Social Media

Using Hashtags on Social Media: The How, When, and Why

Today’s post comes from my friend, Jennifer Wilder. Jen is a social media marketing pro, and a constant source of information and inspiration. She’s the first person I turn to when I have questions, and she even set me up on Smarterqueue last year, so that most of social media is automated.

Using hashtags is something I frequently talk to people about when they’re working on their social media strategy. Too many cause-focused organizations seem to leave them off completely, but they can be a great tool for helping new people find you. Otherwise, those already in your tribe will be the only ones to see your post . . . and still only a percentage of them. (Thanks, algorithms!)

So, do yourself a favor and read up on why hashtags should be a part of your social media strategy. This post is #allthethings when it comes to using hashtags, so be sure to bookmark it for referencing again later!

 Using Hashtags on Social Media: The How, When, and Why

Are hashtags a part of your social media strategy? Do you even know what a hashtag is? Hashtags are a means of finding conversations in social media around desired topics. They are keywords preceded by the hash (#) or pound mark. Within social media platforms, hashtags are clickable, so that you can find all posts that include the hashtag on which you clicked. 

These small indicators within your social posts can start conversations, attract customers or donors, and change public sentiment. Are they powerful tools? When used strategically, you better believe it.

 

The Power of Hashtags

We’ve all seen that picture of someone holding up a coffee cup in front of a clear blue sky accompanied by hashtags like: #love #coffee or even #instagram. How effective do you think those hashtags are in helping someone get discovered on social media? Here’s a hint: not at all. But there are hashtags that could be used with that picture that would drive engagement and possibly attract customers or donors

When we think of hashtag strategy, we most commonly think of Twitter and Instagram. Recently, though, LinkedIn increased their promotion of hashtag use on their platform by allowing users to search and follow hashtags through a feature called “Your Communities.” In addition, you can pin hashtags so that posts within that topic appear first in your LinkedIn feed. When searching hashtags, there is also a new discover feature that shows how many people are following that hashtag, as well as various features to dive deeper into insights surrounding searched hashtags.  

Another platform that is now embracing and promoting hashtag use is Pinterest, where up to 20 hashtags are allowed per pin.

Though the capability for using hashtags exists on Facebook, they are not recommended unless you are posting from an event with only the event hashtag so that the event organizers can find you and possibly reuse your post—taking into consideration that you must change your privacy settings to public for those specific posts.

The space in your social media posts is precious, so let’s use that space to find customers and donors. Here’s what you need to know about hashtags to enhance your posts, as well as search out potential supporters.

 How to Find Hashtags for Your Business

  • Create a list of keywords (or common words) associated with your organization and mission—these are the things that you want to be known for. Some examples include nonprofit, social enterprise, modern slavery, homelessness, or social impact. It’s likely those keywords are already being used as hashtags, so give them a search on Twitter or Instagram. You’ll want to scroll through each hashtag to determine if the conversation around each keyword is a conversation you want to enter.

  • Hashtags should not include spaces or punctuation. If you wish, you can camel capitalize—capitalizing the first letter of each word—a hashtag for easier reading, like this: #ThisIsCamelCaps

  • As you search keywords as hashtags, look to see what other hashtags people are using. Perhaps some of the keywords they’re using would better resonate with your potential customers, or should also be used by your organization.

  • Search for other people or other organizations that are like yours, in your industry, or that are the type of organization you want to become. Read through their social posts to find hashtags not already on your list.

  • Once you have a large list of hashtags, you’ll want to know a little bit about each. Search each hashtag on the respective platform noting how many posts are using that hashtag, and noting the types of images that are most popular. You will also want to pay attention to context. Does the hashtag mean what you think it means on the Internet? It might not.

  • When using hashtags for Instagram, be sure to use a variety of counts. Meaning, use a few hashtags that have 250,000 to 350,000 posts; use a few that have 100,000 to 250,000; use a few that have 50,000 to 100,000, and a few that are less than 50,000.

  • Broad subject keywords with 350,000+ posts are not going to get you seen by potential customers or donors. With that number of posts on a hashtag, the posts are coming so fast that your post will constantly be pushed down the feed, getting very little eyeballs on it. That’s why it’s best to use a variety of post counts on each hashtag, not using those over about 350,000. An example would be #event, which is extremely general and won’t help you gain any traction.

  • If you have a storefront, or if you are serving a particular region of the country, then you want to be sure to include hashtags that are location specific.

  • If you want to work with or get noticed by particular brands or organizations, use their personal hashtags. Many times organizations create their own that they use often within their social media, which you can likely find by viewing their Twitter or Instagram accounts. Since hashtags can’t be owned or sponsored by any company, you are free to use their hashtags to get their attention, or to align yourself with their message. Use this tactic mindfully—hitting their hashtag too often with irrelevant content is off-putting. A popular example of this is #EndItMovement, which is used by not only the End It Movement itself, but partners and people who are trying to raise the awareness of modern-day slavery.

  • If you choose to use the maximum number of hashtags allowed on Instagram—which is 30!—sprinkle in a few hashtags that are funny, or that share additional funny commentary about the image you’re posting. Going back to the picture of the coffee cup that I referenced, you could add the hashtag, #NeedISayMore, to show off your brand’s personality.

  • Using all 30 hashtags on Instagram may seem excessive if this is a new process to you, but you’re already doing the work of posting, so why not use the opportunity to be seen by more people?

  • Once you have a list of hashtags you want to use, you can rotate through them with each post. If you prefer, you could create a different, or customized, batch of hashtags for each day of the week that you’re posting. Use the notes feature on your smartphone to keep track of your hashtag list. Then copy/paste into the first comment on Instagram.

