Save your sanity: Choose which social networks are worth your time

Wordcloud

While some organizations are still debating whether to have a presence on social media at all, others have the opposite problem: Trying to exist in too many places at once. With so many new social networks popping up every day, it's nearly impossible to keep up with them all as an individual. As a time-and-resource-strapped nonprofit, it's even harder, particularly if you don't have any full-time staff devoted to monitoring those trends and making strategic decisions about where you should put your time and energy.

Some nonprofits do, of course, have the bandwidth and the strategic focus to have effective presences on several social networks simultaneously, and to experiment with new ones as they come along. AARP is a great example. They have an awesome team of smart social media staff, creating and curating content every day for Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and more.

But most nonprofits aren't so lucky, and thus have to be a lot choosier in where they focus their efforts. While there's some argument to be made about at least snapping up your org's name on every new network that comes around, it's important to make sure you're creating an authentic presence on the networks that make the most sense to your organization.

So here are some general do's and don'ts:

1. Do figure out where your audience is first. A simple survey on your website might help you determine where your existing members and donors spend their time. You could also analyze the target audience of each network (for example, Pinterest tends to attract women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, while Google+ tends to be a playground for techies) and determine if that's a place you're likely to find your existing supporters, or new supporters.

2. Don't assume that because a network is popular, it will make you go "viral" simply by being on there and submitting content. Reddit is a great case-in-point here. The people on Reddit are experts at sniffing out and immediately dismissing anything that reeks of self-promotion.

Chess

Chess

3. Do take time to experiment and consider strategy for each network, but don't over-plan to the point where you miss the boat entirely. I'd recommend taking maybe an hour or two, spaced out over a few weeks, to experiment with each new network that looks promising. Then making a judgment call about whether it's a network that's worth your time, not based on how much traction you've been able to achieve (because with that kind of time investment and that kind of time frame, you can't expect much), but based on how the users interact and what kind of content the users tend to share and talk about.

4. Don't post the exact same content across all the networks your organization participates in. Each network has its own flavor, its own etiquette, and its own, slightly-different user base. While it may seem crazy-efficient to use a tool to post the exact same content on multiple platforms at once, in reality you will likely be alienating people on one platform or another by doing so. (For example, people get super annoyed seeing Twitter hashtags and @ symbols in their Facebook feed, and likewise people on Twitter get annoyed with incomplete posts that link back to a Facebook status.) The language, the tone, where you place the link -  all those things change with the platform.

Having to craft slightly different messaging for each platform takes time, and time is a precious commodity at a nonprofit. You want to make sure you're spending the limited time you have maximizing your return on the networks that make the most sense to you.

5. Do engage in conversations with users on the platforms where you're deeply engaged. Repost their content, ask questions, respond to their questions, and join in various community-oriented threads (like the #nptech hashtag on Twitter).

6. Do be realistic about how much time you can devote to social media as a whole, and use that time well. (If that time is almost nothing, check out this awesome webinar Jan-Michael Sacharko did last year on how to manage social media under extreme time and resource limitations.)

7. Do consider engaging in niche networks related to your cause. For example, there are tons of social networks built around pets, and if you work for an animal-rights organization, that could become a great partnership opportunity.

8. Don't be afraid to abandon a network if it just isn't working, despite giving it your best shot. Put your energy into the networks that pay off, and let go of those that don't.

More great resources here:

How does your organization choose which networks deserve the bulk of your time and effort?

Photo credit: Dan Zen on Flickr