Make 2016 the year your organisation drives social media growth

Last night my wife arrived home after a conference in Oxford and she told me about a discussion regarding the use of social media and the challenges organisations were facing. Seeing as I've tackled similar hurdles at Meningitis Now I wrote this blog to share my thoughts and learnings. It's turned into a rather long post...

First the good news. After leading the Meningitis Now digital team for five years, I can confirm that social media management doesn’t have to be hugely complicated for it to be successful. You need the right people, the right tools, a comms plan, patience and finally, Chief Exec buy in.

Five years of social media growth and learning
Over the last five years the Meningitis Now social media channels have been carefully looked after, curated, mollycoddled and loved.

Due to huge growth, the biggest challenges are always keeping up with internal demands, responding to increased levels of activity (due to wider reach) and keeping up with the ever-changing digital landscape.

375% growth in five years
The Meningitis Now Facebook page has grown from 12,000 to over 57,000 people in five years. It’s become home to a hugely vibrant, supportive and engaged group of brand ambassadors.

The Meningitis Now social media groups are achieving amazing things:

  • Gathered over half of the 50,000 signatures needed to help bring in a life-saving Meningitis B vaccination.

  • Over the last four years social media has driven nearly half a million web visits, 10% of total traffic.

  • Over the last year social media has driven nearly 25% of all web traffic and those referral percentages keep growing.

  • The groups offer peer-to-peer support, extending the reach and capability of the internal team. Even when Meningitis Now aren't covering the platforms, supporters are.

  • By listening to the voices on the platforms, this feedback helps guide the organisation on subjects and ideas that matter to supporters.

Eight key learnings from running a social media team

1: Social media content: any secrets to success?
Over the years Meningitis Now has created social media posts to launch the hard hitting #FastestHour awareness film, reacted to breaking news stories in the middle of the night, targeted viewers watching TV soaps covering meningitis storylines, created hard-hitting graphics and shared hundreds of supporter stories.

I believe this rich diversity of content, its relevancy to the audience and the team’s responsiveness and dedication are the core reasons for the incredible social media growth.

Whether you’ve got a film to promote, a new (product/event/appeal) to launch or a simple date reminder, all posts can perform well if you: target posts at your audience’s interests, give it stand out, post at the best time and have a clear call to action.

Be guided by this simple rule: “Tell me something I don’t know, or entertain me.” I picked this up when I was studying to be a advertising copywriter. It’s still as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.

Always ask yourself this: “why should the reader bother sharing or clicking this content?” People carefully curate their feeds to make sure they only share content that’s relevant to them and their friends.

2. Social media content: what does success look like?
The post below is one of the most successful Meningitis Now posts. This week it’s driven over 10,000 visits to the website, been shared over 16,000 times and received 520+ Likes > in three days. Imagine what you would have to pay in advertising spend to get these kind of results.

The amazing thing about this piece of content is that it’s ‘ever green content’. You can post it time and again (within reason) and receive great engagement. This has already been posted at least three times before over the last couple of years. It’s good to have posts like this in your back pocket that you can reuse once or twice a year.

Take some time to think about the above post and you’ll understand why it’s a success. Many people on the Facebook page have had a direct or indirect experience of meningitis. We are in the peak season for meningitis and they understand the importance of awareness.

Our followers want to help make sure other people don’t experience this terrible disease. Clicking, reading and sharing are very fast and simple ways for them to help and support the awareness campaign.

3. Be realistic: don’t expect everything to break records
It’s a fact of life that you’ll always need to post corporate messages and you know they aren’t necessarily going to get a great response. The post below is for Meningitis Now’s Gloucester Christmas concert. Only a small percentage of the audience is in the local area, so it’s never going to break any engagement records as it’s only relevant to a handful of people on the page.

This is fine to do in moderation. Always hold the wider view and carefully consider subject matter across the week so it’s balanced. It would be easy to continuously ask for people to sign up/donate/volunteer, but if you ask too many times, engagement levels and reach will drop through the floor.

Over time you’ll be able to categorise posts by subject matter and see which balance works best for your groups. At Meningitis Now posts are generally split: 1/3 awareness, 1/3 meningitis stories and 1/3 support asks.

And don't forget competitions. Everyone loves a competition. They're now more important than ever before due to the restrictions of buying mailing lists. How are charities supposed to reach new people and extend their reach? More charities will have to use techniques like the one below...

4: Messaging: top techniques
The same marketing rules that were relevant 40 years ago are still relevant today. Right message. Right audience. Right time.

