By: Dave Ed On: June 19, 2012 In: Gareth Lloyd, Opinion Comments: 0

When I started my career in marketing, direct mail was THE medium for charity fundraising, with DRTV the ‘new kid on the block’. Fast forward some 18 years (has it really been that long?) and direct mail is still here, but social media is today’s parvenu. And while many charities have embraced it, many others haven’t, or seem to be struggling to use it properly.

You’re never too old
The default excuse for a charity not investing in social media seems to be ‘our donor profile is too old’. This is nonsense. One of the most telling facts of the whole ‘socialnomics’ argument is that the fastest growing group segment on Facebook is 55-65 year old females – the core demographic of most UK charities.
While I can’t personally confirm this, I do know that ‘oldies’ are using the internet for far more than booking cheap flights. My own mother has posted her French home for sale online, while some of her 70 year old friends use internet dating agencies to find gentlemen who like nice walks and eating out. These people give considerable amounts of money to charity and they now talk to each other though email as much as they do through phone calls.
This is why I strongly believe every charity needs a proper social media presence.

Social media helps a charity’s supporters spread the word
Sites like Facebook and MySpace offer an ideal way to create and connect groups of like-minded people who will talk to each other about a charity’s work – and spread the message to more people like them. They will also talk to the charity, giving hugely important feedback. This feedback is free and authentic market research, that can help guide subsequent communications to prospective supporters in many other media channels.
What’s more, all this interaction takes place in a digital landscape, so each individual is never more than a few clicks away from making a donation, signing a petition, volunteering, sponsoring someone or lending their support in another away.

Make the effort and you will reap the reward
So what should charities be doing to truly benefit from the digital age and the increasing importance of social media in influencing people’s thoughts and behaviours? Here are my 5 tips:

1. Get focussed.
Decide which social network sites offer your charity the best platform to convey your messages, engage people and generate a large supporter base. Facebook, for example, has a Causes application where charities can build support groups and seek donations and other methods of support.

2. Get committed.
Once you’ve opened your Facebook, twitter, MySpace, YouTube or whatever account, be sure you commit enough time to it. You need to update it regularly, to respond to feedback and to thank people for their support. If you don’t have a lot of resource, then stick to just one or two sites. It’s better to be on one site well than be on many sites badly.

3. Be interesting.
People use social network sights to express their personality and their interests. If you are just worthy in what you say, you won’t stay interesting for long. Lance Armstrong’s twitter page is a combination of compassion, humour, support for other causes and trivia. It has over 2,500,000 followers.

4. Be smart.
Ask people on your email list to follow you online, and ask people who follow you online to add themselves to your email list. Then you can communicate to them in different ways and draw them closer to your work. If they really do support you, most will agree.

5. Do it now.
You know you need to be doing this, so do it now. The longer you wait, the further back you’ll fall. And remember, if you need some support we are here. We can help you understand how to use social media and how to present your cause in a way that will get people reading what you post – and telling their friends and colleagues to do so too.

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