by Tat’yana Berdan
Recently some experts have begun to question the effectiveness of Facebook– the largest social media site – in helping an organization reach its followers. No matter how many followers you have, they may not see your posts unless you are willing to “boost” them (i.e., pay for them to show up). This new pay-to-play model has particularly hurt nonprofits, community organizations, and small local businesses who have relied on Facebook as an effective free outreach tool.
A strong online presence that includes engaging social media accounts is an
essential tool for large and small nonprofits alike. While popular sites like
Facebook and Twitter can help a nonprofit brand itself, tell its story, and connect
with a large audience, some nonprofits are turning to Instagram to maximize their
Instagram, one of the newest and most successful social media platforms, is a mobile app that allows users to upload and share photos. When considering whether to hop on the ‘gram-wagon, here are some important things your organization should know.
The PROS and CONS of Joining Instagram
- Reaching a large audience: Instagram is growing in popularity at a faster rate than any other form of social media, with over 300 million active users in 2014.
- Visual Storytelling: Instagram is a visual platform. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, which are more text heavy, Instagram can give your organization a unique opportunity to tell your story and connect with others through images.
(Side note: the Looking at Appalachia project and its director Roger May both have great examples of Instagram accounts that promote a grassroots project with cultural/artistic ties in an effective way.)
- High levels of engagement: Research has shown that “Instagram is capable of providing 58 times more user engagement than Facebook, and almost 120 times more than the other giant – Twitter.” This means organizations have a higher chance of connecting with and getting a response out of their audience.
- Limited form of social media: While it can be an advantage, Instagram’s huge reliance on images/image-based content can also limit organizations in what they can share on the platform.
- No links in captions: Instagram doesn’t allow users to insert URLs into captions on posted photos, so linking people back to a website or article is difficult.
- Largely a mobile platform: Instagram is a mobile app, so currently, the official and easiest way to upload photos to Instagram is through your phone. There are ways to get around this, but they often require downloading third party programs.
Larger Questions To Ask
There are some broader questions nonprofits should ask before deciding if Instagram is a social media platform worth the time investment.
- Who is your target audience and are they on Instagram? According to the Pew Research Center, 53% of adults between 18 and 29 years of age are on Instagram, while only 17% of those 50 and over use the site. Women and Hispanics and African-Americans are the gender and racial groups most likely to be users.
For nonprofits that target older demographics/audiences, it’s important to consider that both Facebook and Twitter are more popular social media sites among online users aged 50 and older. Facebook leads the pack, with 63% of all online users between 50 and 64 and 56% of all those 65 and older logging on.
- Do you have the right content? Because Instagram is a visual platform, the content you display will be different from that of your Twitter of Facebook. Do you have enough material/ideas to post informative, eye-catching photos that will help you build a strong following and create high levels of engagement?
- What would be the goal of your Instagram account? Will your Instagram have a theme or highlight a particular part of your work? What stories do you want to tell? What do you want people to take away about your organization from your Instagram? Who are you trying to reach? Are you using Instagram to target a new audience?
The last question brings up an important point on the importance of ensuring your organization is constantly reaching out to a new, younger audience. Many non-profits run into a problem when their audience base ages out and they find they have not been doing enough to build interest among a younger crowd.
A recent study indicated that around 70% of Millennials are interested in participating in non-profit work and around 50% would like to be monthly donors for charities. Since “more than 80 percent of [Millennials] use social networking sites,” platforms like Instagram are a key way to connect with these potential volunteers, donors, and future investors.
Tips on Growing a Strong Following:
If you decide that Instagram could be an important marketing resource for your nonprofit, here are some things you should keep in mind while building a following:
- Mobile Access: 66% of social media users access their accounts through their phones, more than PCs or tablets, and Instagram is tailor-made for mobile viewing.
- #Hashtags: These can be “general, trending, brand specific and industry specific” and help people find your posts. The right number of hashtags is important to consider—experts suggest keeping it to “around 5 or 6 that are relevant to what you are posting.”
- Guest Accounts: There are Instagram accounts, like the RDU Baton, that allow people or organizations to take over for the day, week, etc. and share their stories. These accounts can be great tools for small nonprofits hoping to reach larger audiences.
For administrative or advocacy level organizations that may not have a lot of photo content readily available on a day to day basis, here are some ideas for utilizing the app.
- Video: Instagram recently added a feature that allows users to upload 15 second, editable videos, which opens up a multitude of new, creative possibilities for users to tell their story.
- Campaigns: Instagram campaigns (like the international #ALSIce BucketChallenge, which raised millions for the ALS Association, or even something local, like the North Carolina Museum of Art’s #NCMAgram, which features a photo of a museum-goer every Tuesday) can be a fun and effective way of connecting with your audience. Campaigns don’t require the organization to produce a lot of content and instead turn the tables on followers to contribute their own.
- Archival Material: #ThrowbackThursday has been the most popular hashtags since the invention of hashtags and can give you an excuse to delve into your archives and past projects.
Tat’yana Berdan, our 2015 APPLES summer intern and student at UNC Chapel Hill, is a Global Studies major with a double minor in Spanish and Russian. She is originally from Tirsapol, Moldova but moved to Charlotte, North Carolina when she was seven years old. She hopes to one day work within the realm of public relations and communications for an international organization or non-profit.