THE BLOG
07/09/2014 04:44 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2014

Why Nonprofit CEOs MUST Embrace Social Media

Like most individuals and businesses in our technology-driven world, nonprofits have learned to accept and leverage social media as a necessary device in their communications toolbox. If you want to take things up a notch, creating a social presence for your organization's CEO is the way to go.

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Two Voices Are Better Than One

Some of the reasons you want your CEO interacting on social media are obvious: they're another voice for your organization, for one. Add them to the social media presence of your organization as a whole and you have twice the posts, twice the reach, twice the awareness being spread about your cause. They also put a face to your organization, which humanizes what might otherwise seem like a faceless entity that's difficult to connect with.

But perhaps less obvious is the opportunity for your CEO to position him/herself as a thought leader in their field and for your cause. They got to where they are because of their extensive knowledge and leadership abilities - not sharing those qualities online, on behalf of the cause they work so hard representing, is a downright waste.

Where to Begin

You don't need to be everywhere online - in fact, a single social media platform is enough if you're using it well, and it's recommended over juggling multiple networks badly. Of course, your org is already doing that (not badly, but covering multiple platforms). As a CEO, you can easily extend your organization's reach by creating your own account on one of the same social media platform your organization is already using. Follow your organization on Facebook, for example, and select the option (from the "like" dropdown) to get notifications each time your organization posts. This will alert you to new posts that you can easily share from your own page!

Alternatively, choosing a different platform allows you to reach a new audience while also cross-sharing from the platform your organization uses (for example, tweeting links it is sharing on Facebook). But this might require a learning curve.

What matters is finding the platform(s) that makes sense for you and for your message. Here are a few to consider when deciding where you want to be:

Facebook - is the #1 social network for people to talk to their friends about everything; word-of-mouth is a huge advantage with Facebook followers. The reach of Facebook pages has changed, so to get the most out of them, be sure you are meeting "likers" on a human level, versus a brand level. This is where being the CEO and not a faceless marketer for the organization can really make a difference.

Twitter - is in some ways the most streamlined of the major platforms, and it's easy to connect to other thought leaders and share their stories and tweets with your followers. Hashtags also allow for easy searching and categorization.
Google+ - has more to offer than you may expect, including integration with YouTube (videos are super important, so ease of sharing is a plus), one-click exposure with every +1, increased search engine optimization with both Google and YouTube searching, and the opportunity for an easy transition when Google Wallet adds "donate" buttons to its pages.

Best Practices

Whatever platform you choose, the same rules apply to you as they do for your organization. Creating a schedule for posting that puts you in front of as many people as possible is key. Research prime traffic times for your target audience if you can, and post during those windows. If you don't have time for this, explore Hootsuite and Buffer to take advantage or their auto-scheduling options. They'll help you space out your posts.

Follow thought leaders in your field to help you find content to share. If you have the means (and time) to create your own content, by all means do that, but either way, retweeting/sharing and curating content from others is a great way to keep the conversation flowing even when you don't personally have anything to say.

Using Storify can help you find content on social media platforms beyond those you and your organization frequent, and it will bring your message to those you reference in your stories, as well as their followers.

When it comes to content, here are a few tips to help you have the greatest impact:

• Create and share content that evokes emotion - anger can inspire action, as can compassion and guilt. Sharing items that make the reader think is what matters.

• Share images and videos as well as text - they'll say more than you ever could in 140 characters (the character limit on Twitter)

• Don't limit yourself - while Millennials are the focus demographic of a lot of businesses and nonprofits right now, Baby Boomers and Seniors are online more than you realize, and should not be discounted. Make time for them too.

Let's talk more about that last point, because these two demographics require different methods to be reached.

With Millennials, being the face of your organization is even more of an advantage, because they are more apt to connect with the cause than the organization itself. They want to know what you are doing, and are willing to help. They enjoy volunteering not just for the sake of the cause, but for the peer interaction and the way they can leverage the experience on their resumes, so approach them with that in mind.

Boomers and Seniors, on the other hand, are watching more video, and are moved to take action after watching. They use the Internet to research topics they want to know more about, so top-notch search engine optimization (SEO) is a plus here if you want to stand out. They are more open to online payments than you may think, and their use of mobile is growing and will continue to.

Caveats

When you're posting as yourself, it can be easier to blur lines you might never get close to when posting as an organization. Remember humor is subjective and easily misconstrued in print. If there's even a question that something might offend someone, don't post it. Also be careful not to come across as preachy as it can turn people off.

Keep in mind that with the benefit of being the face of the organization, there is the potential drawback of coming under fire by some. Don't take it personally. Always take a beat before posting in reply to someone who is riled up or has a complaint, and never post in anger.

The best way to learn how to "do" social media well, is to follow those already using it effectively. Here are a few people setting great examples:

Nancy Lublin, DoSomething.org
Carolyn Miles, Save the Children
Jonathan Reckford, Habitat for Humanity

It might seem unnecessary, or risky, for your CEO to jump into the social fray, but the advantages are numerous, and the risks are few if you use a little common sense, and have a solid social media policy in place for your organization - and all staff - to follow.

CEOs who are already using social media, have you found your organization's reach has extended? What drawbacks or advice would you share with those about to put themselves out there?

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