Guest Blog: Getting Your Nonprofit Online. With Oomph.

June 8, 2011 at 11:49 am 5 comments

Jeremy Bersin has worked as a mental health advocate since 2003 at both a local and national level.  He currently lives in Boston and works with in multiple roles.  Prior to, Jeremy was the Director of Marketing and Outreach for Energy Inside where he focused on utilizing social media.  If you’d like more insight, or would like to work with Jeremy, feel free to email him at  Note: I’d like to thank my friend and colleague, Ian Ryerson, for his invaluable input on this article.

The harsh reality: social media isn’t a “buzzword” anymore. It has infiltrated and disrupted the marketing space, enabling anyone with a message and the ability to type to find an online community they can engage with. This is not a passing phase – something to be ignored and thrown wayside while developing your nonprofit’s marketing and outreach strategy. Social media should be adapted as one of the key ways nonprofits grow their communities.

The Basics: Social Media Tips

As with any marketing effort, there is a certain way to go about using social media for your nonprofit. Whether you’re using Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. always be sure to stay transparent through everything. People enjoy knowing what’s happening on the “inside” of an organization, and will be more willing to trust you – as a nonprofit – if you’re upfront about what is happening behind the scenes. Do this within reason, so you don’t divulge confidential information.

While there are various “do’s” and “don’ts” to adhere to while creating, growing and maintaining your social media community, each platform has its own set of “rules”.


  • Pages vs. Groups: Often a tough question.  Facebook itself has done a great job outlining the key differences between the two.  My recommendation: create a Page.
  • Quality Over Quantity: Don’t go haywire with Facebook updates.  Individuals on Facebook don’t like to have their News Stream bombarded with status updates about one specific organization. Also be sure to make each post count – think through each update before hitting the “post” button!
  • Numbers Don’t Matter: Rather than trying to gather as many fans as possible for your page, focus on growing a community on your Facebook page.  Engage in dialogue with fans and be sure to answer questions/follow-up to comments whenever you can.
  • Be Kind – Tag Others: When you’re making a Facebook post that involves another brand/organization who has a Facebook page, be sure to tag them in the post! All you have to do is use the “@” sign, and then select the page name in the dropdown menu (i.e. typing @Cradles2Crayons will let you select their page from a list, thus automatically post your update to their Facebook page).  However, be sure not to tag individuals without their consent, as not everyone wants to be directly linked to your page.
  • Engage With Other Pages: Facebook has recently allowed users to use Facebook as the page they administer.  This is a great way to interact and create relationships with like-minded individuals and organizations on behalf of your own organization.  Learn how to do this here.  You can also have your Facebook page “favorite” other pages of interest.
    • While I was leading the marketing/social media efforts for a prior employer, I would go to the Facebook pages of other organizations and comment on their updates with thoughtful and relatable posts (i.e. not spam).  With this strategy, I was able to form multiple relationships and partnerships this way, with some rather large nonprofits.


  • Be Personable: Don’t setup an auto Direct Message (DM) that goes out for any new follower.  If you want to message them – privately or publicly – be sure to use their real name as opposed to their handle.  People notice these little details and trust Twitter users when they go out of their way to create more personal connections.
  • Pick Your Niche: Twitter users love following brands that own their space and educate the “Twitterverse”.   For example, if your nonprofit deals with the homeless setup a Google Alert for terms relevant to homelessness and keep up to date on the field.  When you find information that seems relevant, Tweet about it.
  • Follow Your Niche: Find other leaders in your field and begin following them.  Make sure to interact with them by mentioning them or Re-Tweeting (RT) messages they’ve posted that you feel deserves a larger audience.
  • Use The Right Tone: Never be afraid to use humor and wit when you Tweet.  People on Twitter often respond well to a sarcastic, yet still professional, tone.
  • The Legendary Hashtag: Hashtags – the # symbol – is widely used in Twitter.  As noted on Twitter’s Help Section, it’s used to mark words or topics in a Tweet, helping categorize messages.  For example, if you’re Tweeting about a clothing drive, you can include a hashtag such as: “@C2CBoston is holding a #clothingdrive this weekend. Bring on the shoe piles! #clothethehomeless” 

“Checking In”: Moving Beyond “Tweeting” and “Liking”

A few months ago on my personal blog I wrote about going beyond Facebook and Twitter, focusing on the platform Foursquare.  While it’s an application that can greatly help businesses and merchants, it also holds great value for nonprofits.

Although Foursquare is a pretty well known app for a lot of the “tech geeks” out there (or those living in larger cities), I’ve run into a lot of who don’t know what Foursquare is.  Foursquare can do a better job describing what they do, so here’s their description: 

“Foursquare is a location-based mobile platform that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. By “checking in” via a smartphone app or SMS, users share their location with friends while collecting points and virtual badges.” ~

Foursquare is a great way to attract new supporters – whether through your social media sites or actual advocates.  When someone checks-in to a venue, they have the choice to promote that check-in on their Facebook and/or Twitter page, which can bring you even more publicity.

