Skip to content

What is social media?

Social media refers to a variety of technologies that facilitate the sharing of ideas and information among their users (Investopedia).

  • Social media is digital technology that allows the sharing of ideas and information, including text and visuals, through virtual networks and communities (Investopedia).
  • Social media typically features user-generated content that lends itself to engagement via likes, shares, comments, and discussion (Investopedia).

Why is social media important? 

Over 70% of American adults use at least one social media platform to connect with friends, read news, and discover brands. And 76% of consumers have purchased a product they saw on social media — whether buying immediately via a social media app or later visiting the business’ store or e-commerce site.

With such widespread use and increasing impact on consumption habits, leveraging social media platforms should be a component of your social enterprise’s marketing efforts. 

Developing Your Social Media Strategy: Start Here 

With an ever-expanding list of social media platforms, remember that you don’t have to do it all. As you develop your business’ social media strategy, identify the platforms that align with your goals and target audiences so that you see a clear impact. Then, you can get to work showcasing your business, building a loyal customer base, and engaging with new audiences. 

Throughout this process, be sure to involve other relevant teams whose work you might be sharing or supporting. For example, engage your fundraising colleagues to see how social media could support their work and your program staff who might contribute to your content creation (more on this in Best Practices & Tips).

Step 1: Choosing your Channels

For most businesses, it’s not necessary, beneficial, or possible to have a presence on every social media platform. It’s much better to focus your efforts on one to three platforms with the greatest potential for reaching your key audiences. 

Start by asking these questions:

  • Who are my target audiences? 
  • What do I want them to do? 
  • What type of content do I have available to share?

Then see how your answers align (or don’t) with the core audience and uses for the major social media platforms. Based on your team’s bandwidth, select one to three platforms to focus on that best serve your business:

What It’s Great For
YouTubeThe largest user base of all social media platforms – 81% of Americans use YouTube. 
All ages, genders, education backgrounds, and household incomes are well-represented in YouTubes users.
Facebook69% of Americans use Facebook and of its users, 70% use the platform daily.
All ages, genders, education backgrounds, and household incomes are well-represented in Facebook’s users. However, usage among teens has fallen sharply in the last decade. 
Photos, status updates, and videos perform best on the platform. Overall, Facebook does not drive as much traffic to external sites as you might find on other social media platforms. 
Facebook groups also remain popular and provide a good way to build community. 
Instagram40% of all Americans use Instagram.
Users skew younger (71% of Americans aged 18-29 are on Instagram compared to only 13% of those over 65). 
College graduates are more likely to be on Instagram than those with a high school degree, and users skew more urban and suburban than rural.
49% of Black Americans and 52% of Hispanic Americans use Instagram, compared to 35% of white Americans. 
Although Instagram began as a photo-sharing app, it is increasingly dominated by short-form video content (but photos remain popular too!).
Instagram is a place for users to connect with friends and family – and with brands. With business features available like Shops, 35% of Instagram users will make a purchase on Instagram in 2023. 
TikTok33% of Americans regularly use TikTok, but 48% of those aged 18-29 and 67% of those aged 13-17 use the platform. The highest usage rates come from Black teens aged 13-17, with 81% report using TikTok. Short-form videos where creativity is rewarded.
LinkedInOnly 28% of Americans use LinkedIn, but over 50% of Americans who earn over $75K and/or have a college degree are on the platform. LinkedIn is a professional networking site where people go to share their work accomplishments, connect with coworkers, find and apply for jobs, and engage in professional development. 
As an employer, LinkedIn is an ideal space to post job openings, highlight your employees, and share your accomplishments. 
X (formerly known as Twitter)Only 23%* of Americans use X and the audience skews younger, with 42% of those ages 18-29 using the platform. 
*This figure comes from a 2021 survey. In the spring of 2023, 60% of adult users said they had taken a break from the platform since 2022
Sharing news articles and interacting with journalists and government officials are common uses for the platform.  

If you’d like to continue your channel research, you can find more data on user demographics and time spent on social media from the Pew Research Center. 

Periodically, a new social media platform will emerge and start to attract users. You shouldn’t feel the need to jump immediately into every new platform. You can and should take time to evaluate whether this new platform has staying power, is attracting a user base that aligns with your target audiences, and showcases the type of content you’d like to be sharing. If it meets those criteria, and you have the staff bandwidth, you can start experimenting with it. If not, be confident in sticking with the platforms you know best serve your business. 

If your business lines, program areas, and/or focus populations change or expand, those changes present key moments to revisit your selected channels to determine if they’re still meeting your organization’s goals. 

Do keep in mind that launching your presence on a new social media platform will take focused staff time to develop your channel-specific strategy and build a following that will drive results. Ensure that you have the staff capacity to take on this work without neglecting the community you have built on other channels.

