Video and Social Validation for Non-Profits and Cause-Centric Organizations

By Gail Z. Martin

Video rules the online world:

Facebook Live, Periscope, and Snapchat can help you and your volunteers show the devastation from a disaster, go live at a food drive, fundraiser or resource collection point, bring viewers the real-time experience of building a Habitat house, filling grocery bags for a food bank, or other project. (Always respect the privacy of your recipients and never show faces or give names without permission and a signed release form.) The objective is to bring your social media audience into the situation, sharing the urgency or encouraging them to get involved.

Most cause-centric organizations spend a lot of effort educating people about their mission and the need for their services. Social media makes it easier than ever to share photos, video, stories and testimonials in a compelling way to awaken urgency and spur action. You can also share photo memes and short tweets and posts on tips or facts related to your cause, promote a hotline, or share links where people can access resources. Not only can you reach a wide audience with your information, but you can also track engagement through the likes, comments, shares, views and retweets. Short video is particularly good for communicating essential tidbits and attracting maximum social media attention.

When you hold fundraisers, set up a “red carpet" photo spot with a backdrop of your logo, like you see at the Academy Awards or Comic Con, and encourage your donors to take and post selfies in front of the backdrop. People like to be caught doing something good.

Don't wait for the media to discover your fundraisers, community projects, and relief projects. Tag bloggers and local, regional and national media on your tweets and posts. Upload video from disaster sites and relief efforts to sites like CNN and Huffington Post. Cultivate social media connections with sympathetic reporters and bloggers, and become their source for information pertaining to your organization's cause. Here's a place where everything I've talked about concerning branding, credibility, and influence comes together. Reporters will be more willing to tap you as a subject matter expert on your cause if they recognize and trust your brand, if your organization has a record for credibility and good behavior, and if you are visibly connected (and therefore, informally endorsed) by other influential people the reporter trusts.

Monitor Your Brand:

Guard your organization's reputation to maintain your credibility. One great way to do that is to use social media to listen. Several years ago, one international charity went through a scandal that disillusioned many donors and supporters. Even though the organization had a lengthy history and well-known brand, its credibility took a big hit. Instead of stonewalling, going defensive or mounting a feel-good PR counteroffensive, the organization went on social media and asked people to talk to them about the crisis. They purposefully engaged in online conversation that was sometimes uncomfortable, answering with transparency and honesty. It was a first step in restoring the organization's trustworthiness. While it's best not to ever need to do damage control, when the worst happens, realize that social media can be the place to begin to rebuild trust.

Use tools like Google Alerts to assure that you see when your organization's name is mentioned online. Hire someone to set up a Wikipedia page about your organization, and check the page periodically too make sure crowdsourced information doesn't introduce incorrect information. Google your organization regularly to see what comes up in the results. Go deeper with tools like IceRocket, SocialMention and Topsy to dig into how your company is showing up on Facebook and Twitter. Consider an inexpensive reputation management program like Reputology to help you gather information easily.

While it would be nice if everyone agreed on social causes, the reality is that cause-centric organizations often have vocal opposition, and may face hostile comments or even detractors who post false information. If your organization has a controversial focus, proactive and consistent reputation management is a necessity. You do not want negative comments or misinformation to gain momentum and become difficult or impossible to rebut or correct. While dealing with an online crisis is uncomfortable, the potential for disaster from doing nothing is far worse.

Social Validation:

Social validation happens when people follow what other, more influential people, are doing and do likewise. It's the principle behind celebrity endorsements and high-profile product placements, and it's alive and well online—and easier than ever for you to harness for your organization.

We're used to thinking of social validation in terms of highly influential people—politicians, athletes, TV and movie stars, and other 'famous' people. There's certainly still value in tapping the traditional forms of validation, such as high-profile speakers at an event, or having a well-known celebrity as a spokesperson. Yet today's online generation is more skeptical, realizing that most 'spokespeople' are really paid endorsers. Live events have limited attendance, and traditional media like newspapers, magazines, and TV are waning in their influence.

Social media can provide social validation when an influential person with a large online following generates or retweets favorable content about your organization. Here's where it pays to know about connections your senior management, board members, loyal donors and clients may have with famous or highly visible people. Asking someone to tweet or retweet requires much less time, effort and commitment than recruiting them as a spokesperson, but one tweet from a celebrity can reach millions of people from a source they deem credible and worthy of emulation.

While your radar should always be on the lookout for big fish, don't overlook the cumulative power of highly-connected but not-famous people. Many bloggers, podcasters, subject matter experts, and gregarious individuals have built large online followings on the basis of their personality, perspective and valuable information. They have high credibility with their online followers, and can have a reach in the tens of thousands. That individual following might not match that of a single Hollywood actor, but when grouped together with similarly well-connected online personalities, the numbers add up.

Another benefit of targeting 'nearly famous' influencers is the ease of access. Getting to a major celebrity often involves going through layers off gatekeepers (unless your board member happens to be a close personal friend or family member), and can involve lengthy negotiation. By comparison, reaching out to 'famous enough' influencers is as easy as sending an email or a direct Twitter message. You'll spend some time identifying likely partners and compiling contact information, but your interactions will be direct, not filtered through agents and go-betweens.