 How to Use Hashtags in Your Social Media Posts 

On Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, it’s more acceptable to use hashtags within the body of the post more so than it is on Instagram.

Just be sure to pay attention to hashtag limits on each platform.

  • For Instagram, 30 hashtags can be used for posts appearing in your feed.

  • For Twitter, there’s only a limit to how many characters you can tweet, which is now 280. However, a maximum of three hashtags is recommended, and can be used in the body of the copy or added to the end of the copy.

  • For Pinterest, 20 hashtags are allowed for each pin, though 10 is considered optimal. Frequent users of Pinterest use three to five per post.

  • For LinkedIn, there is no limit to the number of hashtags that can be used, but pay attention to relevance and aesthetic. You don’t want to make your reader weary with a large amount of hashtags. And please note: While editing articles is allowed on LinkedIn, editing or removing hashtags within a published article is not allowed.

    For Instagram Stories, there is a hashtag sticker that will accommodate one hashtag. Additional hashtags can be added as a text block. You can then reduce that text block down by pinching together your fingers until it is barely seen. Or you can color the block of hashtag copy as the same color as your background using the eyedropper tool in the bottom left while within the editing block of the hashtag copy. Or, you can reduce the hashtag block and hide it behind a block of copy that you do want people to read. This would be done so that the hashtags don’t distract from the photo, video, or other content you’re highlighting in the Story.

Additionally, it’s common practice on Instagram to add hashtags in the first comment. The reason many people do this is to keep their captions looking neat and tidy. Another option is to use one dot on a line for five lines in order to push the hashtags down, either far away from the caption if they add them there, or to push them down from being seen in the first comment.

This can make for a cleaner, neater post on Instagram. However, if you’re going to use the one-dot-per-line method of paragraph breaks on Instagram, you can create your post content in the notes feature on your smartphone, and then copy/paste to Instagram since there isn’t a paragraph break button on that platform, or hit the period key and then enter repeatedly to manually create breaks.

When using an event hashtag on Facebook, be sure your posts are set to “public” so that event organizers can view your posts and possibly reuse them on their brand’s social accounts.

 

How to Use Hashtags to Create Connections and Find Potential Customers and Donors

From your master list of hashtags, choose one to search and scroll through. As you find posts and images that interest you, leave a genuine comment on that post—preferably 8-10 words.

Be sure your comment adds value to the post. This means you shouldn’t just drop a heart emoji or say “Nice job!” It’s unlikely anyone will check out your account or interact much with you without any effort on your part. And for bonus points, ask a question in order to start a conversation.

Because Pinterest is a discovery/search engine (they do not consider themselves a social platform), engagement on pins is not weighted the same way as it is on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Meaning, it’s unlikely to produce a lot of results. Pinterest isn’t a place you go to in order to interact with people and have conversations.

Next, if you find a post within a hashtag search that is getting good engagement with many comments, dig deeper into who is leaving those comments. Click the username of the person or business leaving the comment, go to their account, find a picture within the last three or four posted to their account and leave them a genuine comment.

Likewise, you can go to the account of a similar organization to your own, find a recent post with good engagement (multiple comments), and click through to the accounts of people leaving comments on their post. Then, leave a genuine comment on one of their recent posts.

What you’re doing in all of these instances is connecting with people, nonprofits, and social enterprises who have liked something similar to your own business—so why wouldn’t they want to follow you too and eventually buy from you?

Helpful Tools

If you’re still struggling to come up with the right hashtags for your brand, or simply need more options, check out Hashtagify.me. This site allows you to type in a keyword search term, and give you related options that people are already using.

Additionally, if you’re looking to add some oomph to your Instagram strategy, I recommend PeopleMap, which lets you track influencers, create lists, evaluate campaign engagement, and more.

Finally, posting on Instagram can definitely eat away at the time in your day. If that’s an issue for you, consider trying out a social media scheduler like Hootsuite, Later, Planoly, Smarterqueue, or any number of other options.



For what some may think of as a throw-away or a random portion of a social media post, the hashtag can be quite powerful when content creators take the time to be intentional and strategic.  

Now that you have this power, what good are you going to do with it?

Jennifer Wilder is one smart cookie. If you like this post, you might like one of the previous guest posts she’s written for Signify:


 Jennifer Wilder

Jennifer Wilder is a social media professional who helps brands reach customers through online conversations. Over the last decade, she has worked with LifeWay Christian Resources, Leading The Way, The reThink Group/Orange, and The John Maxwell Company. Jen and her husband Nathan live in Kennesaw, Georgia, with their soon-to-be-Instagram-famous Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Copper.

Jennifer is available for freelance social media consulting and voiceover work.


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 These small indicators within your social posts can start conversations, attract customers or donors, and change public sentiment. Are they powerful tools? When used strategically, you better believe it.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media

We’re continuing our theme of content marketing for the month, and this week we’re focusing on one teensy, tiny thing (joking, it’s huge): social media! Love it or hate, it it’s here to stay! So, we might as well learn our way around it and benefit from it.

Social media marketing is a huge part of content marketing. Why? Because you can quickly and easily use social media platforms to advertise and share content to your target audiences.

Over 70% of Americans are using social media! Not to mention pretty much everywhere else in the world. These platforms are massive and they literally help you reach millions of people. This is where you need to be spreading your message and promoting your business or organization, and you need to do it right.

The content you share on social media has the ability to attract your target audience and turn them into loyal customers or supporters. That’s why this is so important. It’s also the perfect opportunity to interact with your audience, whether it’s answering questions, addressing concerns, or just showing your appreciation!

