Your charity needs to change the way it uses Facebook

facebook logo at the beachfront


Photo credit: mkhmarketing

The eagle-eyed among you will notice I was speaking about Facebook’s tenth anniversary on Scotland Tonight this week. This gave me a good chance to reflect on how the world’s biggest social network has changed the way third sector organisations communicate. For those charities that really get Facebook it’s become a way to re-home dogs¬†and a space for lighthearted¬†discussions about family issues. Facebook has some incredibly powerful uses across the voluntary sector but the reality is most charities still use it as a vehicle for pumping out dull organisational updates.

Facebook was founded in 2004 as a student network, it quickly evolved in to a place where 3 in 4 UK adults connect with their friends and family. Lets not forget that Pages didn’t come along until 2007. They’ve always been an uneasy bed fellow. People are primarily on Facebook to see photos of their cousin’s baby or a video of a cat falling of a TV – they’re not there to be fed your ‘news’. That doesn’t mean your charity has no place on Facebook but it does mean that you need to tailor your content accordingly. How can you be useful or interesting to people via your Facebook Page? If you can’t tick either the useful or the interesting box it’s time to shut up shop.

This post is verging on being a rant so it’s probably worthwhile finishing up with some practical steps you can take to ensure your charity’s Facebook Page is a success in 2014:

1. Understand your audience(s)

If you’re looking to connect with more parents then chances are Facebook is going to be perfect for your organisation. If you’re using it as a campaigning tool to influence key politicians then chances are you’re wasting your time – go and open a Twitter account. Understand what makes your audience tick, what content do they want from you and what questions can you ask them that are likely to strike a chord.

2. Think mobile first

50% of UK Facebook traffic is via a mobile device. That percentage will rise massively in 2014. That means your long form content has no place on Facebook – you need to think about how you nudge people towards reading those more in-depth, complex blog posts or policy pieces on your website. My advice is to work on distilling down your content to its constituent parts or key messages. A ten-point blog post provides you with ten excellent Facebook posts to use over the next ten days – driving people back to your original content. If you have a large piece of research ask yourself what is the key question we’re trying to answer here and ask it on your Facebook Page (closed questions work best). Distilling down doesn’t mean dumbing down, treat your audience with respect but understand that when they have a spare two minutes on the bus to look at Facebook you need to capture their imagination in a crowded news feed.

3. Plan. Plan. Plan.

How do you currently decide what content is going to go on your Facebook Page? Chances are you boot up your laptop on a Monday morning, sigh to yourself that the Facebook Page needs updating and then default to that dull organisational update I mentioned earlier. A simple content plan will change everything. For each month of the year write down a blog post idea, the more seasonally relevant you can make it the better. Once you’ve done that you not only have a blog content plan but you can start to use the key themes from the blog across your other channels. That lengthy blog post you wrote at the start of the month gives you content gold for your Facebook Page and your Twitter account.

4. Play devil’s advocate

Stop being boring. Seriously, stop it. Think about the key questions that are important to your organisation’s work, your staff, your volunteers and your service users then ask them. Sometimes they will be controversial, sometimes you won’t like what you hear but take the leap. Lets say you’re concerned about how people with learning disabilities will fare in an independent Scotland but your charity isn’t comfortable tackling the issue head on, why not use your Facebook Page to ask your supporters. You don’t have to say we believe X and kill the conversation dead.

5. Spend some money

There’s no doubt that Page engagement has become increasingly difficult. The reality is your charity should consider allocating some marketing or comms budget to boosting posts and increasing overall Page likes. How much did you spend on branded pens or flyers last year? What was the environmental impact of all those printed products? Start small and experiment, boost those posts that have already started to gather likes, shares and comments – they’re the ones that will spread fast. For around a tenner you could reach an audience of approximately 6000 people (this figure differs from Page to Page) – no other medium allows you to connect with that many people for the price of four coffees.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’d really love to know what works for your organisation. Leave a comment below or drop me a tweet.

Entering charity awards – 5 lessons learned

I’ve had the privilege of sitting on various awards judging panels recently, including the Digital Fundraising Awards and the Santander Social Enterprise Development Awards. Third Sector Lab are also sponsoring the Campaigner of the Year category in The Herald Society Awards 2012. My involvement in these and other awards has taught me a few things I’d like to share:

  1. You have to be in it to win it. Cliched but true. While some categories are incredibly tough with lots of competition you’d be amazed at how few entries come in for some of the more niche categories. 
  2. Avoid sector-speak. Nothing is more of a turn off than reading the seventeenth award application that mentions a “commitment to community development perspectives” or some other form of third sector jargon. Use plain english to tell your story. Remember the people judging your award category won’t always be from the charity sector.
  3. Always think ‘so what?’. It’s not good enough to simply say what you did, you need to spell out the difference you made to people’s lives. That seems incredibly obvious but lots of awards nominations I’ve seen are entirely about process and mention little, if anything at all, about impact.
  4. Funders love awards. It’s not that they’re interested in your shiny trinket, funders like third-party ratification of what you do. Your project is much more likely to secure future funding if it has won an award judged by experts in your field. It’s a great big stamp of approval for your work.
  5. Awards mean publicity. Most awards will have a media partner, if you get shortlisted or, better still, if you win then chances are your charity will get some much-needed exposure online and in print. 

