Julia Campbell has been helping nonprofits make the most of their social media presences for years. She knows what strategies work on social media, what strategies fail, and how nonprofits can use social channels to make a big impact on their community.
In this interview, Julia shares some of the strategies she teaches her clients, including her secret formula for social media calendars, how nonprofits can improve engagement on their social channels, and the one thing she wishes nonprofits would stop doing online.
Looking for more of Julia’s wisdom? Watch her recent webinar, 6 Types of Stories You Should Be Telling on Social Media.
What kinds of posts should I make on social media?
Abby: Nonprofits know they shouldn’t be asking EVERY time they post on social media, but a lot of people are looking for some inspiration for what to post when they’re not making appeals. So, if someone was looking to put together a monthly calendar for their social media channels, what are the types of posts they should look to include in that plan?
Julia: My framework that I use with my clients is 80/20: 80% of your posts should be informative, educational, inspirational, helpful, valuable, shedding light on your programs, storytelling, etc. 20% can be promotional.
Now, they still have to be interesting, right? You can’t just post something that’s not interesting on social media. But you can get away with asking 20% of the time. And the way you want to think about it is that social media is really like putting deposits in a bank. You want to put more deposits in than you take out, and it’s really about how you show up for your audience week after week after week. It builds that trust and earns their attention, so when you do have something to ask them, they’ll pay attention. This is true for businesses, it’s true for nonprofits, it’s true for entrepreneurs, it’s true for basically anyone that’s trying to get someone to take an action. 80% of the time, you should be just providing information, value, stories, and inspiration about what you do–putting those deposits in the bank. And 20% of the time you can make withdrawals. You have to tie the two together.
Another thing I recommend: look at your calendar for the year. Or even the next six months if the year sounds overwhelming! Look at the next six months and find where your events are. Look for your fundraising events and work backwards from there.
Another tip, especially for small organizations, is to create monthly or weekly themes. One month could be hope, the next month could be resilience–it’s completely dependent upon your cause and your mission area. Creating posts around a theme can make planning and writing easier. Here’s the key: you want these posts to fit together. So you look at them as a big connect-the-dots for your organization. You’re connecting the dots to create a picture of what your organization is and who you are, who you stand for, and your values and ethics.
That’s what the really big organizations do! If you really study what they do, it looks like they’re repeating themselves a lot. But the fact is, fans often don’t see many of their posts. It may seem like they’re repeating themselves, but repeating something in exactly the same language is not the same as repeating the message you want to get across in a variety of ways. Repeating that message consistently is the way you build a community; people know what to expect and they know it’s for them. People usually need to hear things seven to 10 or even 12 times before they really get it. If you have a great post or a great story, you can share it lots of different ways.
80% of your posts should add value to your followers’ social media feeds. The other 20% of your posts can be used to ask people to do something for you. To make planning easier, plan your social posts around your events and try setting a weekly or monthly theme for your social media plan. Your theme will help you keep your messaging consistent. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re repeating yourself too much; stick to your message so your audiences know who you are, what you stand for, and how they can help.
How can I boost social media engagement?
Abby: You talk a lot about the fact that repeating your message can boost engagement. Do you have any tips around getting people to engage with you? Likes are nice, of course, but how do you get people to actually interact with you?
Julia: There are two pieces to this question. One is “how do you attract and engage the type of person that’s going to take an action” and then “how can you create a message that’s going to compel them to take action?”
The first piece is that you need to be explicitly clear about who you are and what you stand for, but also who you’re not for. You’re not for everybody, and you’re standing up for something! Even if you’re a tiny little community theatre in Nebraska, you’re standing up for something, there’s a problem you’re solving, there’s a reason you exist. You have to be constantly talking about your values, your ethics, and what you stand for so you attract the right kind of person to your social media.
Also you can ask your audience! Do a survey, do a poll, do a Facebook Live, call people on the phone, do a focus group. Learn more about your audience and what resonates with them, what they’re interested in, what makes them passionate, what’s going to drive them to action.
The second piece of the question is, “How do you actually get people to take an action?” Well, the first part is that you have to grab their attention. Seth Godin says, “If you want to be remarkable, you have to do things that people will remark on.” We can’t just get away from that. You have to be evocative or surprising or attention-catching. You have to share something that’s going to grab my attention, and then you have to give me a real reason to take an action. What is in it for me?
You need to take two steps to boost your social media engagement. The first is to establish who you are, what you stand for, and what kind of people you want to engage. You also need to establish who you’re not for. The second step is to give people a reason to engage with you. Let your audiences know what’s in it for them if they act.
Do you have any tips for nonprofits who don’t have a full-time social media manager?
Abby: A lot of folks we talk with are in charge of social media. It’s very hard to make people understand that managing social media is, very often, a full-time job. Many of the nonprofits we talk to don’t have a dedicated social media manager; either they have multiple people working on social media when they can, or they have one person that has to do social media and a ton of other stuff. Where should that person spend the majority of their energy? What can they do to make sure they’re as effective as they can be?
Julia: That’s a great question, and what I teach in a lot of my courses or talk about with my clients is that there are four areas of social media management that you need to tackle to be effective.
The first area is research. You need to understand the platforms that you’re using. You need to understand what the other nonprofits in your industry are doing. You need to be able to decipher the trends and decide if they’re for you or not for you. That’s the first area.
The second big piece is content creation. You have to create the videos, the graphics, the posts, and you have to understand what your audience wants and what will get engagement.