Listening to your audience and understanding what they like and need will help you create more engaging and effective social media content. In turn, you'll improve your content marketing strategies and grow your nonprofit or social enterprise. But how? Let’s break down social media content marketing and the components you need to maximize your business exposure, easily.

Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media

Your first step: conduct a content audit on all of your current social media platforms.

This is your starting point to building a better social media presence. You need to evaluate what you have already done, assess your strengths and your weaknesses, and determine how you can improve. A simple content audit will allow you to see what posts have performed best and what topics your audience likes most, eliminate posts that are outdated or no longer relevant, locate gaps in your content, and generate new ideas. The goal is to create better content and increase traffic.

This doesn’t have to take long, only an hour or so! It depends largely on how long your social history is, and how in-depth you’d like to go. Just sort through your social media profiles and evaluate what you’ve posted. Most social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, also have really helpful post and profile analytics, and data on business pages that you can take advantage of. These usually show you how posts are doing in terms of likes, reach, engagement, etc.

It’s also important to look at how often you are posting. If you have a social media profile linked on your website that you rarely if ever touch, it’s probably a good idea to remove it! You don’t necessarily have to delete it, but you don’t want to promote something if your last post was four months ago….or let’s be honest, four years ago. So, let it go!

Developing a simple content plan for your social media profiles will also save you time and stress.

After you conduct your audit, we also recommend starting some sort of spreadsheet for current and future social media posts, if you haven’t already. Or a calendar! Here’s a good example from Curata. This is a more broad, long-term plan setup for content ideas, but it’s still good starting point.

This will help keep you organized and serve as a great reference tool should you ever need to go back and quickly and easily find a post. To go more in depth, I recommend creating a spreadsheet for each platform and then listing the date of the post, the content, and any links or outside sources you included. It doesn’t have to be super complicated, however, you can also add analytics later such as how many people were reached, the number of likes, etc. Knowing any of this information will make future audits easier, too!

Laying all your content out in a spreadsheet will help you see what items, events, holidays, etc., your organization needs to promote at a glance. Then you can fill in any gaps with more day-to-day, behind the scenes, or fun posts that also fit with your brand. Here’s another simple example of an Instagram plan for a service-based business.

To help develop your plan, ask yourself a few questions. What are your goals? Is it to get the viewer to visit your website? Do you want to gain more email subscribers? Do you need more donations, or more sales? What do you want the overall tone of your profile to be? Funny and lighthearted? Serious and issue-oriented? What kind of content does your audience want? Is it mainly photos, text, or videos (I’d definitely recommend using them all.)?

These questions will also help you generate content ideas. Figure out the answers and let that drive your content creation. Brainstorm ideas and get them in writing, then develop them further.

If you’re still stuck on what kind of content to post, here are some ideas:

  • Guest takeovers: Have someone on your staff or that you know talk about a relevant topic to your business/organization, something they are an expert in, or if they are an influencer, they can draw new fans to you with their perspective on your work.
  • How-to posts: Share helpful tips and advice with your audience.
  • Behind-the-scenes: Give your audience a look into the background of your business or nonprofit. This makes you more personable and approachable, too!
  • Do a Q&A session live on Facebook, Twitter, or on an Instagram Story. Be sure to engage with audience!
  • Create visuals like infographics to demonstrate how your business or nonprofit is making a change. Quotes are always popular, too.
  • Video is enormously popular right now, whether it’s live or recorded. Talk about your mission, show off your work, introduce your team, promote your events...the possibilities are endless!
  • Reuse and recycle: Are there previous pieces of content like blogs, videos, interviews, podcasts, etc., that you haven’t promoted in a long time? Or maybe they only lived on your website and never made it to social? See what you already have available that should still the light of day again.
  • Conduct a poll: This is another great way to interact with your audience and get their feedback. Facebook and Instagram Stories offer built-in polls you can use, making it super easy.
  • Show your viewers what a day in the life looks like for you or for another key member of your nonprofit or social enterprise. You can do this via photos, video, or story!
  • Share your favorites: This could include books, podcasts, movies, products, another business...anything you think your audience will like or benefit from! Give some recommendations!

It’s a good idea to mix evergreen and timely content. Evergreen content is content that stays fresh and relevant for a long period of time. Like an evergreen tree, it never dies. Timely content is content revolved around more short-term situations that won’t be relevant in a few months. For example, a holiday, event, fundraiser, promotion, etc., would all be considered timely content.

Both types of content are important. Timely content shows what you are actively doing and evergreen content will always be useful. You can continue to repost and repurpose it. A good rule of thumb here is the 80/20 rule. Eighty of your content is evergreen, 20% is timely.

Speaking of time...

Consistency is key in social media content.

You have to make sure you can stay consistent in developing and putting out content on social media. If you don’t, people will forget you or won’t even bother following you. You have to stay on their minds and in their feeds.

I know this may seem daunting and overwhelming—there are so many platforms to keep up with! However, I think it’s better to consistently keep up with just a few, strong platforms than to try to keep up with all of them, spreading yourself too thin, and then end up neglecting some. So, pick a few that work for you and your audience and make them your babies.

The most used social media sites right now are Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. These are the four I would recommend keeping up with and building a presence on. Familiarize yourself with these platforms and what they can do for you and your business. Here’s a quick guide.

You also need to determine where your specific target audience hangs out the most, though. That may differ from business to business. Try to see where your audience congregates and then make those platforms your top priority.

In terms of how many times a day or week you should post and when, this also varies by platform.

 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, posting on Facebook once or twice a day, monitoring Twitter all day, and spending time each day on LinkedIn is the best.

