Social Listening can Lead to Increased Engagement in Your Cause

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social listening

How to Boost your Cause with Social Listening

Engaging your supporters and keeping them passionate about your cause is one of the most important things your nonprofit does. It’s not always easy but you’re always working to do the best you can. Unfortunately, there will always be one hurdle you can’t overcome: you’re not them, you’re you.

Sure they’re interested in similar things, like protecting the environment, saving endangered animals or electing the same candidates, but at the end of the day you can never truly know which articles they want to see or which pictures will inspire them.

This means that engaging your supporters on Facebook will always be a bit of a guessing game: Should I talk about X or Y? Will they care about Z? What article should I post? Luckily, there are ways to make the best educated guess possible.

Now this doesn’t mean aiming for the lowest common denominator and only posting things to try and please your audience. There is still a place for education and introducing supporters to new causes. These strategies are merely a way to fine tune and hone your messaging in a way that will reach and engage more of your supporters.

Let’s explore the top two tools that will help you learn what your supporters love.

Social Listening for Trending and Timely Content

One thing that is universal, regardless of your nonprofit or cause, is this: supporters are more likely to engage with trending or timely content. Therefore, it’s important to keep your eyes open for timely content that is related to your cause. Fortunately, there is Inspiration and Facebook’s Trending feature that will make finding this content a breeze.

Facebook’s Trending feature will show you what people are interested in on Facebook right now. Posting content that is related to this content will receive greater reach on Facebook while the topic is trending.

social listening

Filtering by data inside of Inspiration will show you the trending content from your network. This content is much more likely to be related to your cause and be something that your supporters are interested in. Once you have identified a timely piece of content, you have a few options for next steps.

social listening

  1. Create an action based on this topic. This captures the engagement that the post receives and moves supporters to the next level of involvement with your cause.
  1. Write a blog post on the subject. If your nonprofit maintains a blog, try writing a post on the subject and posting it to Facebook. This is a great way to share your thoughts on the subject and invite supporters to join in.
  1. Share the article / post. You can also simply share the trending post and include your own two cents with it. What did you like best about the article? What does this mean? Or pose a question about it to your supporters. Sharing others’ content positions you as an informed source of information on all things related to your cause.

Social Listening for Stories your Supporters are Talking About

Beyond trending content, what are your supporters interested in and talking about right now? Browsing through your Inspiration feed can help you find the answers to these questions.

First of all, a little house cleaning: make sure you’re following the right Pages before you start! You’ll want to follow Pages that are similar to your own in mission and audience.

social listening

Do they support the same things you do?

Are they a source of information on your cause?

Does their audience appear to be similar to yours?

Doing a little house cleaning will greatly improve the content of your Inspire feed and make your life easier. (Note that follows are not public and the Pages you follow will not be notified.)

social listening

Okay, now it’s time to get to work!

First, filter your results by “People Engaged“. This will give you a list of stories and content that people who support your cause care about right now. If you haven’t already, consider addressing some of these issues on your own Facebook Page, blog or website. These topics are proven to engage on Pages similar to your own, so addressing them yourself will likely to lead to increased engagement on your Page.

social listening

Next, what type of content usually performs the best on your Page: Image, Video, Links? Choose to filter the results by this format to receive a list of content that your supporters are interested in, in the format they prefer. This is a good place to find content that you can reshare on your own Page.

social listening

Lastly, you can search for keywords. We suggest the following two strategies:

  • Search for trending content from Inspire or Facebook. What are others in your space saying about this? Is there anything you can share? Is there something that will inspire your own original content?
  • Research your own ideas. Have an idea? Research and see how others approached the subject. What worked for them? How did people respond? This will give you a leg up when you address the subject yourself or it will tell you in advance that it’s a bad idea.

Social Listening for Patterns

Finding that the same story keeps popping up no matter where you look? This is a huge indication that this is something that your supporters are interested in! If one of these topics relates to your cause, this is a good time to spin up an action, write your own response, or join the conversation.


Social listening not only keeps you informed on the issues that relate to your cause, but also how your supporters are reacting to them. Have they been misinformed? Set them straight. Are they looking for ways to get involved? Put them to work. Do they have questions? Answer them. This is a great chance to be responsive and connect with your supporters.

How does your organization use social listening? Let us know in the comments!

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Jonathan Meyers: Preserving our National Treasures

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The Wilderness Society, America’s Leading Conservation Organization

Since 1935, The Wilderness Society (TWS) has led the effort to permanently protect nearly 110 million acres of wilderness in 44 states. Now 110 million acres already sounds like a lot, but beyond that it’s hard to imagine what it looks like. Well we did the math. The TWS has protected the equivalent of roughly 143 million football fields of land! Their stated mission is to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for wild places, and clearly they’ve seen success.

We recently had the honor to sit down with Jonathan Meyers, Sr. Director of Digital Strategy. He leads a team of editors and publishers to convey TWS’s mission across all platforms, while constantly staying on top of the ever-changing digital environment. That is no small task!

Here’s what he had to say on digital strategy, online petitions and the future of Facebook.

ActionSprout (AS): How long have you managed social media communications and where did you get your start?

Jonathan Meyers (JM): Social Media at TWS is managed by a team of 4.5 Digital Editors/Producers, who also produce digital content, interactives, video, advocacy alerts and photos. Each producer can post to every outlet, but for the most part, each one specializes in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I am the Sr. Director for Digital Strategy and lead this great team. Prior to TWS, I worked for the Pew Trusts managing digital communications for the Pew Environment Group, and prior to that I had a long stint as a Program Manager for News, Elections, Sports, Money channels at AOL.