Before contacting any influencer, ask yourself what's in it for them, and why they would want to agree. Social validation is most effective when the influencer has a personal, sincere connection to the cause. It can backfire spectacularly if the public suspects that any kind of quid pro quo considerations have been made that aren't explicitly made known.

Take time to read the blogs and social media feeds of the influencers you think might be a good fit. Ideally, the person should be known and well-regarded by the audience you want to reach. This is where demographics come into play. If you're trying to reach young adults, the celebrities and online personalities with the most influence may be completely unfamiliar to your board members.

Look for natural connections. Does the person you're researching already have an affinity for your type of cause? Are they already talking about issues in your realm? Pay attention to more than just their content. Is the social persona of the individual something that would favorably represent your organization? An influential person with an interest in your cause might still do more harm than good if they are combative or if the their content is at odds with your organization's brand.

Resist the temptation to just tag famous people and hope they'll respond. That is viewed very negatively, and likely to result in complaints to the social media site and/or a backlash. Influencers are highly protective of their credibility and following, with good reason. They will not appreciate being tagged in posts that run counter to their opinions or presume or suggest endorsement without their permission.

When is it appropriate to tag someone on Facebook or Twitter in relation to your organization? If the person is attending your public event, serving as a spokesperson, or involved with your organization in a public way, tagging okay and desirable. If you're retweeting or quoting them or referring to their work or to an article/media interview/blog post featuring them that somehow relates to your mission, tagging is perfectly fine. If they begin to engage with your organization by retweeting/liking/commenting your organization's posts and a relationship develops, tagging them on important content on occasion (don't abuse the privilege) may get a high-profile retweet. Just go slowly and don't wear out your welcome.

Cause-centric Crowdfunding and Peer-to-Peer Campaigns

Social media has proven extremely effective for fundraising, especially from young adults. Being able to respond to a request for targeted donations on a mobile phone with the click of a button appeals to donors who are at home in an online world. Not only is giving via social media easy and immediate, but it lends itself to going viral with a little gamification.

Big donors have often been public about their philanthropy, either for social recognition or to inspire others to follow their example. New peer-to-peer fundraising software combines the reach of social media and the challenge of gamification to enable ordinary people to make a public declaration of their support for a favorite cause/organization and encourage their friends to join them—or even compete to hit goals. This is so much more than posting 'please support this cause'. Peer-to-peer fundraising empowers individuals to make a difference in the world for a cause that fires their passion.

If you're an organization person and the idea of turning individuals loose to fundraise gives you the willies, realize that peer-to-peer is nothing new. It's behind every charity walk-a-thon and 5K challenge, every kid selling wrapping paper or fruitcake, every college student collecting spare change from motorists or dancing for 24 straight hours. From that perspective, these new online sites provide far more accountability and tracking than putting a jar on the counter of the local coffee shop. Even more importantly, peer-to-peer social media fundraising campaigns are easy to share with an individual's world-wide network of friends and colleagues, and they create social value out of good-natured one-upmanship.

Charitweet enables people to donate as little as one dollar directly to the charity of their choice—and challenge their social media followers to match their donation. Charitweet only works with cause-centric organizations vetted through CharityNavigator, and emphasizes transparency.

Classy is a mobile app/social media tool for peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdfunding, including event registration capabilities. It grew out of its founders' experience organizing a pub crawl for charity, and seeks to make it easy for people to rally their friends to raise money for causes about which they are passionate. Classy can also be used by cause-centric organizations to hold ticketed or online fundraising events with their template pages, making it easy to get up and running without proprietary programming on your own web page.

Similar sites include FirstGiving and CrowdRise. All of these social media tools are second-generation improvements similar to GoFundMe, with slicker interfaces, better mobile apps, and more built-in resources. CrowdRise is primarily for peer-to-peer campaigns, but can be used by organizations as well. FirstGiving also supports organization-drive campaigns and peer-to-peer. If you're looking for an enterprise scale, cloud-based solution, check out Blackbaud, which offers a suite of products to run all of your online fundraising along with templates to make it easy.

All of these sites offer a wealth of free resources to help organizations and individuals make their fundraising efforts effectively. Peer-to-peer fundraising enables individuals to make a statement about causes they care about, and use social media to make a personal 'ask' (which anyone familiar with donors knows is the most effective way to raise money). Social media fundraising rewards people for doing the right thing, something traditional campaigns do for big donors but which is rarely done for small and micro donors. By going public with their peer campaigns, individuals gain a sense of ownership over the results, and an emotional investment in the organization.

Social media can be a powerful tool for cause-centric organizations, enabling you to increase your reach to donors, sponsors, supporters, volunteers, community leaders and clients. Take advantage of what LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other sites can do to help you cement your brand, extend your influence and reinforce your credibility.

The Last Word:

Tap into the power of social media to extend your connection with volunteers, donors and community leaders. By leveraging social validation, gamification, peer-to-peer fundraising and crowdfunding, as well as the power of in-the-moment photos and videos, your organization and its mission can become more compelling than ever.

Excerpted from The Essential Social Media Marketing Handbook