Social Media and Nonprofits: Extra Work or A New Way to Do Work?

Printer-friendly version

By Sean Coffey, Policy Specialist at Family Caregiver Alliance

Social media is quite the buzz in 2012, and many nonprofits may be wondering:
Is it worth the effort? Is it free? What are the benefits of creating a Facebook page?
As the administrator of Family Caregiver Alliance’s Facebook page, I’m going to share some of what we’ve learned about using Facebook, and I’ll also include some tips that I recently learned at a free class ("Top Ten Social Media Fundraising Tips") at the San Francisco Foundation Center.

To briefly answer the questions, yes, it is worth the effort, and no, it’s not free, in fact, it was described as “free like a puppy,” in a recent article in the Nonprofit Quarterly because it does take somebody’s time to do it well. The benefits of social media can include a broader base of support for your organization, which could include advocacy or financial support.

Our presenters in this class explained that online donations represented about 13% of the $300 billion given to nonprofits last year, and this is expected to grow by 30% per year, with an average online gift of about $90. According to Facebook’s own statistics, 50% of their active users log into Facebook everyday, and the average user has 130 friends.

Beyond advocacy and fundraising, social media also helps FCA to achieve our mission of providing resources for family caregivers who are navigating long-term care for a loved one. These resources include:

•Fact sheets on topics like “Caregiving with your Siblings,” or “Making End-of-Life Choices,”

•The Family Care Navigator that lists resources in each state;

Caregiver College videos, which are practical videos on some of the day-to-day activities of caregiving like transferring, handling behavior issues, and toileting.

•Our online support groups are a resource for people who want or need emotional support, but are unable to attend an in-person support group.

Through social media, we are able to reach a broader audience and connect them to all of these resources. For example, we recently posted an article about a wife’s experience as a caregiver for her husband with a brain tumor, and on our posting, we also included FCA’s fact sheet about brain tumors.

FCA launched its Facebook page several years ago, and I started administering the page this year. It’s a little frightening at first to think about creating content for an audience of 250 “fans.” However, the two presenters earlier this week suggest that you just need to “jump in,” and they’re right. We started by posting links when we put out a new issue of a newsletter or if we had a new fact sheet about caregiving.

As we became more comfortable, and began “liking” similar pages, we started “sharing” their posts if they were especially relevant to family caregivers. Or, a quick search of the news brings up the many issues, challenges, personal accounts and success that family caregivers embrace and can relate to every day. As your content improves, and as you invite people to your Facebook page (i.e. through your website, a tagline in your email, or a “connect with us on Facebook” in your newsletter), your number of fans will begin to grow.

Making it interactive

As you post to Facebook, you’ll see what people like or dislike (as rated by people “liking” your post, commenting on it, or sharing it). At the training this week, we learned that your fan’s level of engagement is important because it is part of the calculation of your “EdgeRank.”

An article on TechCrunch explains that on Facebook, only some of your posts will show up in your fan’s newsfeeds. Whether or not a story you post shows up in people’s news feed is dependent on your “EdgeRank” which is Facebook’s algorithm that decides whether or not to publish your post in the newsfeed of a fan or friend.

Facebook considers three things:

1) The relationship between the creator of the post and the person viewing it. For people with a strong relationship (defined as sending a lot of messages or viewing their page or profile in the past), a higher “score” will be created, thus increasing the likelihood a future post will appear in their newsfeed.

2) The level of engagement is also important. First, there’s the type of content you’re posting. Several experts suggest that videos, pictures, and links are rated higher than a status update. There’s also the level of engagement with the content you posted. For example, a comment on a post is more important than a “like.” If nobody “likes” or comments on your post, that means a lower score.

3) Time is also a factor- the older a post is, the lower the score will be, thus the lower likelihood that it would appear in a person’s newsfeed. As I learned at the training earlier this week, timing of posts is important, because you want your post to appear when people are on Facebook (i.e. in the morning, during lunch, early evening, and late at night).

Facebook can be an excellent channel to reach new supporters, inform your fans about resources offered by your nonprofit, and even help with fundraising.

Is your organization using social media? Please feel free to leave any tips, questions or comments you may have.

Here are some resources to get you started:

1) AARP Blog: How Social Media Can Help Caregivers

2) Social Media Today: Why Improving Your EdgeRank Score on Facebook Is Now More Important Than Ever

3) The Nonprofit Quarterly:Four Reasons Why NOT to Use Social Media and Why to Use It Anyway

4) EdgeRank: The Secret Sauce That Makes Facebook's News Feed Tick

5) Family Caregiver Alliance's Facebook page.


Excellent points. I am looking forward to taking a few minutes to review the resources you listed. One I have found useful is: Social Media for Social Good: A How to Guide for Nonprofits by Heather Mansfield. I find it especially challenging working with older adults. There are large differences in people's level of comfortable and access to thechnology.