Studies also show that at a minimum you should post three times a week to Facebook. Once a day is optimal, but you can build. Three times a day on Twitter is the minimum, 15 is optimal, and 30 is maximum. You want to post about three pins a day to Pinterest, twice to once a week on LinkedIn, and post once to three times a day on Instagram. Again, you can always start at the minimum and build up from there once you get the hang of it. Find what works for you!

As far as times of day goes, here is a good article on the best days and times to post to each social media site. I would also highly recommend setting up a social media calendar or using a scheduling tool like Buffer, Smarterqueue, or Hootsuite.

These tools will make your life so much easier. You just write your social media post, add an image or video, schedule a day and time, assign it to a profile, and you’re done! No more worries, it’ll just automatically post to your profile when you scheduled it to. Here’s more on that.

See, social media isn’t so scary anymore, is it? You just have to determine your audience, find what works best for the both of you, and then get organized. Once you start brainstorming and getting the hang of things, you’ll be surprised how quickly ideas flow!

But, again, the point here isn’t to overwhelm you. It’s to help you evaluate what you’ve done so far, make a plan for the future, and start posting great content consistently. Your consistency may be slow right now, and that’s fine. But creating a schedule and plan to follow will help you and your followers.

Social media content marketing: check. Come back next week to learn more about maximizing your blog!

 

Read the other posts in this series:



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Building Better Content: How to Improve on Social Media

Megan Westbrook

Megan Westbrook holds a B.A. in journalism with a focus in public relations and a minor in Spanish from Georgia State University. An aspiring writer, her interests reside in blogging, social media, content creation, design, and photography. She is also a passionate social justice advocate and interested in nonprofit or cause-focused work. Megan is currently a receptionist at Servcorp in Atlanta, Georgia. 


How Screenwriting Can Help You Better Communicate Your Brand’s Story

Today's post is by my friend and former co-worker, Hudson Phillips. Though he's continuing our series on content marketing, he's bringing us a whole, new slant on the topic that you might not have heard before. You see, Hudson's a filmmaker.

While you may not be making movies about your nonprofit or social enterprise anytime soon, you do need to learn to tell the story of your organization in a compelling manner. And a great way to share your story isn't just once a year at a big, annual event. It's over and over again, in small ways, on your website, blog, emails, and social media. This is the cornerstone of your content marketing, and the thing that makes you utterly unique.

So, grab some popcorn and chocolate covered almonds (or substitute your personal fav), and learn to how screenwriting can help you better communicate your brand's story. 

 How Screenwriting Can Help You Better Communicate Your Brand’s Story

When we get cut off in traffic and storm into work ready to complain about it, we become expert storytellers. We establish the setting, we build the tension, and we arrive at the resolution. So when it comes to telling the story of our brand, why does it get so complicated?

The problem, I think, lies in knowing TOO MUCH. The more details that are swirling around in your head, the more difficult it becomes to hone in on the most important parts of your story. When telling your cut-off-in-traffic epic, do you go into the details of what color the “villain’s” car was? Do you go into your “back story” about styling your hair differently that morning? No. Because you have a point to get across (probably something like, “Can you believe that guy!”) and only the details that help further that point matter.

I wear a lot of hats between a marketing day job, a screenwriting gig by night, and running my own writing organization. But what surprises and thrills me is how often these worlds cross over. All of the above jobs require storytelling, and one of the greatest things I did as a marketer was start to apply my knowledge as a screenwriter.

The one key skill of a screenwriter over, say, a novelist, is screenwriters have to be brief. While a novelist can tell a story over hundreds of pages and a dozen hours, screenwriters have about an hour and a half (or 100 pages of script) to tell a full story. This requires some tips and tricks to stay on task. We don’t have the time or space to veer off into tangents.

That’s why when I sit down to write a script, I start with a logline. A logline is one or two sentences that sum up your story. Think of it as how you would quickly describe a movie you just saw to a friend.

The point of a logline is to better understand the story you want to tell. It becomes your story compass. When you start to get bogged down in all the details, your logline is what helps you find “north.”

A great logline covers three things: WHO the story is about, what their GOAL is, and what OBSTACLES they face along the way.

For instance, the logline for the film Jurassic Park might be: “A rag-tag group of scientists struggle to escape a remote island park whose main attractions—genetically restored dinosaurs—have been set loose by a power failure.”

For Indiana Jones, the logline could be: “A swashbuckling archeologist seeks to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can use its supernatural power to take over the world.”

You may have a tough time translating the word “swashbuckling” to your own company’s logline. I get it. So how do you apply this to your own organization? Start by asking three questions:

 

1. WHO is your story about?

The hero of your story is not you—it’s your clients, customers, or donors. They are the ones on a journey, and it’s your job to help them realize their goal. (And hopefully you’ve got the expertise because you’ve been on the journey, survived, and come back to tell about it.) Really try to hone in on your target audience and make it personal and unique. (Hint: your hero is not “everyone”—not even “everyone with money”). Think back to when you were at their stage in the journey and empathize with that moment to best understand them.

For my writing organization, ScriptBlast, it’s not just an organization for writers, it’s an organization for struggling writers who are learning how to navigate the rollercoaster of rejection and failure that all writers face. And I can best understand where these writers are coming from because I’ve been there, too.

 

2. What is their GOAL?

What do your donors/customers/clients want? Where do they want to be five years from now? What do their “before” and “after” pictures look like? Hopefully your organization has a clear path of getting your clients to their goal. (If not, you might want to add that service!)

The goal for any amateur writer is to become a professional writer. The problem is, unfortunately, most amateurs give up after their first taste of rejection! ScriptBlast exists in order to help writers get over these bumps through empathy, encouragement, and resources to help them a long the way.

