Canada: Social Media Tips For Charities And Other Non-Profits

Last Updated: April 15 2013
Article by Tracey Mosley

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2016

Most of us aren't experts on social media.  We think we understand it – more or less – because we are on the receiving end of so much content. What do you need to think about, however, if your organization wants to start generating content, whether you intend to send it to your known supporters, or out to the world in general.   

First things first. What does social media do? What is its purpose? 

Social media amplifies information you generate, to those who opt to follow your means of dispersing that content.  Your followers may have their own followers.  Additionally, most content can be viewed and redirected by any person anywhere in the world. The number of social media vehicles seems to grow by month but the best known include Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Vimeo, and YouTube.   .....and don't forget the comment sections that attach to everything from blogs to online newspaper articles.

You can post words, statements, text, graphics, music, cartoons, video and audio clips, alone or in any combination.

Social media can cement, augment, ....... or torment ..... the reputation of a not-for-profit. 

In choosing to generate social media content, let all of the meanings of "social" be your guide. You are being social by "sharing", social by "hosting", and social by "seeking out others" when generating social media content. Do it well and your list of supporters and donors may grow.  

A few tips:

Limit the individuals who can "speak" on behalf of your organization through social media.  Employees and volunteers must be cautioned against ill-considered use of social media. Encourage them to report to you any concerns they have about content they spot or receive as opposed to responding themselves.      

Determine if you want to post at regular intervals, or only when launching or highlighting fundraising campaigns. Too much content will lead people to ignore you. Poorly timed postings may get lost in the normal rush of the day.

Keep track of who is commenting or reposting your content.  Review comments left on websites. 

Develop a consistent style, including any colours and graphics.   Use your own trade-marks and brands correctly.  There should be no misspellings or truncations of trade-marks.

What seems humorous to one person can be hurtful to another. Photos, videos, cartoons or statements that tease people or organizations, or mock or lampoon events might be funny if the subject is "in on the joke" and the circulation of the item is limited. If not, your organization can find itself lambasted for causing the humiliation of others. Make certain that unflattering content does not originate in your postings or by way of you reposting content received from others.

Correct any misimpressions or mistakes originating in your content immediately.  

If minor conflicts arise, it may be possible to be supportive of the other party, as opposed to responding with hostility, which will only highlight the problem and cost you the opportunity to show your organization's maturity.  For example, you may discover that road traffic problems are preventing guests from getting to a fundraising event on time with the result that fed-up supporters are blaming you, on Twitter. Respond immediately with thanks for advising as to what they are experiencing and that you are trying to mitigate the problem by finding alternate routes or delaying the start of the event. Barking back that people should use GPS or otherwise deal with their "own" problems is a way to turn a problem of the moment into something for which you may never be forgiven. 

A supporter's problem with your organization is your problem – own it.

If a sponsor or donor does not come through as expected, deal with that "behind closed doors". Taking to social media to set out your version of the "facts" and, worse, using and abusing the name of the donor or the name, trade-mark or brand name of the sponsor is not acceptable and may be actionable at law. 

You may need to create content which relies on the trade-marks/brand names of others.v Take care to ensure all trade-marks and brand names are correctly spelled and depicted.

Historic trade-marks and brand names may be too lengthy or complex for the social media universe. If so, create new and additional versions, instead of misusing your existing marks and brands.

Attaching offensive or questionable content such as profanity or slang to a trade-mark/brand name is an absolute no-no.

Sites such as Twitter and Tumblr can only carry so much content and so use that content to drive viewers to your website where you can provide greater detail. You get a doubling effect – viewers see your brand not only on the social media site but on your website.

Ensure adequate publication releases are in place for any material that may be private or subject to copyright, such as music and still or video images. 

In summary, the good manners you show when meeting people directly will stand in you in good stead when "socializing" on social media.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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