So what are you waiting for? Go and hunt out some upcoming awards and enter them. If you’re a Scottish organisation working in the mental health field then why not enter the Principles in to Practice Awards 2012. The winner gets a lovely film made about the work they do!



Social Media Basics Training – Glasgow – 6th Sept 2012

I’m once again running a Social Media Basics training workshop as part of the GCVS Learning & Development programme. With a focus on the third sector this full day course is for those of you new to social media or looking to start using digital tools strategically. 

Full course info below. To book a place contact or use the GCVS website.

Social media has changed the way people communicate – giving third sector organisations an amazing opportunity to truly engage supporters, reach new audiences, influence key decision makers, build new partnerships and even raise some money in the process.

Our one-day social media basics workshop cuts through all the hype and jargon, giving you hands-on experience in areas including using Twitter & Facebook, blogging, video for the web, podcasts and more. We’ll show you how to develop a simple social media strategy, making it part of your fundraising and communications mix, and how you can measure your success.

You’ll come away from the workshop with everything you need to make social media work for your organisation.

6th Sept 2012 9.30am-4.30pm

GCVS Members £125 Non-members £180

Social Media Basics Workshop – 21st June, Glasgow

There’s still a few places available on our one-day social media basics workshop at GCVS this week. You can book now by emailing or calling Stacey on 0141 354 6511.

The full-day workshop cuts through all the hype and jargon, giving you hands-on experience in areas including using Twitter & Facebook, blogging, video for the web, social media policies and more. We’ll show you how to develop a simple social media strategy, making it part of your fundraising and communications mix, and how you can measure your success. You’ll come away from the workshop with everything you need to make social media work for your organisation.

Third Sector Forums could be yours

In order to concentrate on my consultancy work with Third Sector Lab and organising Be Good Be Social events I’ve taken the difficult decision to pass on ownership of Third Sector Forums. That new owner could be you.

Third Sector Forums is arguably the most popular charity and social enterprise forum in the UK with 1550 members and over 7600 posts to date. The forum has a Facebook page with 2320 fans and a Twitter account with 3104 followers. The forum has a team of volunteer super-admins who keep it clear of spam and a highly active user base. The forum also performs really well on Google. The forum is built on the vBulletin platform ensuring it is robust and easily updatable. The new owner would get the full website, userbase, domains, social media accounts, etc.

The right person/organisation could really take Third Sector Forums to the next level. Possible people I’m looking to hear from include:

– Third sector umbrella bodies (CVS, social enterprise bodies, etc).

– Social entrepreneurs.

– A co-operative.

– A funding body, foundation, trust or other philanthropic org.

– A consortium of orgs (possibly a tech firm, charity, social enterprise, etc)

– Charities involved in third sector tech.

– Techy types with a passion for social good.

– A third sector publication (magazine, newsletter, news site, blog, etc).

– A business who works closely with the third sector.

– Anyone else who feels they could run Third Sector Forums.

If you’re interested in taking over the forums drop me an email – ross[@] – or tweet/DM me by Monday 7th May 12pm GMT at the latest. I’m not necessarily looking for money, my main concern is that the forums end up in the right hands.

Should staples and sticky tape be paid for by donations?

When Oxfam and PayPal launched 100% Giving back in January it sparked a huge debate on my blog. Well it’s back this September, PayPal is paying Oxfam’s admin costs on all donations made through PayPal. ‘100% on seeds and schoolbooks. 0% on staples and stickytape’ reads the tagline.

Is 100% Giving a good thing or does it skew the public’s views on what are ‘essential’ costs in running a charity?


10 Facebook guides & blog posts every non-profit should read

My 10 must-read Facebook resources for non-profits was a pretty popular post but as it’s now a year old I’ve decided to search 10 fresh new links, well people do love a good list…



Five Nonprofits That Have Found Their Facebook Voice

If you are struggling with finding your Facebook voice, Like the five nonprofits listed above by Non-profit Tech 2.0 and learn from their example.


Five simple actions for hitting the ground running with Facebook Page

Facebook pages can be seen as a bit of minefield when you’re new to them. However, there are very simple things you can do to make it much easier for your charity or organisation when setting up a presence. Read @Keanearrow’s post to find out more.


What the Research Says About Increasing Facebook Engagement

Beth Kanter on the ball as usual. Great post based upon actual research findings.


Does a Facebook focus do us any favours?

Do we focus too much on Facebook? Tim Davies explores our obsession with the big blue social network.


Measuring the inside leg

Rob Dyson of Whizz-Kidz shares his thoughts on social media metrics.


The Ultimate Guide to Facebook Marketing

Not strictly speaking a non-profit specific post but this is a useful collection of juicy links from Copyblogger which any charity thinking about their Facebook presence will find useful.


How to import email contacts into your nonprofit Facebook Page

The Facebook Non-profit Guy shares a top tip on making the most of your contact list.


Non-Profits on Facebook

This official page is a resource for non-profits and other organizations interested in social good. Some great case studies and best practice in there.


Using Facebook to fundraise

One for the fundraisers, this is a great post from JustGiving.


Be Good Be Social videos

Interesting #BeGoodBeSocial presentations and workshops from Rob McAllen, Marc Bowker, Sara Thomas and Rob Dyson exploring social media for social good. Topics include grassroots campaigns using Facebook, developing a social media fundraising strategy, using social media to engage staff and communicating in a Big Society.


Got any Facebook non-profit resources you’d like to share? Leave a comment or tweet me @thirdsectorlab