It’s the fragmentation of media platforms that makes it difficult to find the right channel. 
There’s a huge growth in live steaming your life via Periscope, ‘kidz’ are on Instagram rather than Facebook, as for G+… who’s on there now? Once you leap into social media, just expect one thing. It’s a world of constant change. That’s what makes it so utterly fascinating and exciting to work in.

Here's some more good news. Social media platforms may change every minute, but human nature doesn’t. People always want a bargain or to be the first to know something. And don’t forget stories. Social media thrives on powerful human stories.

All those old school marketing techniques still work as well today as they did in the 1940s. Use special offers to lure people in, use proven buzz words like ‘new’, ‘now’, ‘discover’. Just tell the person something they don’t know. If you can’t do that and all else fails…. post a cute cat picture.

5: Social media graphics: simple techniques for creating a great social media graphic
With platforms like Pintrest, Instagram, and increasingly so, Facebook, social media is visually driven.

Creating the right type of sharable graphic can be the difference between no shares, over 100 or bursting through the 10,000 mark. You can use a tool like Canva to create graphics.

Keep graphics simple, clear and have a compelling call to action. Many people will view them on a small mobile phone screen.

As all organisations and Facebook groups are different you’ll need to experiment with messages, offers and graphics. Don’t get disheartened if your posts aren’t performing as you’ like, try something new and keep on trying until you see engagement levels rising. It takes time to build. That’s also a really important message to spread internally. Growth may be slow to begin with, but it will snowball and gather momentum.

6: Social media planning: get organised

The social media leader in your team needs to have regular meetings with the different departments to extract interesting posts, pictures and information. Many people dismiss some content as not interesting enough, but why should they be the judge of that? Gather everything you can and plan your posts out in advance. And test the effectiveness of different types of post.

Planning ahead is essential. If you post day by day you won’t be effective. Plan your posts for two to four weeks ahead and create all the graphics in one go. Then upload all your content together. At first experiment with time the posts go up, so you can judge when key engagement times are.

A social media scheduling tool like Buffer will allow you to upload and schedule multiple posts for days or weeks ahead. Buffer will monitor how people interact with the posts and highlight the top performers.

If your followers are like Meningitis Now’s, key engagement times are outside of office hours. Regular evening and weekend checks are always made, delivering excellent supporter care. Many companies don’t, but in my opinion, if you want to speak to people online you need to be there when they are.

7: The right people: who’s behind your hashtags

The person managing your social media channels needs to be dedicated to customer care, show a passion for social media, and also be very mature and controlled.

The Meningitis Now Facebook page is a place for team work, elation, panic, support, laughter and incredible sadness. People share stories of bereavement and of hope, and ask questions when they should really be calling the emergency services. A mature and cool head is essential, as are social media guidelines and emotional support for the people handling the messages.

8: Social media: get started in 2016

Getting started is sometimes the most difficult thing. One book title comes to mind, "Feel the fear and do it anyway." The more you daly, the further you fall behind.

  • If your organisation is new to social media, take it a step at a time. Create personas for your customers and figure out which platform is most likely to fit with the most relevant demographic.
  • Don’t open all the key platforms at the same time, unless you have someone dedicated to managing them in your team. As a very wise trustee once said to me; “pick your battles.”
  • Most organisations will start with social media being run via the comms team. As well as the traditional press and PR work, Facebook and Twitter is added to the workload. This is a very sensible start, but make sure you have created a plan for what you’re going to do and how to measure success. If you just open the platform and post random content up, you’ll soon get disillusioned as it is unlikely work.

As demand grows on social media, you'll need a plan for your internal structure.

You traditionally have two structures and approaches to social media. One where it’s all handled by the comms team. And another that’s referred to as the hub and spoke model. The hub is where your digital experts in the organisation are based and the spokes are the internal teams (services, education, property etc) in the organisation that are managing the platforms.

With the latter you have the opportunity to do more, but you have to make sure brand tone of voice, messaging and calls to action are as one. Your social media followers will pick up on disjointed social media channels, especially if the levels of customer care differs.

Social media advertising: maybe phase two?
Once you have got to grips creating your own social media communities, you can also take advantage of advertising on these channels as well. You can advertise on all the core channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest… you can target people by their interests, pages they like, age, recent actions and within a certain postcode. They’re hugely powerful and can have pinpoint accuracy.

I hope this has been useful. If you'd like to me to jot down my thoughts on any other digital subject, email Richard Hudson.

About the author
I'm Richard Hudson, and I led the development of the digital offering at Meningitis Now for five years. HB Digital was set up in July 2015 to help other charities and non-profits embrace digital and the huge opportunities it offers. If you are looking to use digital comms more effectively in 2016 get in touch and we can grab a coffee. Or we can have a chat over the phone. I'd be happy to help however I can.

Connect on LinkedIn