3. What are the OBSTACLES standing in their way?

What is the biggest struggle for your audience? What’s getting in the way of their goals? How are you helping them overcome it? These are the kinds of answers that come only from experience. What expertise do you offer and how can you empathize with them?

At ScriptBlast, we recognize that failure and rejection are a regular part of a writer’s life. They get bad feedback, they get turned down by an agent or a manger, they have their film deal fall through, maybe they even have their movie made, but it turns out terribly and not what they envisioned. The obstacles are never-ending for a writer and if they don’t learn how to navigate it early on, they’ll burn out quickly.

So . . . the logline for ScriptBlast might be: We give struggling screenwriters the motivation and resources they need to become professional, working writers as they face the emotional ups and downs of failure and rejection.

Okay, now that you know how to create a compelling logline, what exactly do you do with it? Do you just post it above your desk and hope for the best, or is it something you can actually use in your daily grind?

Here are three, practical uses:

1. A logline gives you a clear path for your website.

Struggling with writing marketing copy for your landing page or home page? Cut and paste your logline! It's a perfect hook that tells your audience exactly what you do and what problem you can help them solve.

2. A logline gives you a checklist for social media.

When you’re creating weekly content like a blog or social media posts, your logline acts as a guide. Before scheduling out your posts, you can ask yourself “does this support my logline or take away from it?” A logline helps keep all of your content focused and your messaging clear.

3. A logline gives you an elevator pitch for investors.

You’re probably already familiar with the term elevator pitch—reducing the mission of your company to a short enough time-span that it can be explained in a brief, elevator ride. A logline gives you a script for your elevator pitch. Memorize it. Have it ready to go next time you happen upon an investor or potential client/customer/donor and need to get your story across before the instrumental version of The Girl from Ipanema finishes.

Now, take a moment to write your own logline. I’d love to see examples in the comments below!

 

Read the other posts in this series:


 Hudson Phillips of ScriptBlast

Hudson Phillips is a designer, screenwriter, and producer living in Atlanta, Ga. His first produced feature film, This World Alone, will be released in 2018. As founder of the organization ScriptBlast, he cultivates community and creates resources to help screenwriters navigate their careers. He also produces and co-hosts the podcast Four Friends Fight About Film.

ScriptBlast.com

Facebook.com/groups/ScriptBlast

@hudsonphillips



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 When we get cut off in traffic and storm into work ready to complain about it, we become expert storytellers. So when it comes to telling the story of our brand, why does it get so complicated?

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Company's Social Media

Social media is expanding faster than most of us can keep up with it. And just when we feel comfortable with a platform, it seems like we’re presented with a change of some kind. For example, Instagram introduces a new element to their Stories feature every month. And Twitter recently changed its policy and guidelines. Plus, Facebook has already made three, big algorithm changes this year.

Around every corner is a new evolution in social media. As nonprofits and social enterprises, it’s crucial that we maintain an online presence. So, how do we keep up?

Social media allows us to connect with wider audiences, and help us ultimately establish brand awareness and brand loyalty. According the New York Times Business section, “an estimated 81% of Americans have a social media account.” In fact, Facebook is quickly closing in on the two billion (with a B!) user mark. Instagram has 800 million monthly active users, and Twitter has 330 million monthly active users.

These are impressive numbers, but their implications, for our social enterprises and nonprofits especially, should spring us into action! Everyone is looking to connect with something, which is essential to being human. And everyone is also looking for a cause!

 Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Company's Social Media

You’re cause might just be their life’s calling, but if they’re knocking and you’re not there to answer, how will they connect with you?

It’s intimidating, yet inevitable—to communicate the mission and heartbeat of your organization, you must utilize social media.

Sree Sreenivasan of the New York Times says, “LinkedIn works best when you use it as a career management tool and not just for job hunting.” We have to treat our social media accounts in the same way. They are a year-round tool that builds a community of followers, not just a launching pad for campaign and fundraising season. They are a field that requires cultivation. If we are committed (AHHH! We said the word!) and faithful over time, our use of social media platforms will yield fruit and growth.

So without further ado, let’s dive into some tips that will help your company improve at engaging with social media.

Technical and Practical Advice for Your Social Media

Before we look to specific examples of organizations that utilize social media effectively, let’s think of some practical steps to improve our social media image:

Practice brevity. Keep it simple.

Too much content can overwhelm users. To connect with your audience, be sweet, simple, and to the point with your words. Because posts like this are shorter, it requires more consistency in the amount of times you post weekly, monthly, etc. By having less written content in each individual posts, but posting more frequently over time, you will slowly and steadily build a following and connect your audience to the heart of your mission.

A nice rule of thumb is to keep each post at a one to two sentences max for Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn. However, each audience is different, and you can test different lengths to see what your fans like and interact with most.

There are definitely times when longer posts are needed. Or if, for example, your brand revolves around a person, your tribe may be interested in reading longer thoughts.  Instagram allows a lot more text, and people have found success with both short and long posts, so again, experiment! Or at least feel free to vary it as needed, depending on the content.

Hashtags are okay, but don’t use too many! We recommend two for Twitter, but no more than three on occasion. Use hashtags that highlight your brand, attract your tribe, or direct users specifically to the content they are looking for. For example, if your Tweet is about #fundraising, use that, but feel the freedom for your hashtags to vary with content. You can also identify more hashtags using websites like Hashtagify.me. You may even want to create a list of hashtags that work best, and swap them out regularly. (You'll see that we do that on our Twitter account.)

For Instagram, they’ll let you use up to 30 hashtags! Because there is more “room” on Instagram, you can certainly use more here, which will allow you to attract more people at once. You can now also use and search hashtags in Instagram Stories.

And though you can use hashtags for Facebook and LinkedIn, it’s not necessary.

