Making social media apply to your business (and not the other way around)

Creating a social media strategy is now considered best practice for all businesses.

Social media is now a requirement of the business world, but without intent and strategic application, the costs can easily outweigh the benefits.

The Ice Bucket challenge of 2014 demonstrated the extraordinary possibilities of a viral social media campaign.

But at the risk of pouring cold water over your aspirations, not-for-profit businesses (NFPs) should not automatically expect to emulate this particular kind of campaign without celebrity appeal and deep pockets.

That is not to underplay the importance or the potential opportunities of what is known in contemporary marketing parlance as “earned” (social) media. Businesses all over would just be wise to set realistic expectations, while taking advantage of some reliable methods by which strong social media presence can be achieved while protecting your budget.

For NFPs, the mission goes far beyond making a dollar, and social media perfectly complements this goal.

Adopt Change, for example, is an organisation that champions ethical adoption as a way of placing kids in permanent, loving families and keeping them out of institutions.

It is also a prime example of an entity that has used social media to raise awareness of its cause.

Adopting change, online and off

 “The key to using social media effectively is to create, through storytelling, authentic and inspiring content,” says Jane Hunt, CEO at Adopt Change.

“Social media offers a powerful suite of tools to engage the hearts and minds of the people who you need to care about your cause and take action on your issue’s behalf,” says Hunt.

“Making shareable stories the foundation of your content [strategy] creates connections between people and your organisation or cause.”

Hunt says the analytics captured through social media tools also provide useful insights for NFPs, which can glean information on demographics.

“Social media offers a powerful suite of tools to engage the hearts and minds of the people who you need to care about your cause and take action on your issue’s behalf,” says Hunt.

The right tools can also provide information on who is interested in the organisation’s particular issue as well as how people prefer to be engaged.

There is an array of “social intelligence” tools available – start by looking at tools like and go from there.

This means NFPs can access information that allows them to allocate resources as efficiently as possible, which is important because NFPs try hard to run lean operations.

“If a call to action is backed up with strong visual and written content, people realise that they can be connected and contribute directly to something much bigger than them,” says Hunt.

“It shows your organisation or cause on a very human scale and is an empowering way of activating people.”

“If a call to action is backed up with strong visual and written content, people realise that they can be connected and contribute directly to something much bigger than them,” says Hunt.

“Should you pay to play?” 

Marketers look at today’s landscape as a combination of “owned”, “paid” and "earned" media opportunities.

Owned assets are those the organisation creates itself: brand identity, websites, content, audience databases, associated eDM platforms and various other related channels.

The important thing for any business to consider is which avenues are worth the cost of participation for your particular audience and strategic goals? Which channels are the best utilisation of your resources and energy?

Paid is just that: traditional advertising via increasingly non-traditional channels, including search and digital display. Digital display encompasses advertising on both high-traffic websites and social media platforms, otherwise known as “pay to play”.

To explain how much harder it is to “earn” media on social platforms, consider this: the number of people that the average page post on Facebook reaches “organically” (without paying to promote it) is a third of what it was three years ago.

This is the result of deliberate changes made to Facebook’s algorithm which, as a publicly traded company, is focused on revenue growth. 

In 2012, organic reach on Facebook was estimated at about 16 per cent, according to social media analytics company Socialbakers. 

In the most recent quarter, however, photos have the lowest organic reach with only an average between three and four of every 100 fans seeing a photo post.

Links and text-only posts (status updates) currently have organic reach averages of between just five and six per cent.

 On the other hand, Facebook has also been promoting video, a territory previously unique to YouTube – which means that “organic” video posts now get more audience reach than text and images alone. Socialbakers estimated in the last quarter that video posts garnered an average organic reach of 8.7 per cent - so digital strategists would be wise to leverage this while it lasts. 

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The message here is twofold

Expect to pay if you want to promote posts that achieve the same results previously possible “organically” on social media platforms – and think about ways to build your audience via your “owned” assets to offset the cost of undertaking something new that may not pay off in the way you want.

 A simple way to explain this is to think of social platforms like media company platforms. They are places you go to either borrow or rent an audience. Social platforms are part of the digital ecosystem, but ultimately what you want is an audience that has given you permission to have a direct, ongoing relationship.

Hopefully, they are “buying into” an engaged relationship with you, whether that is by way of donations, advocacy or other forms of support.

This naturally implies that investing in an array of assets and capabilities is as significant now to your business as bricks and mortar once were.

This is not cheap or easy to achieve, but resourceful businesses can use open source software where possible, and seek NFP discounts often available from proprietary vendors.  

One exciting development for NFPs is social media’s ability to gather and mobilise a crowd – so called “crowdfunding” through platforms like Start Some Good or Pozible.

 “The challenge for NFPs is to build genuine and meaningful two-way engagement – where the NFP learns from those actively following and interacting with them through social media,” says Hunt.

“This interaction is the key to social media’s power and I think there is much more to do in this space.”


As well as being a non-executive director on two NFP Boards, John O’Neill is Managing Director of Komosion, an agency helping organisations use digital tools and technology to enable customer-centric marketing and engagement strategies.

July 2021
July 2021

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