Step 2: Develop a Content Strategy

For each channel that you’ve chosen to utilize, establish the kinds of content that you plan to share that align with your goals and the channel’s purpose. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Photos of your products
  • Customer testimonials 
  • Employee success stories
  • Behind-the-scenes photos or videos of your team 
  • News articles or facts/data that align with your mission 

Creating content for social media doesn’t have to be a big lift or be overly produced. In fact, there’s a lot of content you’re likely already creating that would be a great fit for your social platforms — a paragraph in your email newsletter, an infographic in a presentation, or a customer testimonial on a flyer. Repurposing and adapting content should be a key component of your social media content strategy. 

Once you’ve settled on what you’ll be sharing and where, determine a cadence that is manageable for your team (see Best Practices & Tips on carving out staff roles). You don’t have to post every day, but maintaining a regular and reliable posting schedule will set expectations for your audience, keep people engaged with your content, and let your visitors know that you’re still in operation. 

Step 3: Post, Measure, and Adjust

Social media moves fast, which provides opportunity for experimentation and adjustments along the way. As long as you’re sticking within your brand guidelines —especially your values, voice and tone — this is your opportunity to test out different types of content and messages to see what resonates.  

Whether monthly or quarterly, check in on your platforms to see how your efforts are aligning with your goals. Select a few key things to measure, like clicks to your website, content shares, engagement rate (post engagements divided by reach), and top performing posts (or which individual posts have the highest engagement rates). 

Continue sharing what’s working, and consider incorporating this type of content in other external communications. At the same time, look for ways to adjust the content that isn’t serving you as well. 

You can dive deeper into social media metrics and ideas for what to track based on your goals here. 

Best Practices & Tips

  • Ensure your content is aligned with your brand strategy. All content – including written and visual content – should adhere to your brand’s visual guidelines, voice, and tone. While social media is a place to experiment with messaging, it’s not a place to experiment outside of your brand guidelines. You want to ensure someone who follows you on Instagram, purchases via your website, and receives your email newsletter has a cohesive experience. 
  • Don’t just post, engage. Social media provides an opportunity to engage directly with your audiences, including customers. When considering how much time you can devote to a social media platform, don’t forget to include time spent engaging with other users. Set aside some time each week to read through any comments you receive and reply to them; like or comment on other people’s posts to grow your audience; and respond to any messages you receive in a timely fashion. Many users treat social media like customer service, and they will expect a response from your business. 
  • Set goals to make social media manageable. It’s vital to have clear goals for your efforts on social media and remain focused on the efforts that directly tie in to those. This includes prioritizing the channels that best serve your business and not feeling the need to be on every platform. 
  • Have clear staff roles. Content creation for social media can feel like a never-ending task, and it’s one that can easily fall through the cracks if it’s not clearly integrated into staff roles. As a team, determine who will be responsible for sourcing content, drafting, editing, approving, and posting.
  • Invite other staff to get involved. To make your social media marketing efforts an easier lift, and more effective, invite staff to participate in content creation and to serve as online champions of your work. Make it easy for staff to share photos and videos that they’ve captured for use. When you have a major announcement, let your staff know how they can spread the word on their own profiles. 
  • Consider a social media policy and staff guidelines. If you have multiple staff members responsible for managing your social media accounts, consider creating an internal social media policy document that lays out your goals, approach, voice, tone, and content guidelines. If you have staff members that are active on their own social media channels and would like to use their personal platforms to share the work of your organization, consider creating and sharing staff guidelines. These could include best practices for sharing your organization’s content and guidelines for interacting with other accounts. Learn more and see examples of social media policies here. 
  • Document, document, document. In order to maintain institutional knowledge, ensure you have a written social media strategy, all assets created for social media (graphics, profile pictures, etc.) saved in an accessible location, and login information available for safe sharing.  

Getting It Done

Tools to Manage Your Social Media Efforts In-House
  • Scheduling, Monitoring, and Analytics 
    • Free Options:
      • Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok provide free analytics within their platforms. X offers analytics to paying, verified accounts.
      • Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn provide the option to schedule content within their platforms. 
    • For additional capabilities, including monitoring of social media conversations and topics, and advanced analytics, you might consider:
  • Creating Content
    • Canva: This online design platform offers free memberships for nonprofits that allow up to 10 individual users. For-profit enterprises can purchase individual premium subscriptions. Canva offers thousands of templates for social media graphics, newsletter headers, digital and print advertisements, and more.
    • Animoto and Wideo: These digital platforms provide templates, editing tools, and b-roll footage to help you quickly create videos to use on social media. 

Additional Reading & Resources

About Christiano Comms

Sarah Christiano is an experienced marketing and communications professional committed to using the power of storytelling for positive social change. From digital marketing strategy and execution to content creation and copywriting, Sarah partners with her clients to propel their missions forward through strong and strategic communications.