Social Media Engagement For Nonprofits: A Beginner’s Guide

Social media engagement is about the relationship between you and your followers. And it’s arguably the most important measurement of success, when it comes to social.

“Engagement” covers everything from a like to a click to a response.  A high engagement rate generally means people like what you’re sharing. Conversely, a low engagement rate mean you’re missing the mark.

If you’re not sure how you’re doing, engagement-wise, don’t worry. Every social media platform offers some form of analytics, so you can monitor engagement easily.

In truth, the problem isn’t a lack of engagement data. It’s that many organizations don’t bother checking analytics. Instead, they rely on follower count to measure success, which is a mistake.

Follower Count Is Just A Vanity Metric

We all want to be popular.  But mom was right when she said, “popularity isn’t everything.”

In high school, many of us associated “popularity” with the number of friends we had, instead of pondering the value of individual friendships.

This way of thinking can be fatal when you’re using social media as a nonprofit marketing tool. Because the number of people following your organization doesn’t matter if none of them are genuinely interesting in your mission or your programs.

To get real value from social media, you need to stop obsessing about follower count.  Instead, focus time and attention on what truly matters –  engagement.

Social Media Engagement Has Measurable Value

Let’s say your nonprofit has 5,000 followers on Twitter.  You built your follower base organically.  It took time, but now you’ve got a strong group of followers that include members, stakeholders, program participants, other nonprofit groups, and supporters.

You post about an upcoming event hosted by your organization.  50 people share your post.  15 people leave comments asking for more information.  10 of the commenters end up registering to attend the event.

Congratulations! Clearly, you had real social media engagement and got real results.

Now let’s imagine that you’ve got 20,000 followers on Twitter.  But you purchased over half of them because you wanted your nonprofit to look popular.  So what happens when you make that post about the upcoming event?

In this situation, the most likely impact is that NOTHING happens. Nada. No one shares, or comments, or registers to attend. NOTHING happens because you have no real connections with your followers.  At best, they’re disinterested. At worst, they’re just bots.

NEVER buy followers. It’s a major social media faux pas!

Quality Trumps Quantity

Mom was also on-target when she said, “quality is more important than quantity.” I hate to keep pushing mom-isms. But moms are very wise!

The quality of your followers and the quality of your content are paramount.

Social media engagement hinges on creating and curating high quality content.  In general, it’s better to share a high-quality post once a day than 5 meaningless posts every day.  That said, you do need to be aware of the “personality” of each social media site and post accordingly.

For example:

On LinkedIn, posting two or three high quality pieces of content each week is fine.  In fact, you don’t want to post too often. It can be a turn off for the business crowd that favours LinkedIn.

Conversely, on Twitter there’s an endless demand for more posts. In fact, popular accounts often post every hour or so.

Don’t panic! You can meet the higher content demands by sharing both original content and curated content.

The keyword is “quality”.  Whether it’s original or curated, every post must be chosen carefully and strategically. NEVER post curated content without reading it first.

The goal is to showcase the authority and expertise of your organization and build meaningful connections.  At the end of the day, that’s the only way to succeed at social media.  That’s the end game.

Engagement Is An Umbrella Term

“Engagement” encompasses all sorts of measurable actions, including likes, shares, comments, etc.  It’s important to understand the types of engagement you want the most, and why.

Engagement can be sorted into 4 general categories: acknowledgement, association, amplification, and action.

All forms of engagement are good -and show that you’re doing something right. But not all forms of engagement are created equal.

Focus most on the type of engagement that best aligns with your nonprofit marketing objectives.  If your objectives change over time (which can happen), adjust your social media strategy.  These adjustments may shift your focus to a different type of engagement. That’s fine.

The important questions to ask yourself are:

  • What type of engagement do we want?
  • What kind of content will drive that type of engagement?
  • How will I measure success (ROI)?

Acknowledgement Engagement

Acknowledgement engagement is when someone “likes” your content.  Like most things that require little effort, just being “liked” has minimal value.

This type of engagement does little to promote a public connection to the content or to your nonprofit.  That said, the value of a “like” should not be diminished. After all, you can’t succeed at social media if no one likes your posts!

Acknowledgement engagement tells you that people are looking at your content.  And they’re making a positive connection with what you’re putting out there, at least for a moment.

Association Engagement

Association engagement is when someone interacts with your content.  It includes things like replies, comments, mentions, and follows.

This is a big step up from simple acknowledgement.  Association requires a greater level of effort and more commitment on the part of the follower.

It serves as proof that you’re posting quality content.  Something you posted inspired people to do more than hit “like”. It excited them enough to make them “talk” to you and/or become a follower.

Association engagement represents a real, authentic connection with your nonprofit.  And o succeed at social media you need those deeper connections.

Amplification Engagement

Amplification engagement is when someone spreads your content to their audience (e.g. retweets, shares). it exponentially increases the reach of your content.

Best of all, that larger audience is already “warm”. They didn’t just find you through some random search. Instead, you were introduced by someone they already know – your enthusiastic follower.

Amplification engagement has the power to create brand ambassadors – social media users who endorse your organization each time they share your content.  This is a great compliment and it has tremendous marketing value.

Action Engagement

Action engagement is when someone clicks through to your website.

When your content spurs people to action and moves them beyond social media, you have a real opportunity to inspire them to do something of higher value to your organization.

Action engagement is the point where your social media activities connect with your nonprofit marketing strategy.  To maximize the effectiveness of action engagement, you need to make sure your website is set up to “close the deal”

Ask yourself:

  • What action do I want them to take? (e.g. become a member, donate, sign up for a program, join our email list)
  • How do I get them to take that action?

What Type of Social Media Engagement Should I Measure?

Depending on your nonprofit marketing strategy, your mission and your goals, some types of engagement may be more important to you than others. That said, they are all worth measuring.

For example, if your strategy focuses on increasing the online authority of your nonprofit, amplification engagement is very valuable.

If one of your primary goals is to grow your email list, action engagement is paramount because it gets people to your website. There, you hopefully have things set up to inspire folks to sign up!

Pay attention to the kind of content that’s driving each type of engagement.  This is important because you want to create and curate quality content that drives the best types of engagement for your organization.


Going back to those mom-isms…

If you only remember two things from this post, those takeaways should be:

  1. Popularity isn’t everything
  2. Quality is more important than quantity

Your long-term goal is to create an engaged audience of real people who are genuinely interested in your nonprofit. To accomplish this, you need to stop obsessing about follower count – and realize that engagement is everything!


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