 

Consistency and Frequency

Day to day and week to week, try to find a consistent time that you can post—and stick to that! It can be useful to post during peak times in social media use. Usually there’s a peak from noon to 1:00 p.m. during lunch hours, and another peak posting time at from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. at dinner time. You might look to tools like Hootsuite or SmarterQue to help you schedule postings.

It’s good to find such general rules of time, but they aren’t be-all-end-all guidelines! Have flexibility in your schedule, periodically review it, and be willing to change your patterns to fit your audience. Using business analytics through Google analytics, Facebook analytics and insights, and tools like Hootsuite to track the viewing patterns of your audience. Look at when user activity is the highest, and then cater to those needs.

It can be additionally challenging to discover what frequency should look like for your company—whether that’s twice a week or twice a day find the perfect balance. A quick Google search will give you a lot of answers, but there really is no substitute for experimenting and trial and error. If you’re interacting with Millennials constantly, it might be that more frequent posting is necessary, however, if you targets primarily an older crowd, less postings may be best.

First and foremost, we recommend finding a consistency that you can actually execute, and then building on that along the way. It’s more important to first create the habit rather than getting behind and ditching your plan. For example, a newsletter should go out at least quarterly, a blog post should go up at least monthly, and social media should post at least once per week.

This isn’t ideal, it’s a bare minimum. But if this is all you can do to start—just start. Then form the habit, and create a plan to post more frequently. But if you’re fans, followers, and supporters never hear from you...they will hear from someone else.

Developing an Aesthetic for Your Brand

It may sound cliche, but to ensure that we’re developing a brand image for our social enterprise or nonprofit, it’s necessary that we develop an unchanging and balanced aesthetic. This means that your posts should always look like they came from your organization. It's often helpful to create templates through programs like Canva or Adobe Spark that you can use again and again. (<-- They’re free and easy to use!)

Through the use of similar colors, fonts, and symbols in your graphics, people will start to develop a sense of what is familiar, and yes, even comfortable with your organization.

 

Try Bit.ly

Bit.ly is a website that allows users to create short, trackable links that connect to specific content on your website. (Hint: we use Bit.ly links on social media to track when our blog posts are clicked from other platforms.)

Rather than using super long links that use up half of the real estate on your social media post, use a Bit.ly link—they’re concise and even customizable. Plus, they’re much easier on the eyes! Who wants to look at a social media post that’s mostly a link? Answer: no one.

And not only can you shorten the links to content on your website like blogs, contact pages, social media, you’re also able to track the audience engagement through these links. Tools like Google Analytics are always more reliable, but for quick stats at a glance, this is a simple option.

An Expert Social Media Example

No matter who you are, it’s important to look to examples of companies that are at least one step ahead of you. If you want to get to the place where you're one step ahead as well, surround yourselves with examples of companies more successful than you.

Pastor Andy Stanley, who is widely known for his communication and leadership skills, says, “You are not the smartest person in your organization. You’re just the leader. If you are the smartest person in your organization, you are not a very good leader.” Always look for examples of organizations that seemingly “have it all together” or whom you admire.

And while you may be at a small organization looking to a large or popular organization for inspiration, don’t feel like you have to imitate them exactly. Did TOMS, Habitat for Humanity, The Salvation Army, Project 7, Warby Parker, or the American Cancer Society come to mind?

They may seem to have oodles of manpower, limitless resources, and countless hours of experience, but remember that those organizations started with SMALL means and HUGE dreams. It’s probably a better use of your time to look at a successful company that projects a great online and offline reputation, but is just a little bigger than you. What are they doing on social media that you can do?

Charity: Water is constantly growing and recognized in its uncanny ability to utilize social media platforms and effectively connect with its users. Scott Harrison started Charity: Water in 2006, astounded by the fact that 1 in 10 people lack access to clean water.

They may seem like a huge organization, but they don’t actually have an enormous staff. However, they are known for being brilliant online storytellers.

Through creative engagement on social media, Charity: Water has provided 8 million people around the world access to clean water since their launch! According to CNBC, Charity: Water has funded, “30,000 water projects in 26 countries across the world. Over one million people have donated more than $300 million to its cause.”

So then, how did Harrison do it? There’s many moving parts, but arguably Charity: Water has some of the most effective marketing that a company has to offer—and its strategy is simple: present the problem and provide a simple solution.

1. At Charity: Water, all they ask for is a penny.

Let’s be honest—the world has commitment issues. It’s not easy to get people to commit to relationships, and it’s even harder to contribute our hard-earned money toward campaigns we barely know about. However, here’s the beauty in this example: It’s okay to start small!

The Charity: Water website states, “Every single penny will help bring clean water to communities in need.” In a recent #WorldWaterDay campaign, Charity: water asked children to donate their allowance, or savings, of $8.15. Not only was this a small, manageable, and simple amount, but it also allowed for deep interaction and audience participation. It’s communicating the fact that yes even kids can change the world and the world’s water crisis!

 

2. Their audience is involved.

In line with keeping its mission simple, Charity: Water makes sure that its audience is always engaged. However, it goes one step further. They also make sure that the audience is involved.

Involvement is how we generate deep bonds and ties with our tribe, and ultimately how we develop brand loyalty. Charity: Water’s campaigns are designed for the everyman—and that’s incredible. Often it’s hard to feel invested in an organization when it’s goals feel too lofty.

Under it’s fundraising page you’ll find, “Start Your Campaign.” Every campaign at Charity: Water is for and by the people—that’s powerful. Sometimes the best step in our next campaign is to simply ask, “How we can involve our audience?”