(AS): Tell us a bit about where you work. Why did you want to work with The Wilderness Society?

(JM): I joined TWS in December 2012. The organization was founded in 1935 and is considered one of the leading nonprofits dedicated to protecting public lands. They had recently redesigned a really nice web presence and were looking to expand socially. They were in the process of transforming key leadership slots and I was offered the chance to restart the entire digital experience including the expansion of social.

(AS): What do you wish other people knew about your nonprofit?

(JM): As the organization that basically wrote The Wilderness Act of 1965 and helped to get it signed by LBJ 50 years ago, we really understand this issue. Few Americans realize that these amazingly diverse public lands are under constant threat from drilling, mining and urban expansion. Unless we actively work toward protecting them, fewer and fewer special places will be around for future generations. We also recognize the value of these public lands in providing a place for smart, clean energy development to take place, which in turn will reduce our carbon emissions. Finally, we just want people to get outdoors and experience these wild places—even if they have their smartphone on them :)

(AS): What do you think will change about The Wilderness Society over the next five years?

(JM): This has been a very challenging Congress, and our hopes are that the gridlock in legislation that we have seen will begin to ease. A saving grace is that the Executive branch can independently protect places in the form of National Monuments, which we hope will increase over time. Internally, we see the intersection of climate, lands and getting people outside to experience our natural wonders as the key to survival. We are optimistic about the future.

(AS): How has your strategy / options about Facebook changed over time?

(JM): Facebook is basically the key place we communicate with the vast majority of our constituents. We invested in growing our base by targeting like-minded organizations so that when we “were in the game”, we could shift to targeted paid posts in order to engage very specific segments into action. We recognize that paid advertising and the incredible targeting opportunities afforded by the platform have been the biggest change, and I suspect that this will only improve with time. Trying to figure out the algorithm is no longer viable—you have got to pay to play here. So just budget accordingly.

(AS): What’s something you wished you learned sooner in terms of social media?

(JM): Ironically, at AOL we were really good at building the “Walled Garden” approach; we had news, video, forums, comments, messaging all contained within that client—much like Facebook today. What we missed was the 1:1 relationships with both people and orgs that Facebook is so good at. Overall, I wish I would have recognized that organic growth is really, really hard in FB earlier and budgeted accordingly. Also, there are some solid tools that can help shape your message.

(AS): Tell us a bit about your Facebook Page (What’s the audience like, what kind of content do they enjoy, how often do you post?)

(JM): We currently have 360,000 fans of TWS. The audience leans 60–40 to women and skews a bit older, just like our general membership. We try to post a mix of content that ranges from light and interesting pieces about great wilderness areas to serious calls to action urging users to sign petitions. One of our team members is a professional photographer, so we are really increasing the quality of images we use and those resonate with our audience. We generally post about 15–20 times per week. We also will dive into comments regularly and try to direct the conversation a bit, especially on issues that get our audience fired up.

(AS): What organizational goals do your Facebook efforts support?

(JM): One of our core missions is to increase awareness of the importance of wilderness areas in the United States. We are unique in the world in that this land is owned by you and me and not all in private hands. Our FB effort exposes vast numbers of people to this concept and hopefully makes them take action to save it.

(AS): What kinds of social calls to action do you use?

(JM): We have been posting calls to action to our Convio-based alerts for years via FB posts, and have recently recognized that people just prefer to stay on FB, so why not make it easier for them to take action there. ActionSprout filled that need and allows some bonus fundraising that we were never able to do before on FB.

(AS): Tell us about a recent successful social campaign or series of posts.

(JM): Congress recently passed some potentially damaging amendments and resolutions that threaten all public lands and are pushing to return them to individual states. We seized this threat with a series of posts and have been targeting specific states urging our audience to fight back by signing an ActionSprout petition. Thus far, the message has really resonated with our targeted audiences. Additionally, we thanked key members who opposed the legislation and urged our FB audience to do the same. These were not our traditional allies in Congress, but we hope to expand bipartisan support for this issue.

(AS): What did you learn about your audience from this success?

(JM): Overall, we have received positive feedback from our user base and from member offices about using the platform for this. Congress is still adjusting to Facebook as a platform for engagement with constituents; we are starting to show that this two-way conversation is important and effective.

(AS): How did you measure this success? What metrics do you focus on?

(JM): Success on this is measured by engagement (likes, shares, comments), number of petitions signed, and on-the-ground reaction by hill staffers; thus far, we have had positive results on all fronts.

(AS): Do you have any advice for other nonprofits based on your success?

(JM): The most important thing is to recognize that we are already in “Facebook Zero”, meaning that organic reach is incredibly small. Of course, it was brilliant to build the platform, get us all addicted to an ad-free world, and then unleash one of the most powerful advertising tools we have ever seen. Besides Google, no other platform permits this level of targeted marketing. Don Draper would have been overwhelmed with the options. Embrace big data, and start to budget for more and more money required to play the game. The eyeballs are not going away from FB; it’s just gonna cost more over time. Additionally, although there are other platforms, size-wise they pale compared to FB. I equate it with the sun vs. Earth in terms of scale, and the Earth cannot exist without the sun.

Key Facebook Takeaways:

Take advantage of the power of Facebook ads. It seems that Facebook’s ads platform grows stronger and more powerful every day. The granularity and precision with which we can target ads is simply amazing and definitely worth looking into if you haven’t already.

When should you use ads? If you’re running a special, high-powered campaign, you can use Facebook ads to target actions at particular groups of supporters to move them to action. You can also choose to prompt over-performing content to give it an extra boost and reach more people.

