1 Listen Up!

How to Read Minds using Social Media

The first thing a nonprofit organization should do online is learn how to listen.

not listening

Did you ever say to yourself, “I wish I knew what my donors were thinking”?  Or “It would be great if clients just told us what they need. I can’t read minds”?

Online, people tell you what they think, feel, want, and desire.  Online, you can read minds.  But only if you talk less and listen more.

First, Find Your People

People are talking about what they care about online all the time.  The key is to find your people, talking about the issues that matter to your organization.

Start with the people you already know: the people on your mailing list.  Take a sample of them and search for them online.  What social media do they use?

If they’re on Facebook, set up a Facebook interest list and add them to it.  That way, any time you go on Facebook, you can see what those specific people are talking about.

If they mostly use Twitter, you can also create a list.  You might find that you spend most of the time you’re on Twitter looking just at that list (which will help you cure the feeling that you’re drinking from a fire hose!)  And you can do the same for other social media.

Then, Listen

Spend a little time each day getting to know your supporters.  What do they post about most often? Are they sports fans, foodies, readers?  Are some of them heatedly discussing a local or national issue?

Going online is like walking into a party where people have already begun to mingle. Once you have figured out what their conversation is about, you can find ways to contribute.  That will raise your visibility and gain you good will. In the long run, it will lead to more volunteers and donors.

But don’t go in and start trying to change the subject to what your organization is doing.  You’ll find people excusing themselves and heading to another corner of the room!

Listen to your supporters a little bit each day for two weeks before you even think of posting to social media. When in doubt, listen longer.

Do Some Research

The next time you open Facebook, try searching for “Pages liked by people who like [your organization].”  Run that search and Facebook will tell you:

  • All the pages that your followers have liked, and who liked which page.
  • How many people, total, like that page.
  • Other pages that people who like a specific page also like.
  • Which of your own friends liked that page (if you are using Facebook as an individual)

 Using What You’ve Learned

All very interesting, you say, but so what?  I’m interested in who likes me.  Why should I care who else they like on Facebook?

Here are seven ways you can use that priceless information.

1. Find out more about your prospects and donors.  The next time you talk with Sarah Supporter, you might have a different conversation if you know she likes cooking than if she likes extreme sports.

2. Signal what you have in common.  Use the like button yourself to give a better picture of your organization.  Jim Neighbor might like you better in real life if he knows you both care about the New England Patriots–or public radio–or craft fairs.

3. Pick topics for your blog or social media.  Let’s say a lot of your followers like Downton Abbey, and you run a community health center.  Post about “What Lady Sybil would say to our nurses.”  Watch your likes, comments, and shares climb–because you are talking about something that interests your followers.

4. Find the venue for your next event. If half your followers like a particular bookstore, won’t they be more likely to attend your event if you hold it there?  You may draw a different crowd than you would if you held it at a church, or at a restaurant.

5. Attract new friends from the same circles. Let’s say you build housing for the homeless.  Many who like you also like a “dress for success” program that gives business clothes to job seekers.  You can like that program, comment on its Facebook posts and share them occasionally.  People will notice.  Some will come check you out.

6. Attract new friends from completely different circles.  You notice that your Facebook friends are all white middle-aged women who live in a certain town and like Republican candidates.  Is that really the only group that will support you?  Discuss strategies to reach out to other demographics.

7. Make your content more appealing. As much as Mark Zuckerberg would like it to be, Facebook is not your whole world.  Do you send out newsletters?  Update your website?  Email your supporters?  Ask them for money?  Knowing what your supporters like on Facebook, you can tailor all your communications–online and off, and face to face–to what interests them.

After all, you know their interests.  They told you, and you listened.

Listening to a Broader Community

It makes sense to start listening to the people who know you best already.  But what if you want to hear what a broader range of people think about you and your work?  Then you should set up a Google Alert and use hashtags on Twitter to search for:

  • The name of your organization.  (Be sure to look for misspellings and abbreviations, too.)
  • The names of your partner organizations and your competitors.
  • The field you work in as the public thinks of it. (You may think your field is early education, but do people search for “early education” or “child care”?)
  • Keywords associated with your work.
  • The phrase “I wish” and any of the first four items on this list.  That’s a good way to understand what people want and are not getting already.

 How Valuable is Social Listening?

Take a tip from someone who does social media for a living, Candie Harris.  (What you’ve been reading is partly her ideas “translated” from business to nonprofit.)

As a former brand marketer, if someone had told me I could have access to the hearts and minds of my most loyal consumers (as well as my competitor’s), my first question would be: “How?” My second question would be: “How much will it cost?”

Social listening can give nonprofits “access to the hearts and minds” of clients, donors, prospects, volunteers, even policymakers who affect our work–and all it will cost is time. Take the time. Put down this book and get started. I’ll still be here when you’re done!





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