By engaging our audiences and providing them with tangible opportunities to participate in our mission and campaigns, we will build a brand that people not only feel like they can connect with, but rather be a part of.

 

3. Charity: Water uses local partners.

They have developed an extensive portfolio of partners. We might overlook the importance of our partners, clients, or business partners (you name it), however, there is power in association.

By associating ourselves with other companies, we can display a history of our work, our credibility, and our accolades. Never undermine the importance of friendships, partnerships, sponsors, and connections. We are all always just one step away from making a connection with a new client, bridging gaps in communication, or introducing someone to our products or services. Rely on close friendships, clients, key stakeholders, and other partners to bridge those gaps. You just never know who knows who!

 

4. They have consistency in social media and brand image.

We mentioned this under a previous section, however, we’ll drill it again here. Charity: Water has developed powerful imagery that beautifully and effectively communicates its mission.

A yellow water jug, common to poor areas for carrying water, symbolizes the mission of the company: clean water. This bright jug and the use of vibrant colors in general are paired with hand-written text and undersaturated hues with an abundance of blues.

People now automatically associate them with that yellow jerrycan (water jug). Sitting at 331,000 likes on Facebook and 1.5 million followers on Twitter, we’d say Charity: Water is doing something right!

 

So then, let’s start small with these simple, practical steps. As you work on it, you’ll develop your brand image, frequency, and consistency. It doesn’t have to be perfect to start, but you do need to start somewhere.

Look at where you have capability and resources, and jump in. Evaluate brands that inspire you to improve.

And just remember that the first word is social media is still "social." You need to be interacting and engaging with those who love your organization and your cause. Listen to your fans and see what they like. Ask them questions. Show them the perfect and the imperfection of your brand. But you have to talk to them to understand them. And when you start to do that, things get a whole lot easier.

Have any wins on how you improved your own social media strategy? Tell us in the comments!

 

Read the other posts in this series:



 Around every corner is a new evolution in social media. As nonprofits and social enterprises, it’s crucial that we  maintain an online presence . So, how do we keep up?

Michael Banks

Michael Griffith Banks is a fourth-year Public Relations Major at the University of Georgia with a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, most recently serving as an Orientation Leader for the University.


How to Max Out Meaningful Media Relationships

Me: “Yeahhh, I’ll take the McGriddle combo meal…”

“Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: “Anything else for you today, sir?”

Me: “Oh right, yeah, about that. I have a HUGE favor to ask. I kind of need to borrow your car. Is that okay?"

“Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: "Umm...I’m sorry sir, but we just met."

Me: "Yeah but we really jived! There was energy between us! Didn't you feel it? Please can I borrow your car?"

“No-longer-so-Courteous” McDonald’s Cashier: “Sir, I don’t think that’s on the menu…”

Our reputation often determines the quality of our relationships. In a similar vein, the quality of our relationships determines the favor we might receive from that individual.  

If you try to borrow someone’s car—like in the analogy above—you’ll most likely be stiff-armed, ridiculed, or greeted by a befuddled expression. I didn’t actually try to borrow the cashier’s car, but if I had, I can imagine the trouble that would ensue.

Just like our friendships, we must establish personal credibility with the media. Personal credibility showcases the quality of our work and enables us to establish relationships with media outlets and other syndicates. Media relationships can be divided into two categories: Media Outreach and Media Relations.

Media Outreach entails reaching out to journalists and publications in order to pitch content to them that increases the buzz around your nonprofit or social enterprise. Media Relations is the practice of maintaining relationships with businesses partnerships and journalists to promote your organization.

How to Max Out Meaningful Media Relationships

First let’s analyze how to reach out to the media.

Reach Out: Writing a Pitch, Connect with Journalists

Reaching out to journalists and other publications can get messy quick. There are a number of keystone websites like Just Reach Out that you can use to find journalists in your area. However, what we want to focus on in this blog post is not where to connect with the media, but rather, how to connect with them.

To ensure that we aren’t ignored, blocked, or missed, we have to strip down our message to its most simplified version. Remember, brevity.

Keep. It. Simple.

Edsger Dijkstra says, "Aim for brevity while avoiding jargon.” Take it from this Dutch systems scientist, programmer, software engineer (AKA one of the farthest things from a PR practitioner or marketing guru): to communicate effectively, don’t assume that the audience you’re in communication with understands the jargon of your field or for that matter, even the field itself.

As individuals trying to build the reputation of our nonprofits and social enterprises, we must not deceive ourselves. Do not expect the journalist to whom you reach out to understand or interpret the jargon of your company or field of expertise. If it’s not simple, they just won’t waste their time trying to decipher the meaning or substance of your message.

It’s essential to make sure that you articulate your mission clearly, however, on the opposite end, you must also do adequate research. According to Cision Ltd., a leading global public relations and earned media software company, “82 percent of journalists say PR professionals can improve by researching and understanding their media outlet.”

To connect with the right journalists and engage them effectively, we should have a good understanding of their work—both who they've written for and what they've personally written.

For example, don’t simply encourage a journalist to write about your organization because you are practicing cutting-edge technology to help the local community. Encourage them to write about your technological advancements that help the surrounding community in light of other articles they have written about the social welfare of your city.

Research what they’ve written about and show genuine interest in their topics. By doing this, it's more likely that you’ll discover the correct journalist to write about your small business.

To keep it simple, there’s a general guideline of rules you can follow to keep your pitches to journalists simple and sweet.

 

The Parameters of the Pitch  

When writing a pitch, follow steps that will ensure you are practicing simplicity. Write an alluring subject line complete with strong, driving verbs. If you can provide names and locations in the email pitch, those will catch the eye because of their specificity.  

