Put away your Ouija board. We’re not talking about that kind of channeling.
Rather, channeling describes how to use different communication tools to filter your message to the appropriate audience. This strategy aligns well with the annual fundraiser’s desire to provide the right message to the right person, at the right time, in the right manner—in the hopes that this perfectly delivered message will inspire that individual to support your organization.
In my two previous posts, we discussed the tenets of content marketing and how it can help build your institution’s case for support. You can read part one here (“Is Content Marketing the Future of the Annual Fund?”) and then learn more in part two (“How to Get Started With Content Marketing”).
So now that you’ve started to think about content marketing—or perhaps already started to create useful, donor-centric content—it’s time to figure out how you’re going to share that content with your constituents. After all, you can have the best blog posts, videos, and photos, but if you don’t distribute them effectively, your efforts will be wasted.
Just as one type of ask does not suit every possible donor, not every piece of content or every distribution channel is going to work for all constituents. The success of your content marketing strategy hinges on how well you know your audience. What do your constituents want to hear and how do they want to hear it?
Fortunately, you can do some of this fact-finding in advance of launching your content campaign.
To get the process started, ask yourself—or others in your organization—these questions:
- Do we have a presence on any social media channels? If yes, who is following us on these different streams? If no, can we select a channel or two to create a presence and begin to build an audience?
- Do we have a substantial audience on any of the social media channels? Or do we need to spend some time growing our following before starting the content campaign?
- Is there a particular segment of our audience that we are trying to engage? If yes, do we know where they collect their news and information?
You’ll always wish you knew more about your donors, so I would not use a lack of information as an excuse to delay your content creation. However, some basic surveying and research will go a long way towards getting your campaign moving in a positive direction from the outset.
Next, determine a home base for all your content…
Where will it all live? On your organization’s website? On a dedicated blog? On your own YouTube or Vimeo channel? Sharing your content on social media streams is a great way to access your audience where they are already are, but remember that this is still just a channel. The content should drive traffic back to your organization in some way.
Not only will this help increase your website traffic (and you should be able to tell if the traffic came from one of your channels), but it will also allow your constituents to learn more about your organization once they land on your site. This engagement will absolutely help lead to an increase in giving.
Once you know a bit about where your audience lives online and where you’ll host your content, you’re ready to start channeling.
Here are a few tips about the most popular social media platforms you can use to showcase your institution:
Facebook, as the most popular and versatile social media channel, is a must-use channel. With more than 70% of social media users present on Facebook, the site transcends generations. Everyone from college students to grandparents has a profile. It also has the added benefit of handling multiple types of content (images, videos, text) well.
How to measure success: Likes, shares, comments, impressions, reach (organic and otherwise), clicks on links back to your organization’s website
Who is using it effectively: Susquehanna University. Not only are they mixing up the content, but their page is also very focused on the visitor—so much so, that the “About” section reports that they typically reply to messages within the hour.
Twitter has become the go-to method for real-time, personal interaction with organizations around the world. Had a bad flight? Tweet at American Airlines and you’ll get a response within 24 hours.
Twitter is a great way to engage your constituents by soliciting their feedback. Caveat: If you choose to use this channel, you must be prepared to be responsive. Ignore your Twitter followers and you run the risk of generating bad social buzz about your organization and its attentiveness to the needs of the donor.
How to measure success: Followers, tweets, re-tweets, likes, clicks on links
Who is using it effectively: New York University. They even condense the most interesting content created by students, faculty, alumni, and others into a “tweets of the week” wrap-up on Storify.
A picture can replace a thousand words, right? Why not augment all of your fabulous appeals with a message that doesn’t require reading? You can use Instagram to create a gallery that captures the mission of your organization, evokes nostalgia, showcases progress, and ultimately inspires action through beautiful images.
How to measure success: Likes, comments, re-grams
Who is using it effectively: University of Cambridge. I don’t know if the campus is that beautiful or if Instagram just makes it seem that way. Either way, I wish I was applying to college today so I could go there. Arizona State University also does a great job of using Instagram to spread the word about campus happenings and fundraising activities.
Video is quickly becoming a staple of marketing outreach. While you can post video on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media streams, a YouTube channel allows you to create a cohesive library of content that speaks to your mission and drives your audience back to a centralized place.
How to measure success: Views, likes, shares, comments
Who is using it effectively: Stanford University has put together an incredible video library that showcases the innovation and impact of the university community.
Other channels to consider in your strategy include Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Vine. Remember—your choice of channels should depend on where your audience lives and what sort of resources you have to develop the content and manage the constituent interactions.
Once you have your content streaming along, consider mixing up the voice by bringing in different writers or even allowing a “social media take-over.” Perhaps the president can take over Instagram for day and show the world how your university looks through his eyes, or perhaps a student scholarship recipient can share his story in a short video on YouTube or Facebook.
The options are endless. Whether you are engaging with your constituents on Twitter or sharing gorgeous images on Instagram, the goal of an integrated content campaign should align closely with the goals of the rest of your annual giving program—to tell the story of your school, make a compelling case for support that addresses donors’ interests and needs, and ultimately inspire them to support your institution.
Content marketing is not a revolution in annual giving, but rather an extension of the principles that already govern good community engagement and fundraising practices.
For more on this topic, check out “Why Content Marketing Is the Best Way to Build Your Higher-Ed Brand.”
Greta Daniels is the director of annual giving at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA, and formerly served as director of alumni relations for Sewickley Academy, a PK-12 independent school in Western PA. Greta is fascinated with how cultural consumer trends and big data can drive authentic and sustainable growth in the nonprofit arena. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter and Instagram to hear more about annual giving trends and women’s cycling initiatives or to see her latest kitchen adventure.