Nonprofits: It’s Time To Stop Blaming Facebook’s Algorithm

The nonprofit sector has a martyr complex.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the comment sections of frequently-published blogs and articles about Facebook making changes to its newsfeed algorithm (the secret formula that controls what content users do and not see).

“This hurts nonprofits!”

“It isn’t fair, Mark Zuckerberg!”

“Why won’t you help nonprofits?”

Even Facebook’s new “Facebook For Nonprofits” microsite has drawn criticism as “underwhelming” (agreed), while renewing calls for more ad grants and a loosening of the newsfeed algorithm’s grip.

But, for once, I’m not here to bash Facebook. I’m here to say that it’s time for nonprofits to stop making Facebook out to be the villain.

Instead, consider the following: Your content sucks.

Sorry, but the content you post on Facebook is just mediocre, and the algorithm doesn’t want to show it.

Yes, you can overcome the algorithm by throwing money at Facebook in the form of boosted posts and ads. And yes, this probably means that the deck is stacked against nonprofits due to limited resources (hence the clarion call for ad grants).

But you can also overcome the algorithm with engaging, interesting, emotional, personal and authentic content. You can overcome the algorithm by not posting random boring, promotional and impersonal content.

Redefining success

It’s unrealistic to hope that everything you post on your Facebook page is going to go viral – even if you’re willing to spend hundreds and possibly thousands to boost the post.

The organic engagement that you do receive will likely come from your most loyal supporters. A post that receives only a handful of likes, shares and comments might be successful! Don’t get caught up in the vanity metrics.

Tips for engaging Facebook content

If you are struggling with getting your content seen organically, here are a few tips:

  • Make your content social! Tag people in your posts (especially photos). Your posts may become visible to their friends, instantly amplifying your potential organic reach.
  • Upset that no one is commenting on your posts? Ask questions! You don’t get what you don’t ask for. Ask people to share your post, and encourage fans to express a reaction.
  • Include specific calls-to-action. The best engagement metric might be referral traffic from Facebook to your website. Make sure each post has a dedicated link to your website where they can take action. Just because you aren’t getting likes, shares and comments doesn’t mean you aren’t getting referral traffic.

Other ways to spend your time

Have you considered that Facebook might not be the best medium for acquiring new donors or stewarding current ones?

Have you considered that the expectation that mounds of cash will roll in after only exerting a minimal effort to click a few buttons on Facebook may be disproportionate to reality?

Sure, there is a ton of data and case studies that show nonprofits can raise a lot of money on Facebook. That’s great!

But don’t forsake the long game of donor stewardship for a quick social media win.

Instead, employ the personal touch as often as possible:

  • Phone calls – make a personal connection with a supporter.
  • Handwritten note – make a supporter feel special, apropos of nothing.
  • Email – consistently beats all other digital channels in engagement.
  • Twitter – no algorithm, great for one-to-one communication (gift acknowledgement!).

Yes, this might take longer. Yes, it will seem like a bit of chore. But the dividends it will pay will far exceed any results that the average nonprofit can achieve through Facebook.

So let’s all stop acting so helpless, and instead be empowered to communicate with our constituents in more personal and meaningful ways.

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The Art & Science of Digital Donor Retention

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.
Steven Shattuck
By |2017-06-10T18:32:53-04:00March 4th, 2016|Social Media|

One Comment

  1. Erik Anderson March 4, 2016 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Amen, Brother Steven. Simply an awesome post with great suggestions. Thanks!

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