Over the past several years, Instagram has transformed from a selfie and foodie prevalent social network to a storytelling platform nonprofits can maximize. According to our latest Nonprofit Social Media Benchmark Survey results, 44% of the over 500 nonprofits surveyed said that they’re active on Instagram. 37% of respondents said that if they could spent more time on one social media account, they would choose Instagram.
Do these numbers surprise you? We’re not surprised that Facebook is king and Twitter is queen. But while we were distracted, Instagram slowly crept into that next slot.
We all know the value of social media, but are we doing everything we can to optimize the channels we use, create plans and strategy, and track our results? Most of us feel confident with our Facebook and Twitter strategies, but what about Instagram?
Here are some tips, best practices, and things to avoid to help your nonprofit utilize Instagram to its max potential:
Answer these questions
Before you even get going with Instagram, or as a quick refresher to current users, make sure these questions are answered and key metrics established:
- Set and keep your goal(s) in mind. Do you want to increase brand awareness or generate interest in memberships or donations? Set something that you’re able to track, and make sure your goals for Instagram fit under the wider umbrella of your social media goals and strategy. Since 58% of nonprofits surveyed said they haven’t documented their social media strategies, now might be a good time to sit down and make a social media strategy. To put all this in perspective, the nonprofits surveyed who use Instagram said that their top three goals with the platform are to share organizational news, promote events, and share success stories. If this resonates with you, make sure every post can contribute to one or more of your set goals.
- Who are we ultimately trying to reach? Is it current or potential donors, or is it someone else?
- What does your audience like most about your brand? Whatever it is, expound on that in your posting strategy. This can be a good time to take a step back and get feedback from your audience and current donors.
- Do you know of similar nonprofits that are successful on Instagram? What appears to work for them and what things would you want to avoid? Here are two good examples of successful nonprofit Instagram accounts you could follow for inspiration and tips:
- What marketing strategies have worked in the past? Can strategies from other social media accounts translate to Instagram?
- What does your target audience expect with your brand? Is that good enough?
Do your research
Once you’ve figured out the reason why you want your nonprofit to be active on Instagram, the next logical step is to do your due diligence on your ground-level tactical plan. How will you execute to meet your goals? There are things you can do before you even post to help generate better results.
- Research and use relevant hashtags before posting. Which geographic, industry, societal, or campaign hashtags will work best for your posts? It’s okay to include multiple hashtags with each post. 1 – 5 hashtags is a good number. While you’re researching, it might also be a good time to think about any branded hashtags you might use or create for your nonprofit or specific campaigns. If you’re running any sort of contest or promotion, branded hashtags can be great for tracking and increased engagement.
- You’ve figured out your goals and strategy behind Instagram. Now you can figure out what the theme of this channel will look like. Every post is contributing to a goal, but the overarching theme of your posts is up to you. Ideally it’ll be something that complements your nonprofit’s online brand. Maybe you want to go for the whimsical and fun feel in your images, or maybe your nonprofit is in a more serious industry and you prefer your theme to be more emotive and stat driven. Whatever it is, get creative and find something that speaks to your brand.
- Figure out the best days and/or time of day to post. According to CoSchedule, some of the best/worst times to post on Instagram include:
- Mondays and Thursdays for the most engagement
- 3 – 4 p.m. typically drives lower engagement in a workday so you might want to avoid that time.
- Off hours aren’t off limits, so don’t be afraid to schedule posts on weekends or in the evenings. Pro tip: If you want, you can schedule your off-hour posts during the workday for free on Hootsuite. All you’ll have to do is download the Hootsuite app on your phone and you can publish posts with the click of a button from the comfort of your living room.
Whatever research shows (whether third-party data or information you’ve collected from surveying your audience), just find a cadence that works for you. On average, most brands post about once a day. This might be a lot for your nonprofit, and that’s okay. Just post regularly enough that your audience knows what to expect and can stay up-to-date weekly.
Create a content calendar
A content calendar is a great tool to help you post regularly on Instagram (and any social media account)! Here are a few tips on how to get started:
- Creating a social media content calendar can help you easily plan most posts out in advance. Depending on how specific and detailed you want to make it, you can pre-write captions for posts, or you can include a general idea for each day or week of what type of content you want to post. Up to you!
- Figure out what cadence makes the most sense for you on a week-by-week basis. The average company posts once a day, but if 2 or 3 times a week works better for you, that’s great. Just stay fairly consistent.
- Don’t be afraid to include occasional posts with common hashtags like #MondayMotivation, #TBT (throw back thursday), and the like.
- Vary it up with posts about daily life at your nonprofit, events, quotes, spotlights, and repurposed content.
- If it’s easier, schedule out posts once a week. But if you go this route, don’t forget to post things that are more “in the moment” or culture oriented, like events or things happening around the office.
Either way, creating a content calendar monthly, quarterly, or annually can help you stay on top of posting regularly. It also gives you a great opportunity to make themes or campaigns the focus of a particular month or year. Create and add those branded hashtags in when relevant.
The first step to get started with Instagram, or any social media account, is to optimize it first. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can get your hands dirty with executing and monitoring.
