By Leah Quintal
When social media is done well, it can engage audiences, grow a supportive community, promote branding, and may even make money. Most organizations, however, fail to use social media effectively.
Let’s be honest – many businesses use social media to sell stuff. In doing so they often end up treating Facebook like a storefront window. But readers tire of post after post of “buy this” or “sale today.” Likewise, non-profits’ social media efforts often fall short with content that is too serious or overly centered on fundraising. Facebook users want kittens, Gangnam Style, and photos of their cousin’s new baby–not impersonal sales pitches.
But a successful social media partnership between non-profits and business can help both parties reach their goals. Asheville, NC area’s land conservation non-profit Wild South and hammock company Eagle’s Nest Outfitters (ENO) have formed a very successful social media partnership. I met with them to learn how their experiences may provide insights for other organizations looking to team up.
Case Study: Wild South and Eagle’s Nest Outfitters “Species Spotlight Wednesdays”
For the last two months I’ve been trying to win an ENO parachute hammock on Facebook. Thus far, in spite of my better than average knowledge of Southern Appalachian plant and animal species, I have not won. What does one have to do with the other, you may ask? Well, everything, when it takes knowing about one to win the other.
The following Facebook post shows a typical Wednesday post on ENO’s Facebook Page:
Each Wednesday Wild South and ENO partner up on Facebook to giveaway ENO goodies to Facebook followers who can answer questions about Wild South’s conservation initiatives. Questions focus on regional species protected through land conservation. ENO posts the giveaway on their Facebook page, and Wild South directs their Facebook fans to ENO’s page to participate.
The following graph is a Google Analytics representation of the resulting traffic to Wild South’s website from Facebook. The first line graph represents Facebook traffic to the Wild South website. The second line graph shows traffic to their website from all sources.
As you can see, the graphs are practically identical. The spikes all occur on Wednesdays, which means that the social media partnership between Wild South and ENO has directly resulted in significant traffic to the Wild South website, effectively growing their network of support and information exchange.
Why Non-Profits and Business Should Partner
Besides boosting website traffic, how does the Wild South and ENO partnership help the bottom line?
I spoke with Wild South Associate Executive Director Ben Prater and Development Director Ben Colvin for the nonprofit’s perspective. Advocacy work is a huge part of Wild South’s mission. They need a large community of concerned citizens voicing opinions on matters that affect how we value our forests and how we protect them. Facebook has become the most effective means for Wild South to mobilize their supporters. Prater explained, “Our advocacy work requires that people get involved quickly to voice their opinion on how wild places and wild things are protected across our region.”
Wild South’s Facebook page is growing quickly thanks to ENO. With a larger, engaged online community Wild South has a powerful communication tool to use as leverage for new partnerships and sponsorships.
On the business side, the biggest advantage is enhanced, targeted branding. ENO Social Media Manager Natalie Pearson explained that ENO hammocks may be products for sale, but the ENO brand is far more than that. ENO is about outdoor adventure: hiking, camping, climbing, kayaking. “What we do at ENO relies on Wild South protecting the environment,” Pearson said. If we didn’t have the trees Wild South protects, we wouldn’t have hammocks. And, we want to be more of a lifestyle than a product. We are the woods, the lake, and the hammock. And Wild South is protecting that.” The partnership with Wild South helps strengthen ENO’s brand.
Steps to Successful Social Media Partnerships
Step 1: Consider what you want social media to do for you, and if it makes sense for your organization. Wild South sent a communication survey directly to their network and asked what kind of digital interaction they preferred. Social media was the overwhelming response. The survey results enabled Wild South to make a commitment to utilize social media as a communications platform.
Step 2: Incorporate social media into your strategic marketing plan. Too many companies take the quick route of starting a Facebook page with no concrete goals or strategy.
Step 3: Research partners that make sense for your brand. Pearson councils businesses to seek out a non-profit that makes sense for who you are and what you want to convey to your community. Consider your values and the full picture of your industry – who ensures you have a market to begin with?
Step 4: Create engaging content. Think of your own habits on social media, and don’t oversell your mission or product. And if you can put a kitten in there, do it. The way Facebook works is that the more comments, shares, and likes one post gets, the more likely the next post will show up on the walls and news feeds of your fans. For example, a non-profit like Wild South could follow up a successful “Species Spotlight” post with a time sensitive call to action.
Step 5: Be patient, consistent, and don’t overdo it. It takes time and persistence to grow a social media account properly. ENO’s Pearson also suggests limiting the amount of partnerships you engage with on Facebook so you ensure sincerity. If ENO posted about many different outdoor advocacy operations the impact from their Wild South Wednesdays would become diluted. Less is more.
The Take Home
Social media is an incredible digital communication space that showcases and celebrates active partnerships between non-profit organizations and businesses.
I was unaware of Wild South and ENO a couple months ago. I found out about both on Facebook from posts by friends. Now that I’m fans of both pages I am regularly reminded of the activities and activism of both Wild South and ENO. Within the last two months I’ve reached out to volunteer with Wild South. And I’ll probably buy an ENO hammock as a Christmas present for my brother.
Now multiply my experience by 33 thousand – which is ENO’s current number of Facebook fans. Bingo.
Leah Quintal is a project manager with Asheville-based online marketing company JB Media Group. She is also a freelance writer, environmental activist, and maybe one day, a lucky winner of an ENO hammock.