People like staying on Facebook. Jonathan stated that supporters liked to stay within Facebook when signing petitions versus navigating to an outside page. This makes sense as the majority of action-takers do so from a mobile device through the Facebook app. Therefore, it’s important to make the process as simple as possible to increase the number of people who complete your action.

Facebook is too big to ignore. While other social networks continue to grow, Facebook is still head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to usage. Having a presence on Facebook these days is like having a presence period. While some cry the end of Facebook’s relevancy, it’s clear that the social giant is still king.

Need more social mojo?

Reach more supporters, cultivate donors, and increase Facebook engagement with ActionSprout today.

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Social Action Cheat Sheet

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social action

Creating effective social actions is equally part art and part science. There is certainly no replacement for great writing with emotion and urgency, but data-driven practices can also make a big difference in moving your supporters to action. Try to use as many of these tips as you can in each action to see the best results.

Download your own PDF check list.

Here is the social action cheat sheet to effective actions:

1. Picking the Right Action

Selecting a meaningful action that resonates with your unique community is the most important part of creating an action.

Fortunately, there are some tried and true ways to find the right action for your audience. First, go back and look at your past actions—online and offline. What patterns do you see? Look at things like:

  • Issues
  • Type of asks (pledges, petitions, etc.)
  • Content (tone, timeliness, image, meme, pithy, etc.)

*Also make sure to note what didn’t work, because you’ll want to create fewer posts like that in the future.

For more ideas, you can also look at what kinds of issues are performing well on your Facebook Page and on similar pages. A few tools that will help you do this are Timeline, Inspire and the Page Analyzer. And don’t forget to experiment—you’ll find the secret sauce if you keep at it!

2. Problem, Solution, Action Format

If you use our formula in writing your action on your ActionSprout landing page and your post, you’ll have the best chance to inspire your audience to take action. There are three main parts:

Problem or challenge: Why should they care? Your problem should be simple and explained in just a few lines. Any problem more complicated than that has an increased risk of failing on Facebook. For better or for worse, you have a limited amount of time and attention to hook your reader.

Solution: How do you propose we fix the problem? Pass a bill? A day of service? A change in behavior? This should be a realistic solution that your supporters can believe in.

Call to action: What can your supporters do to make this solution a reality—make a pledge? Donate? Sign a petition? Again, they need to believe that their action will lead to change.

One thing to note: When writing your Facebook post, bump the call to action to the top. This will capture supporters’ attention in the busy News Feed. Example: “SIGN THE PETITION XXX”. And you might not be able to fit everything into a few sentences in the post—that’s okay, just put in your most compelling content.

3. Clear Target or Goal

There should only be one target or goal to your action. Your action is directed at one decision-maker or has one desired outcome. Remember, your audience could be on their phone on a train; anything more complicated could lose them.

4. Clear Call to Action

Your call to action should be clear and straightforward. There should be no question about what you are asking folks to do. To this end, make sure that your action only contains one call to action that you repeat again and again. Any further calls to action can wait until the post-action message or your follow-up email. Your number one goal right now is for your supporters to complete the action.

5. Compelling Image

Facebook is a very visual platform, therefore your action should have a compelling image to accompany it and make it stand out. When choosing or creating an image, there are a few things to keep in mind.

When applicable, images with text overlay tend to perform better than those without. Pixlr and Pablo are both easy-to-use tools that allow you to add text to any image.

Another important piece is the size of your image. The best dimensions for News Feed and action images are 1200 x 627. Pixlr can help you resize your images.

Don’t forget to download your own PDF check list.

Need more social mojo?

Reach more supporters, cultivate donors, and increase Facebook engagement with ActionSprout today.

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30 Days to Facebook Success

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Facebook success

Get Ready for Serious Facebook Success!

We recently launched a brand new email training course called 30 Days to Facebook Success. It’s jam packed with tons of information on getting the most out of your Facebook efforts. Each new email will take you in-depth into a subject and leave you with actionable takeaways.

Be sure to take advantage of this free training opportunity!

Sign up Now


Here are a few things the course will cover:

  • Understanding Facebook’s Algorithm
  • Reach and Engagement
  • Metrics and Insights
  • Posting Strategies
  • And more!

“I’m a few days in to the 30-day course, and I think it’s extremely well done. Kudos to you all! I would highly recommend this to the groups we work with. So far it seems really well-written, covers the basics but also pushes the edge for people a bit who are not just beginners. Really nice work.”  – Hannah Roditi, Social Movement Technologies

Your mission is important, support it with the best strategies on Facebook. 

Sign up Now

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Interview: Bob Brown Foundation, Environmental Champions

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bob brown

Based on the beautiful island of Tasmania, the Bob Brown Foundation is a different kind of fund

In this age of rapid destruction of the biosphere, attended by cynicism and pessimism, the Bob Brown Foundation uses ecological reality and optimism to promote real environmental wins. They carry out work that aids people to protect more scenic land environments, wildlife and marine ecosystems in Tasmania, Australia, Antarctica and across the region.

The Foundation promotes the protection and enhancement of: The wild and scenic beauty of Tasmania, the ecological integrity of Australia and the happiness of humanity on Earth!

Led by Bob Brown, a man who fought for environmental protection decades before others woke up to the harsh realities of climate change, the Foundation is making a difference each and every day for the betterment of our home.

We had the honor to sit down with the Executive Officer at the Bob Brown Foundation, Steven Chaffer, to talk social strategy and moving supporters to action!

Here’s what he had to say.

ActionSprout (AS): How long have you managed social media communications and where did you get your start?