After you create your Foursquare Venue or Brand (read about the differences here, and my recommendations here – scroll a little), start promoting it on Facebook and Twitter to grow your Foursquare community.

If you’ve set your nonprofit up as a venue, make sure you create an incentive for people to come visit.  This would work best if you are representing a homeless shelter, advocacy group who hosts events at your office, and any organization that typically has volunteers come work.  Also make sure you can offer an incentive for people to come back.  Make sure your supporters know that the Mayor of your venue will receive a free “x”.  As Foursquare explains, there are various types of specials: Mayor Special, Frequency Special, Count Special, etc. Obviously, the better the prize, the more enticed people are to come, check-in and volunteer.

On the flip side, if you set your organization up as a brand, you should push your team to create a custom page and badge.  People foam at the mouth for a new badge (trust me, I’m one of them).  I promise you, they’re much more likely to follow your brand and accomplish the tasks on your “To-Do” list if there is an incentive like a shiny, good-looking, new badge.

Even campaigns that are specific to the web can use Foursquare to create a strong community.  For example, a rather new technology startup I’m working with – 33needs – has created a Foursquare brand. Our mission at 33needs is crowdfund for startup companies focused on social impact.  We’re using Foursquare to help drive foot traffic to other businesses and merchants with a focus on positive social impact by adding “Tips” at these locations, create a community of socially conscious shoppers and eventually reward these shoppers with “badges”.  This will also help us at 33needs to connect with these great merchants and create more of a word-of-mouth marketing strategy for our website.  This idea can be replicated for any type of online campaign.

Tying It Together With Limited Resources

As with most nonprofits, you and your team probably don’t have the time or manpower to sit at your computer all day long to stare at your Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare pages.  If you have an employee dedicated to your social media outreach that’s great! For those of you who don’t here are some tips:

  • Set aside about 15-20 minutes, twice a day to catch up with your online community, respond to any questions or comments they have, post relevant news about your organization/news articles you’ve found, etc.  You really don’t have to sit at your computer all day long to be fully engaged with your online fans!
  • Try using applications such as HootSuite or TweetDeck, where you can post to your Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare accounts all at once.
  • Create Google Alerts to inform you whenever your organization is mentioned online (typically on blogs/news articles) so you can respond to the mention and send the link to your supporters.
  • Give some of your co-workers access to your social media account so it’s more of a team effort.  However, make sure everything is fully coordinated and that each employee has read and understands the social media strategy of your organization, and the tone you are trying to set online.   It’s great to get different perspectives.
  • Use social media analytics platforms like Crowdbooster or WildFire for deeper analysis of your social media presence and figure out what works/doesn’t work for your community.

The last tip I’ll leave you all with is the most important one.  Be sure to always…

Engage through transparency!


Entry filed under: Guest Blogger. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Erica Holthausen  |  June 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Great post — with some excellent tips for nonprofits (and anyone else) getting started with social media. I love the statement that it is not about the number of followers you have — it’s about the quality of the followers and fans and the quality of your engagement with those folks.

    One recommendation I would add is to make sure that you check your “@ messages” on twitter — that’s the best way to engage with your followers and it lets us know that there is someone real behind the handle — and that they read and care about what we say.

    • 2. cradlestocrayons  |  June 10, 2011 at 11:05 am

      Great recommendation Erica. We’ll be trying to do exactly that!

  • 3. John Haydon  |  June 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm


    Excellent job here!

    One of your most critical points here is “engage in dialogue with fans”. Orgs new to social media might be confused about what this means online, but they shouldn’t be. Engaging constituents in online dialogue is EXACTLY the same as engaging in dialogue offline. Dialogue helps the nonprofit truly understand what constituents care about. Dialogue helps the nonprofit understand how constituents talk about this cause (what words they use). Dialogue helps the nonprofit discover who their core fans are. And finally, because dialogue is real-time and two-way, nonprofits can put their supporters in a position of partner where org and fan fight together for whatever common interests they have.

    Seriously great post here!


    • 4. cradlestocrayons  |  June 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

      Great feedback John. By the way, I sat in on your Foursquare webinar on May 26. Great stuff. We’re new to the Foursquare game and still trying to figure out how we fit in. Your webinar was helpful. Thanks -Josh

  • 5. Jeremy Bersin  |  June 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Eria and John – thanks so much for the support and added points. I think both your points of view are great on this topic and love the extra tips! I’ll be sure to remember both of them when I talk about this topic further.


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