Between 20-100 words is acceptable when constructing your message, but fewer is preferred. If you can limit content to one to two paragraphs, you’ll be more likely to receive a follow up email. Of course, keep in mind it does need to provide the relevant details as well. But remember, you are trying to catch their attention, not explain the entire history of your organization all in one email. 

Avoid attachments, if possible. If the journalist receiving the information has to go through an additional hoop sifting through hundreds of emails, they’ll be less likely to open your email. You may include a link or two, however, if it helps explain or build your case. And at the end of each pitch, make sure that your contact information is clear (phone number, email, etc.).

 

Connecting on Social Media: Who and How to Follow

Email isn’t the only way to connect with numerous media outlets, news syndicates, and journalists. Social media platforms are crucial for engaging with the media. Twitter has revealed itself as a favorite among large networks, journalists, and young marketing professionals alike.

Twitter’s concise use of text and images creates the perfect platform for journalists to share their content. And Twitter’s platform reflects the same practices applied to journalism—short, sweet, and to the point.

Connect with journalists on social media through major news networks and then find specific writers that pique your interest. Starting points on Twitter include traditional news outlets like @NYTimes, @AP, or @washingtonpost. You can additionally follow broader worldwide networks such as @bbcworld and @AJEnglish.

However, it is most likely that you'll discover the greatest amount of success in connecting with local media syndicates in your city. For example, a social enterprise or nonprofit in Atlanta might try to connect with writers from the @ajc, Atlanta’s largest press news outlet, @11AliveNews, a local TV network or @AtlantaMagazine, a specialized magazine in art and culture of the city. Locate the outlets specific to your city, county, or region and then connect with those media personnel specifically. You can often find a directory on their websites, or search stories that fit your organization to find the authors.

Follow the writers who you are most interested in connecting and reach out to them via social media DMs (direct messages) and email. Just remember that they are people, and not just someone who can offer you exposure, and take that into account with how you establish the relationship.

After you’ve connected with media outlet and, journalists, it’s crucial you learn how to maintain those partnerships.

 

Maintain & Organize: Long-Term Relationships, Cross Promotion, and Spreadsheets

Never undermine the power of a spreadsheet. When it comes to getting organized spreadsheets are your best friend. Using spreadsheets, organize your media outlet contacts via several categories. Have consistent writers that you can reach out to for each category and stay in touch with them consistently. If you need a how to, look here. 

To understand the importance of organizing your preferred writers, let’s look at an example. Consider a coffee shop operating as a for-profit social enterprise which benefits the well-being of it’s community. This company might organize writers into different writing topics based on the following categories: cutting-edge technology, special offers its shop, expansion and location (ex: new storefronts), and company culture and mission. Categorically organizing each writer in this way will allow you to easily and effectively pull from a pre-arranged list of writers and media personnel when you have news to announce.

Find a journalist for each category and organize your spreadsheet accordingly. Have a column with the contact information for each writer via email, phone, and social media. Each column following the person's name can contain specific information. For example: the name of their publication, the specific location of the publication or the location of the writer, and finally information about whether the syndicate is national or local. This can be as detailed or basic as you like, but more information will help you connect to the right person when the time comes.

It might also be useful to use this spreadsheet to track stories written for organization in your industry or a similar industry that caught your attention. You can share these stories via your social media accounts and if you like the content that is being created for brother and sister organizations, you might even reach out to the journalist or blogger that is creating stories for that company.

When reaching out to that journalist (aka the pitch) you can mention the story that they wrote for another company and how much you admired it. It will stroke the ego of that journalist and potentially set you up for an awesome story about your company!

In the wake of practicing new skills and connecting with the media, don’t forget the importance of maintaining pre-existing relationships. While we’ve mainly covered outreach to new journalists and media outlets in this blog post, it’s also important to remember the media relationships we already have because people who already know you are more likely to cover you.

Cross-Promotion: A Tale of Two Businesses

This is a sure-fire way to expand your reach and your audience. Even corporate foundations engage in this style of behavior. Nike and Apple worked together to create the “Nike+” sports kit. Through this dual promotion, Apple and Nike were able to reach a wider audience. We can do the same with our small businesses. Let’s look at the example of a small business in Athens, Ga., that is doing exactly that:

Athens is a city known for its eclectic mix of food outlets. Because of its size, many of the small business, restaurants, and social enterprises eagerly cooperate with one another. 1000 Faces Coffee promotes the values of social responsibility to create organic products.

1000 Faces Coffee works with many of the businesses in the local area (especially those that are cause-related) to cross-promote other social enterprises in the surrounding Athens area. To ensure that it is actively engaging brother and sister businesses, 1000 Faces Coffee promotes an event called “Biscuits and Coffee Love” once a month to raise money for local charities. Encouraging cross-promotion, it invites other organizations such as Farm Cart Biscuits, a local organic breakfast vendor, to participate in the cause.

As nonprofits and social enterprises, we can apply these same methods to our business tactics. Invite another organization within your niche or industry that has a complementary mission to co-host an event. Cooperate with one another, but keep it simple. You can even help promote one another on social media. There are ample opportunities for cross-promotion.

To effectively maintain our relationships with the media, we must engage in the perfect balance of media outreach and maintaining already existing relationships. Reach out to journalists, bloggers, reporters, and other media personnel using these ideas, but don’t forget the impact of partnering with other small businesses in your area and industry.

 

Read all posts in this PR series:


Michael Banks

Michael Griffith Banks is a fourth-year Public Relations Major at the University of Georgia with a minor in Spanish. He’s throughly involved with UGA’s Office of Admissions, most recently serving as an Orientation Leader for the University.



How to Max Out Meaningful Media Relationships