The third main responsibility of a social media manager is community management–answering questions, DMs, comments, maybe creating policies if you work in a controversial or polarizing issue and need to make sure your community is safe.
And the fourth task is measurement and analysis so you can constantly go back and see if the activities you’re focused on are helping move the needle toward your goals.
To be effective, you have to do all four things. If you’re a small nonprofit that’s shoehorning social media in with ten million other activities, you can probably only manage one platform. You have to do those four tasks on each platform! If you’re on Facebook, you have to constantly do research–they’re constantly making changes–content creation, community management, and measurement. If you’re on X, same thing. If you’re on Instagram, if you’re on TikTok, same thing.
What often happens is that a nonprofit will think, “ah, social media is kind of one-size-fits-all, I’m going to just spray all of this out there and set up shop on lots of different platforms,” but they don’t do any management or any analysis and that won’t work. I don’t think you need a full-time social media manager, necessarily, but if you don’t have one, one or two channels are probably all you can effectively manage.
Abby: When I started working at Qgiv, I was supposed to be doing social media. I learned that I hate social media. I didn’t know that until I had to research it, manage it, measure it.
Julia: That’s a really big issue! I also have my days where I think “Oh my, I’m not going on Facebook for the next two weeks.” If you have a social media manager that really hates X, or if you have someone that hates TikTok or Instagram, you name it, then you should figure out the intersection of where your audience is, what your goals are, and what you can manage. This is for mental health reasons!
Taking care of your mental health as a social media manager is something that a lot of my clients struggle with. They’re dealing with the general public! Especially if you’re dealing with a polarizing issue, like LGBTQ+ rights or antiracism, or ANYTHING. ANYTHING can be polarizing. It doesn’t matter what that is. It’s really important to take those breaks, to have that digital detox, to have that ability to step away from it.
Effective social media management involves research, content creation, community management, and measurement/analytics. Since each social media platform is different, those four processes have to be applied to each individual channel you use! If you have one (or even multiple) staff members who balance social media with other responsibilities, you should probably limit yourself to one or two channels so you can stay effective. Dealing with the general public on social media can be brutal: it’s important to prioritize mental health for anyone who handles your social media presence.
What can nonprofits do (or stop doing) to be more effective on social media?
Abby: What do you wish more nonprofits would do on social media?
Julia: I wish more nonprofits would take risks! I wish they would get out of their comfort zone and be more vulnerable. I work with my clients all the time on this. I’m like, “Make a video! Take your phone and do an executive director’s report! Give people a Friday note from the desk of the executive director.” But people don’t want to be on camera, they don’t want to be the face of the organization, they want to put their head down and do the work. And I understand that. But we have to be more visible!
I just wish nonprofits would stop thinking they’re annoying people and really get out there even more. Posting more. Making more videos. Talking to more people. Being active in more groups. I would love to see more. More (obviously) interesting content–I don’t want you just posting about your fundraising campaign 75 times a day.
Really, more video is probably my #1 thing. But people think that means hiring a video production company. It does not. We all have phones. We all have digital media studios in the palm of our hand. You don’t need expensive equipment to make a good-looking video! And, really, people don’t want all that posed, polished stuff anymore. They don’t! Especially on social media, they like that authentic, raw kind of video as long as the sound i
’s good and it’s not shaky.
Abby: One thing that surprised me when we did the Generational Giving Report was how many young donors–like Gen Z donors–said that one of their biggest motivators for giving was having a personal friendly connection to somebody at the nonprofit. They’re the most cause-driven generation out there, but they still want that personal connection. If you can put your face out there, if you can make them feel like they don’t just support, say, Lakeland Food Pantry but that they also support Sarah at Lakeland Food Pantry, that will go over really well. Those raw, unpolished, personal videos can be really effective!
Now, time for our last question: what do you wish nonprofits would stop doing?
Julia: I wish they would stop thinking about social media as a transactional platform or as a series of transactional platforms that owe them something. Stop looking at Facebook as an ATM. Stop looking at Instagram as a money spigot that you can just turn on. Think about them as community-building. Think about building a community that’s a long-term asset that you can then turn to and mobilize when you need to get something done.
Really, the whole snake-oil that we were sold 10-15 years ago–when did Facebook come out? 2004–was that you just set up an account and post a couple times a year and the money’s just going to roll in. We have to understand that’s not the way it ever was, and it’s certainly not the way it is now. We need to stop thinking about what we can get out of it. We need to think more about what we can give to build a community around our cause that will eventually help us raise more money and build our donor file that way.
Don’t be afraid to take risks! Be vulnerable, be honest, and be willing to get outside your comfort zones. Putting yourself out there on social media can be scary, but using video and other tools is a powerful way to connect with your audiences by putting a face to your cause. Focus on building community; social media can be a powerful tool for change, but social media channels aren’t transactional. You can’t make a post and expect money to roll in: you need to emphasize gradually building an online group of people who are passionate about your cause. Donations can certainly be part of that online group, but it shouldn’t be the focus.
Most nonprofit fundraisers know they need to be active on social media channels. Julia’s tips will help you plan your posting calendar, decide what to post, and build a thriving online community that’s dedicated to your cause. Remember, building a successful social media presence is a marathon, not a sprint: it’ll take time, but the effort will be worth it in the end.
You can learn more about Julia and how you can build an effective social media presence on Julia’s website!