Steven Chaffer (SC): I have been managing social media communications for the Bob Brown Foundation since our inception in 2012. As the Executive Officer and sole staffer for a small but growing organization, I got my start in this area simply because there was no one else to do it. Sink or swim. We didn’t sink but I definitely swallowed some water.

(AS): Tell us a bit about where you work. Why did you want to work with the Bob Brown Foundation?

(SC): The Bob Brown Foundation is an environment not-for-profit that campaigns to protect the natural environment. We are based in Australia’s island state of Tasmania, home to some of the most magnificent wilderness areas and the tallest hardwood forests on the planet. Our founder and chair, Bob Brown, was instrumental in saving the wild Franklin River from being dammed in the 1980s and spent the next 26 years in parliament, state and federal. He was the leader of the Australian Greens before retiring from the Australian Senate to set up this foundation.

(AS): The interest in environmental preservation seems to be growing. Why do you think that is?

(SC): All of us depend on this planet’s air, water and soil to survive. Sooner or later, everyone realizes that. Bob likes to quote HG Wells: “History is a race between education and catastrophe.” Perhaps the pendulum is swinging.

(AS): What do you wish other people knew about your nonprofit?

(SC): That we are based in Tasmania, the most beautiful island at the bottom of the world. Come for a visit and see for yourself.

(AS): What do you think will change about the Bob Brown Foundation over the next five years?

(SC): We will continue to grow and encounter all the benefits and challenges that entails.

(AS): How has your strategy / options about Facebook changed over time?

(SC): My strategic avoidance of having a strategy will probably have to change. Facebook seems at risk, if it hasn’t already happened, of being awash with slick graphics and confected content. There is a lot of room for ‘authentic’ voices and images. Real things happening in the real world. But a graphic is easier…

(AS): What do you find most challenging about your job and the cause you support?

(SC): My inbox.

(AS): Tell us a bit about your Facebook Page (What’s the audience like, what kind of content do they enjoy the most, how often do you post?)

(SC): Almost 80,000 likes from people who care about the future of the planet and want to see real action to protect it. Most are fans of Bob and admire his lifetime of activism, both in and out of political life. Some of the most popular posts we put up are photos that Bob has taken. I think people like that sense of connection—of seeing the natural world from someone else’s unique personal perspective.

(AS): How do you use social actions, from ActionSprout, compared to traditional form-based actions on your website?

(SC): For us, ActionSprout Actions are a good way of converting people from passively supporting our campaigns to a more active involvement. They are a great first step for involving people more closely in our work. Whereas a lot of communication tends to be one-way, these kinds of actions allow people to move from being spectators to active supporters, without leaving the comfort and familiarity of the social media space.

(AS): I know you’ve been experimenting with donation actions on your Facebook Page. Can you tell us a little about that and how they went?

(SC): We have a decent size audience on social media at around 150,000 followers. While positive comments, likes and shares are great, it’s vital to convert this support into tangible action. People are often very happy to make a donation to support an issue they care about, but they have to be asked. ActionSprout’s donation actions on Facebook allow us to make that ask to a whole new group of supporters that ‘like’ us on social media but aren’t part of our list and therefore were never actually asked for a donation.

The majority of donations we received in our first appeal were from ‘new’ supporters, making it a successful fundraiser and a valuable list-building exercise. We have run about three different appeals now and they have had mixed results ranging from $3,000 to a few hundred dollars. Hard to know if that is down to the issue, the copy, the timing or all of the above. It will be interesting to see if our social media audience will continue to yield decent results or whether the well will eventually run dry.

(AS): What have you learned from past success? How did it change your behavior?

(SC): I think we learnt that you can’t beat a good issue; that really strikes an emotional chord with people. You can write great copy, use a stunning image and follow all the tips but if the issue does not resonate with people, you will struggle. Problem is, it can be hard to pick what will really move people. It’s early days for us and if I’m honest, still a bit hit-and-miss.

(AS): How do you measure the success of your Page? What metrics do you focus on?

(SC): I don’t study the digital tea leaves as much as I should, but I think sharing is a good indicator of a post or action’s success. If people are motivated enough, by what you have presented, to bother to share it with their friends, that’s a great sign. It is also the key to the power of social media: the multiplier effect.

(AS): Do you have any advice for other nonprofits based on your learning?

(SC): Have a go, try different things and use your own voice as much as possible. It’s an obvious point to make but there is a lot of stuff out there and almost as much advice on how to do social media. The ‘best’ time to post, the ‘right’ language, the ‘perfect’ image. While much of this advice is no doubt good, you run the risk of producing content that looks like every other Facebook post.

Key Takeaways:

People live vicariously on social media. We all do so to some extent. Your friend just went on an amazing trip and before you know it, you’ve clicked through all 100-something of their pictures. The same can be especially true of public figures. As Steven said: “Some of the most popular posts we put up, are photos that Bob has taken. I think people like that sense of connection, of seeing the natural world from someone else’s quite personal perspective.” If your organization has a “Bob Brown”, tap into this opportunity to connect with your supporters.

Supporters don’t always act until you invite them to. Many of your supporters may be hanging around your Facebook Page either not sure how to help or thinking they can’t be of help. Until you present them with an opportunity and invite them in, you’re leaving valuable help and resources on the table. Actions are a quick, easy way to encourage supporters to act.

Don’t be afraid to run against the grain a bit. There are tons of folks out there who tell the right and wrong ways to manage your Facebook Page. We’re guilty of it ourselves! While these pieces of advice are important, what’s more important is doing what works for your audience. If the advice works then use it. If not, don’t. Don’t get caught up in thinking that there’s only one right way to manage your Page. At the end of the day, only you know what that is and how to best accomplish it. This will take some experimentation and trial and error, but that’s okay. Pay attention, learn and have fun.

