In the Beginning…

I took on my first responsibilities as a social media manager about eight years ago when I was appointed public information officer (PIO) for the City of Portland’s Water Bureau.

As PIO, I supported and managed a lot of moving parts—media relations, community outreach, event marketing… and launching and maintaining the bureau’s social media presence including an award-winning, nationally recognized blog, Twitter, Facebook and a handful of other, smaller social networks popular at the time.

Our program was really popular—especially our Facebook page, which I leveraged to:

o   engage with water customers (happy and sad ones! Good times!)

o   drive traffic to the Water Blog and Water Bureau website

o   slap some much-needed personality on our historically bureaucratic feeling organization

The Old Facebook

My simple strategy worked.

Our content was interesting and we had high levels of engagement through likes and comments. Cross-posts drove a ton of traffic to the Water Blog and the bureau’s website.

To say I was a fan of Facebook at that point would’ve been an understatement.

Facebook allowed us to connect with rate payers like we’d never been able to before. We now had a forum to share important information with them—information that we would’ve relied on the media to share (at their whim) before. Information about boil water notices (!!), water main breaks, traffic impacts from infrastructure repairs… water conservation tips—things that really mattered to members of our target audiences.

They could even get on there and yell at us if they felt so inclined! (And they did)

It was a real win-win for everyone (other than the yelling).

They got a chance to learn more about us from the convenience of their Facebook newsfeeds… we got a chance to talk to them for zero cost, other than my time.

The New Facebook

Today, however, given Facebook’s seemingly endless tweaks to the newsfeed algorithm and an increasing emphasis on paid ads, I wonder whether my experience would’ve been the same.

Would I have become the Facebook fangirl now, that I was then? Could I have made any noticeable impact working for an organization that had time but no money to invest in paid communications efforts like so many of Prichard’s nonprofit and foundation clients?

Honestly, I’m not so sure.

According to digital marketing expert Jay Baer, “Facebook has altered the math of the game so that only posts that get a disproportionate amount of engagement (likes, clicks, comments, shares) will be seen by a lot of people – regardless of whether those people are fans or friends. This opens up more real estate for Promoted Posts (ads) from companies or people.”

In other words, you have to pay to play nowadays. Whether you’ve got a nonprofit budget of $100 or a large brand budget of $1 million… your content is going to have a hard time getting out there if you’re not paying to promote it.

Earlier this year, Facebook admitted (OUT LOUD!) to ramping down organic page reach to 1 or 2 percent.

Quite frankly, I think that Facebook is algorithm’ing itself largely irrelevant to nonprofit organizations and other low or no budget brands, groups and individuals with a lot to offer the Facebook community, like the Portland Water Bureau.

For the first time ever, I find myself urging clients away from the frustration that is Facebook and into more low-budget friendly options like Twitter and Instagram that share content with audiences in more overt and organic ways.

Facebook continues to urge page managers to produce high quality content focused on their audiences. But, for those of you doing that already (most of you!) and getting little return on your investment, I’m sure you’re left wondering…..

“So, what’s Facebook good for, anyway?”

Despite low engagement rates experienced by so many of you and our social do-gooding clients, Facebook is still good for one thing: bolstering credibility among target audiences, stakeholders and… maybe most importantly, Google Search.

This tool so permeated the way Americans get and share information that many of us (me included) now have an expectation that we‘ll be able to engage with organizations we support online—and especially using Facebook, the cornerstone social network for many of us.

If you’re not on Facebook, we find ourselves asking “why?” Is your organization defunct? Did I spell the name wrong? Are you overly old-fashioned…and if that’s the case, will I connect with your mission, product or business strategy? Are you a credible group?

And Google? Don’t even consider denying the demands of those guys if you want to be found on the world wide web!

Google indexes your social networks as part of its own search algorithm to help it determine your credibility. Without a presence on major networks including Facebook, your ability to be found by target audiences searching for you online goes down. Significantly.

The New Facebook Strategy for the Budget Conscious

Before throwing your hands up in the air and kvetching about social media, Millennials and the old glory days of traditional communications, take a deep breath, pull out your social media strategy, and figure out the NEW Facebook.

Your NEW Facebook should account for useful information that lends legitimacy to your organization. Not only should you fill out your profile fully, but you should design your content strategy in a way that lends authenticity to what you do and who you are. Make sure you’re posting frequently enough to maintain a presence but not so frequently that you’re feeling overwhelmed by the investment of time required to maintain it. I’d recommend no less than three times per week and no more than once per day.

Sure it sounds like a formality. An add-on. Unstrategic, maybe.

But, given that the NEW Facebook for nonprofits is a small investment of time, it’s a good investment of smart thinking and intention…. And one that will help you grow and maintain your online reputation as a reputable organization.

In the End

No longer the “new media” outliers of the communications toolkit, social networks like Facebook are here to stay.

Their hold on how and when we communicate is often irritating, sometimes even maddening and always, 100 percent out of our control.

Our challenge is to figure out how to harness and leverage these dynamic and exciting tools in meaningful ways—and to respond accordingly when changes occur.

In the end, our social good communications programs will be stronger and we’ll be better able to impact the change we want to see in the world….the changes we all work so hard to achieve every day.

Does your nonprofit still use Facebook to connect with target audiences? If so, how?