By Marina Stedman, Head of Marketing, The Good Exchange

The internet is becoming increasingly mobile. According to the latest Ofcom report into adult media use and attitudes, nearly every adult in the UK now uses a mobile phone (96%), and reliance on these devices is growing. In fact, while the proportion of adults using the internet and the average time spent doing so (just over a day per week) is largely unchanged since the last study, much of this time is now being spent on the move, with smartphones now favoured above desktop computers by the majority of internet users.

The Good Exchange: Social media in the charitable sector

Against this backdrop, social media has become the new norm; 80% of internet users have a profile of some sort, with Facebook consistently the most popular social media site of all with more than 40 million active UK users. There’s been a sustained increase in the use of social media platforms in recent years. According to the We Are Social/Hootsuite Digital in the UK 2019 report, the number of active social media users in the UK grown by 2.3% in the last 12 months, with a 2.6% uplift in mobile social media users.

These digital trends are impacting every aspect of our lives, both professional and personal, including how we engage with and support charities and other good causes, largely for the better. Technology in general, and social networking specifically, can be great equalisers. Fully utilised, they have the potential to add significant value for charities by dramatically increasing their reach, spreading awareness of the causes they are supporting and driving new donations yet are relatively inexpensive to implement and manage.

Although these digital trends demonstrate that every organisation should be leveraging social media – optimised for mobile – to communicate with their audience, the third sector is lagging behind the commercial sector when it comes to digital as a whole. Our own recent research ‘Technology in the Charitable Sector’, revealed how grant-making organisations use a range of technologies to aid the funding application process and/or measure the impact of funding. The study found low levels of satisfaction with some of the technology that is currently in use, but consensus that technology can help to improve processes. 

Social media technologies were the most commonly used by respondents to our survey (80%), followed by an online application process (77%). However, our experience is that many charities only maintain a very simple social presence, for instance, a single Twitter account or Facebook page, which may not be kept particularly active, or a presence that fails to actively engage with relevant users using the same medium. Respondents to our survey were also less likely to be using more advanced technologies, with few using community platforms and digital forums to connect with donors and funders, for instance.

The Good Exchange: Social media in the charitable sector

Social media makes it easier for charities to raise funds because they can collaborate and directly communicate with a targeted audience about their fundraising appeals and also run integrated fundraising campaigns through a variety of different social media apps (most of which are free to use and many of which have enhanced offerings for charities such as free advertising funds or upgrades to more advanced functionality). Despite this opportunity, many of the smaller charities have little or no social presence at all and are missing an opportunity to amplify their message and drive charitable giving.

Social media is an extremely useful (and free!) tool that can help to grow communities with likeminded people, or facilitate direct collaboration with those who share charitable goals and want to donate or fundraise for example.

For anyone wondering where to start, my advice would be to first decide which social media app is most relevant to your target audience (do your followers tend to use, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp the most?) Then look and see if you have any key fundraising campaigns or activities coming up that would benefit from a social media focus and prepare a message for these as well as working out a succinct and social media-friendly way to describe your organisation and what it does (people’s social media attention spans tend to be short (seconds rather than minutes or hours)!

The next step is to build the account(s), setting up profiles for the organisation or project, before the fourth step, which is engaging with the target audience. For all social media users, whether beginners and more established users, images and video are highly effective at helping to tell stories and bring good causes to life.

There are tools available for non-profits that can help to design Twitter and Facebook images and branding, so a lack of design or technically skilled resources needn’t be a barrier. Furthermore, at a more advanced level, utilising analytics tools can help charitable organisations to do more with often limited resources, identifying followers and their behaviours, for instance, which can ultimately help to inform marketing strategy and spend.

We’ve seen in practice how an effective social media strategy can enable charitable organisations to efficiently engage with applicants and fellow funders to achieve shared objectives, levelling the playing field and ultimately benefiting the sector as a whole.

If you’d like to learn more about getting starting with and using Social media, watch our informative (and free) range of social media webinars please click here.