Demystifying Social Media: Three Key Takeaways from the Success of Nonprofits on Facebook

What we can learn from the sector that generates the most online buzz

We’re all trying to make sense of social media, and every marketing “guru” or social media “expert” is selling the secret ingredient or the magic media voodoo that promises to grow your business overnight like a Chia pet.  The truth is, they’re tricksters.

Any good social media marketer will tell you that social media takes time, and they’ll remind you that social media is a new medium., and that we’re still navigating it and exploring its uses.

While it’s true that some have more experience than others, one knows ALL the answers when it comes to social media because we’re still evolving the questions.

Until recently, Facebook was “something for the kids,” but in the last two years, business have flocked to the Social Network in an effort to expand their enterprise and “go social.” Some of these companies have leveraged Facebook’s business pages with great success, while others have struggled to be noticed. One sector in particular, however, has seen great success on Facebook: nonprofit organizations.

According to a report from Criagslist, nonprofit organizations generate the most social media buzz. Craigslist founder Craig Newmark wanted to see which issues stirred the most online conversation, and in his research he discovered that nonprofit organizations are the most talked about category on Facebook.

In particular, animal organizations ranked the most popular conversation topic, followed by children organizations and cultural issues. Check out more details on this great infographic from our friends at CraigConnects:

After reading this, the curious cat in me needed some answers: why are nonprofits so popular on Facebook, and what we learn from these findings? Here’s my analysis….

1. On Social Media, Content is King

As a writer, I couldn’t help but be interested in the content that’s being exchanged across the online platforms of these nonprofit organizations. If animal groups are the most popular on Facebook, then I needed to know what kind of images and stories they’re sharing. I had a suspicion, but I needed to do some Facebook research to be certain ….

If you’re on Facebook to save animals, you’re posting image after image of cute puppies, and you’re seducing us with your irresistible content! After all the market research, all the talk of strategy, keywords, the key to social media could just be “cute.”

2. Social media Turns Consumers into Collaborators

This point was taken right off the cover of Clay Shirky’s “Cognitive Surplus,” though Shirky is talking about modern technology in general, and not just the technology of social media.

In the book, Shirky argues that social networking sites have provided us the means to collaborate with one another, transforming media from something we consume to something we use.

The model of social media, then, fits well with the model of nonprofits, because nonprofits are out to HELP rather than to SELL; nonprofits treat their community members as contributors and cause ambassadors rather than simply clients or customers.

Perhaps if more brands thought like organizations and considered how USEFUL they could be then they, too, would be as popular on social media.


3. We’re a do-good generation:

Ask yourself this: how is philathraphy incorporated into your business? The popularity of online organizations devoted to causes  evidences that we’re a generation of do-gooders. These days, even an armchair philosopher can do good for the world, so long as that armchair comes with a laptop.

While many of us may not have disposable income to donate to organizations, we do have disposable time, or a “cognitive surplus” as Shirky would call it.

Most of us have Facebook accounts, and many of us are more than motivated to click “like” on your brand’s page or share your brand’s content if we’re invested in your brand’s cause. What’s the driving force behind your business, and how does your social media content help articulate that story?