Social media for associations and nonprofits: It’s a critical tool, but many of our first-time clients come to us confused by the medium and overwhelmed by the options. Here’s a high-level overview of the approach we take here at AMP, and a solid foundation for associations and nonprofits that are looking to succeed on major social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Foundational Concepts

The first and most important thing to understand about social media is that it is real work. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter may be free to join, but succeeding there requires a meaningful investment of resources, time and talent. We’ll talk more about why in the points that follow, but suffice it to say for now that organizations who understand that social media is real work are leagues ahead of those who treat social like an afterthought and hand it over to the marketing intern.

The second most important point is this: Social media is social, which means it’s a two-way communication. Social media for associations means interacting with prospects in an authentic, meaningful way, hoping that your targets will engage with your organization. This is a lot different than traditional marketing tactics, which are one-way communications in which you talk about your organization — what you do, what you offer — hoping that your targets will listen. If you approach social media marketing the way you approach traditional marketing — as a one-way communication — you’re destined to fail. It’s a significant paradigm shift, and your organization’s ability to make that shift will directly impact your prospects for success.

5 Simple Steps to Social Success

Once you’ve embraced these foundational concepts, the next few steps are straightforward. Notice we didn’t say easy! While these steps will take time and effort, even associations and nonprofits that are operating on a shoestring will be able to implement most of them with solid success. Keep reading …



1 | Get a strategy.

What do you want to achieve on social media? Are you just starting out, and looking to grow followers? If you already have a lot of followers, do you want to increase their levels of engagement, drive traffic to your website, or get them to come to your next conference? Is your goal to get people into the top of your membership funnel, or to improve membership conversions at the bottom of the funnel? Do you want to influence government policy, shape public discourse or foster a social movement? Do you have research, products or services you want to promote? Every association and nonprofit has different social goals — what are yours?

Once you’ve nailed down your social media goals, you can identify metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that tell you whether you’re succeeding (or not). Use your goals and KPIs to direct your efforts, from the posts you deploy and the hashtags you use to the type and tenor of conversations you decide to join. How often do you need to be posting to meet your goals? What resources will this require? Do what matters most for your organization, and leave the rest.

2 | Get organized.

Associations and nonprofits that are serious about social media will take the time to develop an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar allows you to prepare and schedule quality posts to coincide with key industry and organizational events. You’ll have time to research and use the right hashtags, identify influencers and create URLs that track clicks in your Google Analytics account. Doing all of this work in advance frees up your social media team to engage directly with followers during events and campaigns, which is the key to long-term success.

Pro Tip: Cloud-based service providers like Hootsuite, CoSchedule and Buffer make social media management and tracking much easier. You’ll want to consider using these services if you’re managing more than one social media account.

3 | Invest.

It’s astonishing that this needs to be said in 2018, but our experience has shown us that many of associations and nonprofits simply don’t invest in social media. All too often, this powerful marketing tool is left to interns, new hires or overworked administrative assistants, divorced from the organization’s overall marketing goals and entirely devoid of strategy.

Social media success requires the skilled application of knowledge and tools, just like any other aspect of your association’s business. Just because your 12-year-old niece can post a vacation picture on Facebook does not mean that sophisticated social media marketing is easy. If you can’t afford to hire a dedicated social media expert, invest in training the team members who are responsible for managing your social media accounts. Then be sure to give these folks the time they need to do social well — high-quality social media work takes much longer than many associations realize, because it’s not just about producing legacy one-way content, it’s about constant monitoring and engagement in online conversations whenever the need or opportunity arises.

Pro Tip: Once you’ve made your investment, measure your success against your KPIs.

4 | Invest some more.

So far we’ve only talked about organic social media for associations, which allows you to leverage owned and earned media. Smart associations and nonprofits also invest in paid social media marketing.

All of the platforms have paid options, but Facebook is the standout here, offering an impressive array of advertising opportunities for ambitious organizations. In addition to precise targeting options and built-in A/B testing tools, the platform will allow you to re-market to people who have recently visited your website and even allow you to capture leads without asking them to leave Facebook. These and many more powerful marketing opportunities await any association that is willing to test and invest in paid social

5 | Test your way to success.

Every audience is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to social media marketing. Your marketing team has a cornucopia of options to choose from, ranging from content generation and curation to promotional posts and engaging commentary. You can use videos, live chats, and still images; you can run contests and surveys, foster industry debate or distribute critical research.

The approach you take to your social media profiles will change over time, as you discover what works and what doesn’t. As you learn about your audience’s needs, you can fine-tune your strategy to deliver the value that converts followers into members and builds your organization’s credibility and influence — and in the end, that’s what really matters.

In future posts, we’ll talk about the specific types of posts and approaches that work for many of our association and nonprofit clients. Use the form below to sign up and receive future blog posts by email.