Build a community
Instagram, like any other social media platform, is ultimately meant for social networking. Building a community on Instagram is as simple as active listening, monitoring, and interacting with others. Here are some additional tips to help:
- Build a community on Instagram by following people who like or interact with your content. You should also comment and interact on other relevant photos of people you follow, or who you think would follow you. Reposting other relevant posts can also be a good way to build community with your followers. The Repost App should be able to help you with that.
- Search relevant or industry-specific hashtags and engage with posts and users. If you’re using any sort of branded hashtag, make sure you check it to see if anyone else is using it and follow or engage with those people.
- Get your audience to participate. Find ways to ask questions in captions, start an Instagram contest with a branded hashtag, or get influencers (even your base of volunteers or employees) to give your nonprofit a shout out on social media.
- A good rule of thumb on any social media platform is to have more people who follow you than who you follow. At the very least try to keep your following/follower ratio pretty close. Don’t be afraid to follow relevant business or nonprofit accounts in your community, or people who’ve engaged with your nonprofit.
- Tag people in images when you can and use geolocations for increased reach. It should be easy to tag volunteers and employees that you’re following in images.
Incorporate storytelling visually through the images you take and through the captions that accompany each photo. Here are some tips to incorporate storytelling into your strategy:
- Always use high quality, meaningful photos. Think about the purpose of each photo before you take it. If you’ve found the perfect photo, but it needs a little love, you can always download the Adobe Photoshop Express App on your phone to spruce it up.
- While capturing the perfect photo is important, I think creating the appropriate caption to go with it is just as important. Think about the story you’re trying to tell and what overarching theme if fits in. If you need inspiration for things to post, you can always use some of these creative ideas. Keep in mind, sometimes the perfect caption is short and sweet. Pro tip: follow these nonprofit Instagram accounts for additional inspiration.
- You can’t include clickable links with your posts, but you can say in the caption to click the link in your bio for more details. Just make sure your nonprofit’s bio details are up-to-date. When relevant, update the link in your bio with recent campaign landing page URLs.
- Include a good balance of fun, entertaining images and thought-provoking or serious ones. Again, it all comes back to the brand voice and theme that you dictated in the planning and research stage. Pro tip: you can always design your own custom images easily (and for free) with Canva. Here’s an example of a few custom images that Keep Indianapolis Beautiful designed for Instagram:
- Incorporate more video when appropriate. Instagram’s a great tool because you can easily toggle between posting static photos and video. You don’t have to be an expert videographer to take good videos. Your phone has all the capabilities you need. Plus, Instagram can give you the tools to capture those meaningful moments.
- Video is also a great tool to tell other people’s stories. Do a brief video interview with a donor, volunteer, or someone your nonprofit has impacted and upload those soundbites to Instagram.
- Post multiple pictures at once to show progression and a story. If you’re posting about an event, post pictures chronologically through the night all at once with Instagram’s multiple upload feature. You can show your nonprofit’s impact by showing things changing over time. Whether your impact shows a well being built in a country that needs more clean water, grades or reading comprehension improving for a literacy organization, or animals being rehabilitated, you can find a way to show its progression.
- Another great way to tell a story or show progression in the moment is to use Instagram’s Story feature. Post snippets while things are happening and make your audience feel like they were really there. Doing Instagram Stories or video during the event and then posting multiple pictures after are a great way to add color and a clear beginning, middle, and end to each story you’re trying to tell.
- Spice up your Instagram feed by allowing your followers to see the faces behind your organization. Create employee, volunteer or donor spotlights, have fun with a “Day in the life of a nonprofit or fundraising pro” posts, or host an Instagram takeover where a different employee or volunteer takes over the Instagram for one day, week, or month. Start the takeover with an introduction post from each employee to give it a nice kick-off. You can even include the faces behind your nonprofit with a simple Instagram story throughout a day.
Monitor and pivot
The last step to truly maximizing any social platform is tracking and monitoring what’s working and what isn’t. Go back to those goals you set in the planning stage and see if you’re meeting them.
- Track engagement through the number and quality of post likes and comments you receive.
- Track follower to following ratio and how your follower count increases (or decreases) on a month-by-month basis. Try to increase your follower count every month if you can.
- Test different hashtags or posting time to see if results differ. Pivot your strategy around what works. Your posts could get the most engagement at 8pm on Sunday night, but you won’t know unless you test it. Play with using different, appropriate hashtags and see if there’s any difference in post likes or new people liking your posts. If you’re always getting the same few people liking your posts every time, you might want to try something new.
- If something isn’t working, ditch it. Pivot towards the things that are working. Monitoring and active listening should be an important part of any social media plan.
At the end of the day, make sure that your Instagram and social media strategy as a whole is a fluid thing. Use your strategy to guide your work, but don’t forget to adapt and make changes as you test and monitor your results.
When used thoughtfully and strategically throughout the planning and execution stages, Instagram can be a great way to find new advocates for your charitable cause, and engage with potential volunteers and donors.
If you’re new to Instagram, it might seem strange or daunting, but at the end of the day, just like any other social media platform, it can be used to increase donor loyalty. And that’s definitely worth it.