Need more social mojo?

Reach more supporters, cultivate donors, and increase Facebook engagement with ActionSprout today.

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Instant Content to Dominate the News Feed?

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instant actions and articles

The Rise of Instant 

Increasingly, folks from all walks of life are consuming media and content on their mobile devices. Designing and building content for mobile is now no longer an option; it’s a matter of survival. To this end, we have recently seen a jump in the mobile optimization of websites and articles.

One of the most recent examples is Facebook’s launch of Instant Articles. Announced on May 12th, the new platform instantly loads articles on a user’s mobile device in as little as a second. On average, this is down 8 seconds from their old load time of 10 seconds per article.

Previously, articles were the slowest type of content to load in the Facebook News Feed, yet were still one of the most widely shared:

“People share a lot of articles on Facebook, particularly on our mobile app. To date, however, these stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.”

Facebook is working with nine launch partners for Instant Articles: The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that load times play a huge role in the mobile optimization process. On a mobile device, people are on the go and often don’t have the luxury of waiting for their content. They may be waiting in line for their coffee, on the bus, or getting off the train. Everyday load times are gaining more influence in shaping supporter behavior.

The ActionSprout social action platform is no different, with more than half of action takers engaging with actions from a mobile device. This means that a few extra seconds can make the difference between a completed action or an abandoned one.

Today we’re excited to announce the beta release of our new instant action platform:  completely rebuilt from the ground up to deliver actions instantly with minimal load times.

Instant Actions

Actions on the new platform load in less than a second on mobile devices to ensure maximum action completion by your supporters. This means more petition signatures, more donations, and more supporters involved with your cause.

Currently, a small group of organizations are beta testing our new platform with a system-wide launch to come at the end of May. Already, Instant Actions are exceeding expectations with early results, and are showing a 10–15% increase in conversion on our new action platform over our current action experience.

Need more social mojo?

Reach more supporters, cultivate donors, and increase Facebook engagement with ActionSprout today.

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Are You Addressing Dark Social?

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dark social

Your Nonprofit Could be Losing Traffic Data to Dark Social

“The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side.” Yoda, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

There is a myth that everything online is measurable, as long as you have the right tools. While this is the case most of the time, there are times when we think we have all the data but don’t. This illusion is an easy trap to fall into and can lead to decisions based on faulty data. These decisions can lead nonprofits to focus their energy in the wrong places and waste unnecessary time and energy.

One of the biggest examples of these data holes is known as “dark social”. So what is dark social and what can we do about it? In this post, we’ll explore the dark side of social media.

What is Dark Social?

When someone visits your website, they usually bring a note with them saying something along the lines of: “Hi! I’m coming from Facebook!” This information is then reported in your analytics tools, reporting, etc. But sometimes, someone will show up on the doorstep of your website with no note. You have no idea where they came from or how they found your website. This is Dark Social.

Coined by Alexis C. Madrigal in 2012, the majority of dark social happens when someone shares your website through:

  • Personal email messages
  • Instant messenger program
  • A mobile application

This means that a portion of our traffic analytics has the potential to be wrong. Dark social can show up as “direct traffic”—as if the visitor had your page bookmarked or they typed in your URL. But that’s not actually the case most of the time. What happened is that someone sent an Instant Message (with your page link) to a friend, emailed their co-worker, or came to your site through a mobile app.

dark social graph

The traffic break down from the Atlantic

The Problem

When someone clicks on your link in an email or an IM program, the referral note is lost. The same is true when someone clicks on your link in a mobile app. Usually, when someone is browsing Facebook and they click on a link, they take a little piece of data with them that will tell you that they came from Facebook. But when a visitor browses Facebook through the mobile app, no such data is taken with them. They are taken straight to your website as if they had directly typed your URL in their browser address bar.

This isn’t just a problem with the Facebook app. Other mobile apps also fail to provide the visitor referral information. Potential sources of dark social include the following:

dark social

via Chartbeat


Why Nonprofits Should Care

You may be thinking at this point, “This is interesting and all but why should my nonprofit care about dark social?” This may seem like a valid point, but now ask yourself this: “Do I want to measure the success of my online campaigns?” If the answer is yes (and it should be!), then dark social affects you.

Your website’s referral traffic is a big part of your social media return on investment (ROI). For nonprofits that make social media and online campaigning one of their primary strategies, this is a big deal! Most of your measurable traffic, and thus ROI, is lost to dark social. This makes it harder to prove that your social campaigns are making a difference!

You could also fall into the trap of unknowingly basing important decisions on erroneous data, and not taking those errors into consideration. This could cause you to waste time and money on the wrong projects.

So what can we do about it?

While there is no perfect solution to dark social, there are many ways to recapture some of the otherwise lost data.

We can use analytic tools that are working to track dark social. Chartbeat, which helped coin the term in 2012, is one such tool. They are currently working to cut dark social in half and hope that between 10 and 50% of dark social will soon be labeled correctly.

Use link trackers. Our favorite link tracker at ActionSprout is This link shortening tool will also track who shared your links and through which platform, giving you a better idea of how it spread through the dark social world.

Use an embedded email tool. People who prefer email will keep emailing your links and there isn’t much you can do about it. Instead, include an embedded email form on your website like this one.

dark social email form

This form appeared on Laura Roeder’s blog

These forms allow people, who like email, to email your link while providing you with the referral information. Now some will definitely still use their own email program, but at least you’re recapturing some of your lost data.

