what we’ve got.

The Truth About Social Media:

As I like to think about it, social media is really just a new set of tools—a way of connecting with others and sharing content digitally. This newfangled irritant is really just a variation of old-fashioned media, which is intended to make people aware of products. Many of the readers of this post come from a nonprofit background, a world where conventional “prodcts” aren’t being sold. For nonprofits, the products  can be a little more intangible. You might want your audience to donate to, buy from, volunteer for, or partner with you. (In the marketing world, these are called actions, and your websites and social media should be designed so that it’s easy for your audience to perform whatever actions best serve your goals and their own.)

The Many Benefits of Social Media:

  • Higher connectivity. In real life, networks that you make are often vague and can fade easily. On the internet, once someone’s liked your page, they’ll remain connected to you until they choose not to. There’ll be no forgetting about your nonprofit in the shuffle of day-to-day living. The fact that your connections are “archived” and preserved for you, means that you can maintain more of them than you normally could with a purely offline marketing campaign.
  • Direct Line of Communication. Sure, someone could always phone your organization, but the digital venue makes some folks feel more comfortable with connecting with the causes that they care about by writing them.  Since you can answer the questions of your fanbase on your own time, you can carefully craft the most appropriate answer. On Grow Appalachia, we get such an interesting smattering of messages from media companies looking to tell interesting film stories, folks interested in nearly-forgotten Appalachian artifacts, and many other characters.
  • Lower Marketing Costs. Just think about how much cheaper and more convenient it is to email your network than it would be to mail them. Technology generally lowers costs, and Hubspot research has shown that a little over an hour’s worth of work a day on social media can increase traffic to your website, where your audience can take action!
  • Brand Management. Before the popularity of social media, it was difficult for organizations to react quickly to public perceptions. With the advent of hashtags and Facebook fan pages, an organization can now participate in the ongoing conversation about its image. Complaints can be addressed. (If people are going to talk, you might as well talk back to ’em.) Heck, you can even simply ask open-ended questions to your fanbase and just right in with the dialogue, filled with smiley emoticons and whatever else comes naturally to you. People want to be engaged with people, not nameless organizations!

Other tips:

  • Use data! Facebook, for example, allows you to track the reach and effectiveness of your social media posts, and Google Analytics can allow you to track so much information on the demographics of folks who visit your website. You might start to notice that people who read your newsletter tend to donate or go to your site’s volunteer page more often. Using this information, you can work on a campaign to increase the reach of your newsletter. (See, again, how everything should tie back to actions.)
  • Use platforms like YouTube and Vine to tell your organization’s story and make it feel real. While YouTube might work better for longer, more fleshed-out, documentary-styled pieces, I personally think that Vine is neglected as a tool, especially for reaching out to young audiences. Vines, which are six second videos, are often entertaining, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be educational. The combination can be deadly–in the best way possible, of course.
  • Cultivate relationships even when you don’t need anything. Like I said earlier, people want to connect with other people, so your organization should be giving back to your audience. Respond to the comments of your fans. Ask everyone, “What’s your favorite heirloom variety?” People will really to chatting, and they’ll think of your organization in a positive light. Share with them stories from other organizations in your field, even if you don’t benefit directly from the sharing. (Although, in my opinion, everyone benefits from that kind of sharing.)

That’s all for now! Let me know in the comments if you have any feedback or other useful tips. 🙂 Have a good weekend.