Non-profits get social media savvy

Bengaluru: Every day at 11am, a team of five employees at Greenpeace India logs on to Skype for what is called the ‘big listen’. They listen to tides of Internet conversations to find out what is trending on social media and what the world around them is talking about. Once they get an idea of the topics, they put out a series of tweets, Facebook posts and pictures on Instagram. Then using various monitoring tools, they watch the buzz their posts are creating among their followers, in real time.

Achieving campaign objectives by tapping online conversations and identifying opportunities and then leveraging them to create buzz on social media is fast catching up among non-profits too.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace, CRY, Akshaya Patra and Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled have discovered that social media is crucial even in the business of doing good.

“Social media helps you measure things real-time, which traditional media does not allow, and NGOs can get more bang for their buck out of this,” said Navdha Malhotra, digital marketing manager of Greenpeace India.

The non-profits are now using social media platforms not just to communicate with the user base but also to find volunteers and even raise funds. Though NGOs took to exploring social media like Facebook at least five years ago, it is only now that they are trying to maximize its use.

“We merely existed on social media, that too because one of the volunteers created an account,” said Prateek Madhav, chief executive of Samarthanam Trust.

The turning point was when the organization realized that on social media it could engage with retail donors who account for 45% of the donor base and also belong to Gen X (who were born between 1964 and 1978), or Gen Y (who were born between 1978 and 1990).

“It was important to create an online experience for them, as they engage with that medium the most and we will only see more of our donor base coming from this cohort in the future,” said Madhav.

Also creating awareness through social media is cost-effective. It is at least 10 times cheaper than the traditional media such as print, telephone or even banner ads on websites, say experts.

But being on social media requires a strategy.

“Every medium demands a different content strategy. Although our messaging across platforms remains the same, we tweak the content according to the platform it is being shared on. What works on Twitter, for instance, does not necessarily work on Instagram,” said Anita Bala of CRY.

CRY has seen clear patterns of reaction to its messages on various platforms.

“When we share people’s reasons for donating to or volunteering with CRY, the post performs well on LinkedIn. On Twitter, when an influencer retweets a tweet, its activity increases. Personal stories and pictures of children do well on Facebook and Instagram,” added Bala.

But engagement also means learning not to overdo it.

“We update people with a maximum of 3 to 4 posts a day. We realized that if you post too much, your followers hide you. So, not bombarding the audience works as they stay engaged for a longer time,” said Malhotra.

This entailed constant monitoring of social media engagements.

“To have a different strategy for each of the media, you need dedicated capacity as social media is the easiest way to open yourself up for debate and criticism,” added Malhotra.

At Greenpeace, a digital team was formed in 2009 with one person monitoring the medium. By 2014, they expanded it to five members. At non-profit Akshaya Patra that provides mid-day meals to schoolchildren, there are five members to monitor the social media and 15 more to manage its digital marketing strategies. Samarthanam is planning to hire two dedicated resources to manage its digital strategy.

“We want to have a digital-first approach where information about our campaigns, etc., will be first published online and we may also skip traditional media (like pamphlets) altogether,” said Madhav.

Non-profits are also exploring ways to raise funds through social media, but only a few have attempted it so far. After Facebook launched its ‘donate now’ button for non-profits in August last year, Akshaya Patra activated it by October.

“Since the donation button is enabled, they need to click just once to donate. It is simple and reduces the number of clicks to make a donation,” said Ajay Kavishwar, director, communications, at Akshaya Patra.

The non-profit gets 25-30 clicks a day on its ‘donate now’ button. It raises Rs.80 crore to Rs.100 crore every year, of whichRs.12 crore comes through online donations. Of the total online donations, 15-20% has been coming from channels like Facebook. “We expect social media’s contribution to online donations go up to 50-70% in the next two to three years,” said Kavishwar.

Professional networking site LinkedIn too has been a valuable platform for the non-profits.

“Non-profits can leverage LinkedIn to spread their mission, find right talent and foster meaningful relationships. It starts with building your presence on LinkedIn, keep conversations going on LinkedIn Groups and also find relevant board members through Board Connect,” says Virginia Sharma, director, marketing solutions, LinkedIn India.

But other non-profits such as Greenpeace, CRY and Samarthanam have not taken to fund-raising via social media yet.

“We are not looking at social media just as yet for fund-raising because we see better success though other digital means like e-mailers,” said Malhotra of Greenpeace.

There is a reason for that limited success.

“When you publish content on social media, only 10% of people see it; that’s the way the algorithm works. So, when you look to raise funds, not many may see it and your purpose can be defeated. Digital ads (banner ads on websites and e-mailers) offer higher return on investment than social media,” said Prateek Kole, head, digital, at creative agency Graffiti Collaborations.

But this should not stop non-profits from using it.

“The thing with social media is the sharing capacity lets people broadcast that they donate and that brings more donors. Also it helps draw the attention of CSR managers who are looking for credible organizations to work with,” said Kavishwar.

The NGO has published ads in companies’ Facebook pages to catch the attention of CSR managers. In the future, Kavishwar sees social media becoming a traditional medium for not just raising awareness and but even for funding


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