Include sharing buttons on your website. Like the email form, these buttons will recapture the otherwise lost data of social sharing.

dark social sharing buttons

ActionSprout uses AddThis

Pay attention to User agent strings. This one is a bit more complex. While dark social traffic has lost its referral data, it hasn’t lost its User agent string. These strings are provided by some analytics tools and can help you figure out where your dark social traffic is coming from.

What this all means

In 2014, Madrigal revisited the term he coined in a post for Fusion. More data had emerged since 2012 and he was back with some new findings. He found that most of the recaptured dark social data was coming from one place: Facebook’s mobile app. This means that nonprofits should be prioritizing shareability of their content on Facebook over other content optimization. You may not be able to track sharing through Facebook’s mobile app yet, but sharing you can’t track is better than no sharing at all.

The other big discovery was that old styles of person-to-person sharing were decreasing. Due to the increasing accessibility of mobile devices, more and more people were simply sharing through social media apps (like Facebook’s) rather than email, IM and forums.

“Facebook [has] begun to eat away at the roots of the old ways of sharing on non-commercial platforms. Mobile is becoming the dominant way people access the Internet. And true person-to-person dark social appears to be less prevalent on mobile devices.”

The key takeaways here are simple: As much as 60% of your web traffic data is off and more recently, we’ve found out that a lot of this traffic is actually coming from Facebook and its mobile app. This means that Facebook is even more important to your efforts than you thought! You’ll want to give your Facebook efforts some extra love and optimize your content for sharing through the site.

The good news is that analytics tools are slowly but surely catching up with dark social. In the meantime there are ways that, although imperfect, will recapture some of your lost dark social data. Welcome to the dark side of social media!

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Interview: Kathy Plate’s Nonprofit Social Media Strategy

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media strategy

UltraViolet, Fighting Sexism and Expanding Women’s Rights

UltraViolet is a powerful and rapidly growing community of people from all walks of life, mobilized to fight sexism and expand women’s rights, from politics and government to media and pop culture. UltraViolet works on a range of issues including health care, economic security, violence, reproductive rights, racial justice and immigration, by putting the voices of all women, especially women of color and LGBTQ women, front and center.

Kathy Plate is currently their Online Communications Director. Throughout her career, she’s revolutionized online participation, most notably through livestreaming, developing a conference mobile app, and facilitating more robust conversations on social media.

Recently we had the honor of sitting down with Kathy to talk social strategy and how she’s rocking the UltraViolet page. Here’s what she had to say.

ActionSprout (AS): How long have you managed social media communications and where did you get your start?

Kathy Plate (KP): I’ve been managing social media since 2007 as part of my first nonprofit job at the Alliance for Justice. My original role there was outreach to law students, and I found that social media was a new and effective way to do that. That led to a role managing online communications for the organization.

(AS): Tell us a bit about where you work. Why did you want to work with UltraViolet?

(KP): UltraViolet is a community of people mobilized to fight sexism and expand women’s rights, from politics and government to media and pop culture. We combine innovative, cutting-edge organizing with grassroots, people-powered actions to fight for equality and progress. I wanted to work with UltraViolet because I saw that the group was doing really strategic and culturally relevant rapid-response work in a way that no one else was. It’s also a young organization with a remote working environment—things that make us nimble and allow for a great working culture.

Doing work previously focused on LGBT equality, I saw rapid progress on certain fronts, while witnessing major backlash against women’s and reproductive groups. I wanted to shift my focus to fighting sexism in an intentional and intersectional way.

(AS): What do you wish other people knew about your nonprofit?

(KP): I think many people don’t realize the full breadth of our work. I would like people to know that we work on a wide range of issues around women’s rights and that we do far more than just run online petitions. We run strategic campaigns to win progress and that includes, but is not limited to online organizing.

(AS): The interest in equality and feminism seems to be growing. Why do you think that is?

(KP): I think the interest in equality is growing, but unfortunately I think much of that is in response to the backlash we’re seeing after years of progress. I also think that there are many younger women who grew up with more equality than generations in the past, but then on campuses, in the workplace and at home are still facing incredible amounts of sexism—and they aren’t willing to put up with it.

Social media has also allowed for many people who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily have a public voice to call things out and agitate and advocate on a bigger level. And that has unfortunately resulted in a lot of online harassment against feminists.

(AS): What do you think will change about UltraViolet over the next five years?

(KP): I know that we’ll continue to grow—we’ve doubled in size over the year that I’ve been here. I think we’ll have even more of an impact on pop culture than we do now, with innovative new programs.

(AS): How has your strategy / options about Facebook changed over time?

(KP): Facebook is constantly changing, from technical details to algorithms that impact who you’re able to reach. One of the ways my strategy has changed is that I’m not looking for just one tactic that will equal success; I think one of the best ways to stay relevant on Facebook is to post often with various types of content. And, to not be afraid to post some things more than once.

As someone who works in social media, I usually see things first as they become popular online, but a lot of people aren’t on Facebook all day, or even every day, so it makes sense to post important things more than once. One of the things I do every week is see what content did well earlier in the week and would be relevant to repost on the weekend for people who may have missed it.

(AS): What’s something you wished you learned sooner in terms of social media?

(KP): I wish I’d realized right away that Twitter would take off the way it did. I remember going to a panel where people talked about whether or not it would take off—at the time it was mostly SMS, and not many people had smartphones yet. I remember thinking that there was no way it would stick around as a major influence, but as it grew I realized I was wrong.

(AS): Tell us a bit about your Facebook Page (What’s the audience like, what kind of content do they enjoy, how often do you post?)

(KP): Not surprisingly, the majority of our audience is women. They like a mix of content; calls to action do well, but not if we post too many too often. And people will share when they are outraged by something, but also appreciate feel-good posts about inspiring things that people are doing to combat sexism. For instance, of our most popular posts last year, one was really serious about Marissa Alexander’s sentence for firing a warning shot, and another was about Mo’Ne Davis and the Little League World Series.

(AS): What organizational goals do your Facebook efforts support?

(KP): We think of Facebook as a great way to engage our members and hopefully connect with new supporters. We are concerned with far more than how many people like our Page and want to make sure that we keep the level of engagement high.

Another goal on Facebook that includes engagement is building or spreading awareness, and one of the main ways we do that is with infographics and shareable images. We’ve discovered that our members are willing to share infographics on topics such as rape culture, incarcerated women, unequal pay, gun violence and the wage gap.

(AS): Tell us about a recent successful social campaign or series of posts.

(KP): We like to integrate social campaigns into our broader campaigns. A recent example of one that performed well was our campaign to get Target to raise its minimum wage. After Walmart and other stores raised their wages, we launched a petition to Target asking them to raise their wage as well. We kept the momentum of the petition going with online ads near the Target HQ, and we also asked our members to tweet messages at @Target asking them to raise the wage. We had additional tactics ready to go, but after publicly saying they wouldn’t, Target raised its wages two weeks ago.

Another not quite so recent example is our work around Marissa Alexander. Our members had never taken action on women in prison before, and we weren’t sure they would, so we decided to raise awareness on social media. That’s when this image went viral and we realized that our members would be willing to take action. When Marissa Alexander was finally released, we were able to raise broader awareness of the criminalization of domestic violence survivors.

(AS): What did you learn from this success more broadly? / Is there anything you do differently now?

(KP): One of the things we learned from Target was the power of sending messages to top executives in addition to the corporate account. I won’t name names, but one of the executives responded on Twitter.

For Marissa Alexander, we realized that members are willing to take action on issues that are new to them if the framing is right. It’s also an example of how being able to turn campaigns around quickly is really important. When you have something going viral on social media, you need to be nimble and know how to make the most of that momentum.

(AS): How did you measure this success? What metrics do you focus on?

(KP): Our main metric for success is if something helps us to win a campaign, or bring greater awareness to an issue. With our petitions we focus on shares driving action, and we use Share Progress to test different share messages and images. On Facebook we focus on metrics around engagement, and we also track how many people are signing our petitions via shares on our Page.

(AS): Do you have any advice for other nonprofits based on your success?

(KP): One of the things I think about before sharing content on social is whether or not I would share it on my personal account, and whether the language and framing would be similar. There’s a time and place for social posts that are more official-sounding, but taking a more personal tone gets people engaged on a different level and leads to higher engagement.

Key Takeaways for your Social Media Strategy:

Don’t be afraid to post some things more than once. These days on Facebook, it’s hard to spam people unless you’re going out of your way to. It’s safe to say very few nonprofits are getting anywhere close to spamming their audiences. Therefore, there is no reason you shouldn’t be reposting important pieces of content or content that performed very well.

Reposted content on Facebook will be delivered to a different group to those who saw it the first time. This offers folks a chance to see something they missed. It also increases the reach and engagement for you. Kathy has the right idea to check in once a week and see which pieces could use some extra love: “One of the things I do every week is see what content did well earlier in the week and would be relevant to repost on the weekend for people who may have missed it.”

Engagement is king. Page likes are nice to have but at the end of the day, they’re just a vanity metric. What will propel your mission and influence real change is engagement. Engagement is measured as the sum of likes, comments, shares and clicks on your content. This should always be your number one metric on Facebook.

Infographics and shareable images go a long way. We can’t overstate this: visual content is much more likely to be shared. Experiment with turning your content into an infographic or an awesome image. Be ready and keep your eyes open

Be ready for trending topics. Kathy stated this perfectly: When you have something going viral on social media, you need to be nimble and know how to make the most of that momentum.

Would you share your content? People share things that reflect well on themselves. We want to appear informed, make our friends laugh or be the first to share a video. So when posting content to your own Page, ask yourself this: Would I share this on my personal account?

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15 Nonprofit Social Media Professionals to Follow

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Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

The Top Nonprofit Social Media Professionals to Follow:

Volunteering, Tech and Thought Leadership


volunteer match Nonprofit Social Media ProfessionalsVolunteer Match strengthens communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect. The organization offers a variety of online services to support nonprofits and receive millions of visitors a year. They have become the preferred internet recruiting tool for more than 99,000 nonprofit organizations.

hands on Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

HandsOn NetworkInspires, equips and mobilizes people to take action that changes the world. They put people at the center of change and connect them to their power to make a difference because people drive change, passion overcomes obstacles, service bridges and bonds, innovation drives results and servant leadership transforms.

Our vision is that one day every person will discover their power to make a difference, creating healthy communities and vibrant democracies around the world.”


points of light Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

Points of Light mobilizes people to take action on the causes they care about through innovative programs, events and campaigns. Points of Light is creating a culture of volunteerism, one that celebrates the power of service.

idealist Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

Idealist Is on a mission is to close the gap between intention and action by connecting people, organizations, ideas, and resources.

“We want to live in a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.”


nten Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

NTEN Tips, resources, and live webinar coverage about all things nonprofit technology. NTEN is the membership organization of nonprofit professionals who put technology to use for their causes. NTEN helps you do your job better, so you can make the world a better place.

amy sample ward Nonprofit Social Media ProfessionalsAmy Sample Ward Speaker, author and CEO of NTEN. Dedicated to supporting and educating organizations and change makers in the use of evolving technologies that cultivate and engage communities. She’s focused on real social change and the tech that supports it.

nonprofitorgs Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

Nonprofit Tech for Good The mission of this Twitter profile is to serve as a portal to all nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit Tech for Good is a leading social and mobile media resource for nonprofit professionals that provides valuable, easy-to-understand information, news, and resources related to nonprofit technology, online communications, and mobile and social fundraising.

farra trompeter Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

Farra Trompeter is the VP at  and on the Board at . She’s passionate about smart communications for nonprofits, fundraising, nonprofit branding and activism. She has led dozens of organizations through major brand overhauls, multichannel campaigns and is a frequent speaker around the country on topics like social media, online fundraising, and donor engagement.

Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

TechSoup is on a mission to connect your nonprofit with tech products and services and learning resources to make informed decisions about technology. Their goal? To ensure every nonprofit and NGO on the planet has the technology resources and knowledge they need to operate at their full potential.

Thought Leaders:

kivi Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

Kivi Leroux Miller is a nonprofit marketing and communications trainer, consultant, and blogger. She is president of Nonprofit Marketing and the award-winning author of two books, “The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause” and “Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause, and Raising More Money.”

john haydon Nonprofit Social Media ProfessionalsJohn Haydon is a expert on digital marketing and fundraising for nonprofits and is one of the most sought-after digital marketing experts for nonprofits and charities.

philanthropy Nonprofit Social Media ProfessionalsPhilanthropy The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s is an independent news organization that has been serving leaders, fundraisers, grant makers, and others involved in the philanthropic enterprise for more than 25 years. Sharing news, advice, and commentary on the nonprofit world, they also offer a robust advice section to help nonprofit workers do their jobs as well as one of the biggest listings of career opportunities.

foundation center Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

Foundation Center Established in 1956, they are the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide. Through data, analysis, and training, they connect people who want to change the world to the resources they need to succeed. The Foundation Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, a robust, accessible knowledge bank for the sector. It also operates research, education, and training programs designed to advance knowledge of philanthropy at every level.

npq Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

Nonprofit Quarterly offers journalism for the nonprofit sector, covering nonprofit trends, news, democratic activism and philanthropy. Known for its rigor and understanding of nonprofits and philanthropy, it relies on its readership to guide its editorial agenda keeping it a relevant and a trusted source for hundreds of thousands.

nancy schwartz Nonprofit Social Media Professionals

Nancy Schwartz is a nonprofit problem solver and coach that helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. She offers planning and implementation services to organizations large and small.

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The Best Ways to Love Your Donors on Social Media

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love donors

Show your Donors how much you Appreciate them!

The Internet is opening up tons of opportunities for nonprofits! For one, it allows nonprofits to dramatically expand their reach with donors.

To begin our discussion on how to effectively shower your online donors with love, let’s take a look at the Blackbaud 2011 donorCentrics™ Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report.

  • New donors are increasingly turning to the Internet rather than to direct mail for obvious reasons.
  • However, new first-time online donors also have the highest attrition or turnover rates: 60% only give once. Ouch!
  • Those that do return to give at another time tend to become committed and highly valuable supporters, volunteers, cheerleaders—and they drive more engagement online as well.

Now that we know what’s at stake, let’s get right to the most central point: how to increase donor retention.

The secret? It’s all about showing the love!

But what does that mean? We’ll answer that question through these proven methods.

Personalize Automated Donation Response Emails

We’re now programmed to expect automated, impersonal and scripted Thank You emails in response to spending money online in almost any context. This includes giving donations to nonprofits as much as making a purchase on Amazon. It’s a given. Simply saying thank you means diddly squat.

It has no weight, so to speak. So, while it’s not possible to personalize each and every email to every donor, you can put far more effort into your automatic responses.

  • Don’t ask them for anything else within a Thank You email. It’s definitely frowned upon and won’t win you any brownie points with donors.
  • Communicate that you put some LOVE into this!
  • Be as personal as possible. Keep in mind that you are a human talking to other humans.
  • Go light on the links other than to informative, relevant, useful or entertaining content.
  • Use Smart Includes to insert their name and other info like how much they gave.

Again, put some love into the automated Thank You emails. Don’t send a boring theme or nothing but a “Thanks” and a transaction receipt.

Go Old School: Direct Mail Responses

Is it a good idea to send a thank you letter or card to donors through the mail? Absolutely! And you can apply just about everything we said concerning automated emails above. Put some love into these, which translates into personality.

If it feels or looks like the things they mindlessly toss into the physical trash or recycle bin on a regular basis, they’re goners. Here’s a really good Thank You Letter Template ready for personalization and tweaking.

Showcase Both Your Biggest and Smallest Supporters

This is your nonprofit’s story and all your donors are equally a part of it. When it comes to interfacing with first-time online donors and increasing retention, you might want to focus on the smaller guys. It’s all relative of course; we’re speaking in generalities here. Be sure to experiment and see what works best with your particular audience. Odds are you’ll find that the big upticks come from shining a light on examples like these:

  • Little kids who create and engineer ways to make donation money. The “money” is secondary to these kids; superficial. All they care about and focus on are the impact and results that the money’s intended for.
  • The average person who anyone can relate to.
  • Hard-luck cases who overcome the odds and their donations are a form of giving back.

We can’t help but melt like butter for situations where people overcome big obstacles to give a little, but produce big impacts.

These everyday stories make a difference to people as well, and add to accessibility.

How do you show your donors some love? Let us know in the comments!

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