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Social Media Guidelines

General Top 10
YouTube Top 5
Twitter Top 5
Facebook Top 5

  1. Have a plan and policies in place first.

    It seems obvious, but when it comes to social media, some organizations have the tendency to jump in head first with no clear direction, forcing them to learn as they go. Like any good marketing strategy, social media strategies need to be planned well in advance.

    Some questions to answer: What is your objective? Who will you target online? What staff members will be maintaining the sites? If you hire a third party to launch a social media campaign, who will manage the sites/communities after the campaign ends? What will you do if someone is harassing people in your online communities? Will you have a policy for responding to negative/positive comments or messages? How often should you update?

  2. Reserve a URL to match your website and/or brand.

    It's important that your organization's social media site URLs are consistent and match your website's URL and/or brand. For example:


    Even if you don't plan on using a social network immediately, sign up and grab that URL before someone else does.

    *Note: If you have a Facebook fan page, you need more than 100 fans before you can claim a vanity URL. Also, the vanity name must be over four characters.

  3. Use your organization's logo as your profile picture for social networking profile pages. Use brand colors for background and other site design elements.

    Again, keep your online image consistent with your brand. Line up snapshots of every social media site and your website. Make sure that they all look as though they belong to the same organization. This will encourage brand recognition amongst your online supporters.

  4. Limit the description of your organization and other copy. Link to your website from your social media sites and vice versa.

    The content you provide should be short and sweet on your social media site. You are creating a space for consumers to interact with your brand, so hopefully a lot of the content will be user-generated. The organization description should be no more than one paragraph.

    Always link to your website, consumers can go there if they want more in depth information about your organization. Also, by linking to your website you can see referral traffic numbers from each social media site on analytic reports.

    Then link to all your social media sites on your website's homepage. Also, provide links to all social media sites on each of your social media sites.

  5. Keep your content updated, well-rounded, and be human. Repurpose, repeat.

    Social media is a conversation, not a one-way channel only. Moreover, this is not the space to only update consumers on your organization's news. Include nonprofit news, praise other nonprofit programs and link to their sites, say thank you to supporters, ask questions and offer useful information.

    Be a person, be fun and talk like you would to a friend. People want to follow people, not organizations. Of course one of your goals is to have a presence and update consumers about your organization but mix that in with updates like: "We have a new president and we are both from Chicago! I see a hot dog lunch on the horizon."

    Repurpose content to use across your entire Internet presence (when appropriate). Don't just update in one place.

  6. Follow/friend/join natural supporters; link up with nonprofit networks and like-minded causes. Find your community.

    There is a huge community of nonprofit organizations, government agencies and cause-oriented people online. Make sure to tap into that network. Nonprofits can help build other nonprofit networks and will promote each other. There are also nonprofit groups to follow and friend for example: http://www.facebook.com/nonprofitorgs. Social media is all about strength in numbers.

  7. Consider negative comments as an opportunity.

    Negative comments, or feedback, are opportunities to: educate consumers; resolve issues within an organization; respond to, and engage consumers; be transparent and open with your online community.

    Consumers that take the time to post negative comments are often times indicating they care about your organization, or cause, enough to make that effort. Before responding to the negative comment, give someone in your online community time to respond first. It's much better to have the consumers correct each other. You will be surprised how many people in your community will say exactly what you'd hope they would say. Leaving this discourse posted for the community to see will help educate community members about the organization and also your online community culture (that is, how you handle negative comments). Social media users respect an organization that is not afraid of adversity.

    If a community member does not chime in, respond to the negative comment. Thank the consumer, and say that you are sorry they feel this way. Look to see if the comment has some validity and offers an opportunity to improve a facet of your organization, then tell the consumer you are working on it. If the comment is unbalanced and unfounded, provide links to evidence-based research or authorities.

    Remove the comment if the consumer is threatening or bullying someone else in the community or the organization. Try not to engage in a lengthy back and forth.

  8. Consider positive comments as an opportunity.

    Consumers who like your organization enough to post positive comments and feedback are invaluable. Make sure to thank them and let them know that their support is greatly appreciated. Offer other ways in which they can get involved. Taking the time to respond to individuals when you can is worth it. Remember to message them on a wall or public place, when possible, for all to see.

  9. Use your community and energize your base.

    Your community has identified with your organization by becoming a friend, fan or follower, which means they are a group that wants to be engaged. Treat them like stakeholders and a focus group, ask them questions about ideas you have for a new campaign and facilitate a discussion. Ask them to help promote your cause by assigning them small and easy tasks. Then energize them by giving them the results from their efforts.

  10. Before you ask everyone on the Internet to get on board, make sure your organization is on board.

    Present to executive staff and convince them that social media is a priority for your organization. Show them how much traffic is referred to websites from social media. There is loads of information and research to support the need for every organization to have a social media presence. Make sure they understand that if you do create this presence it will have to be maintained and taken seriously.

    Once everyone is on board, make sure all colleagues are contributing when they can by offering news from their different departments, becoming fans of your organizations page and telling their friends.


  1. Apply to the YouTube Nonprofit Program: www.youtube.com/nonprofits.

    If your organization is nonprofit, has 501c3 status and is correctly listed in Guidestar.org, then apply for YouTube's nonprofit program. After approval, your channel will be listed in the non-profit directory, you will get premium design and branding options for your channel and an increased opportunity to be promoted on YouTube.

  2. Subscribe to YouTube Nonprofit Organizations Google Group and Vlog.

    YouTube has a Vlog for nonprofit organizations called Agent Change and a Google group: http://groups.google.com/group/youtube-nonprofits. Make sure you subscribe so you can stay current with what is happening on YouTube in relation to the nonprofits.

  3. Tag your videos and get creative.

    Tagging your video will determine how and when your video will appear in the YouTube search engine. Include as many relevant, and maybe not so relevant, tags possible.

  4. Use the Call to Action Overlay.

    This overlay is an ad that pops up while a video is playing and provides a link. A lot of nonprofits use it to drive traffic to their donations page.

  5. Regularly monitor your insights on YouTube.

    Under Account > Insight, YouTube provides helpful tools and stats about your videos and users. You can get a good sense of what your supporters on YouTube do on your channel and what types of videos they are interested in.


  1. Use Twitter tools and applications.

    There are several great applications to help Twitter realize its potential as a news, online auditing and buzz metrics service. For example, Tweetdeck can be used to search for your organization's name and other keywords and to neatly keep track of your mentions or replies (which means someone has used your Twitter handle in their tweet i.e. "I love @adoptuskids, great people!").

  2. Follow those who mention and follow you.

    Twitter is a conversation, and these are the people that want to talk to you, so talk to them.

  3. Live tweet events, conferences and assign a hashtag.

    Hashtags (i.e. #adoption) are a way for people to search and organize tweets on a topic or a live offline event. It's a good way to create a buzz about an event, archive headlines from the event and gain followers who attended the event or were interested in the event but couldn't attend.

  4. Retweet and reply.

    People love to have their content retweeted, so if you see something you want to second, do so. Also, reply to tweets when appropriate.

  5. Don't overtweet.

    Try to tweet no more than 3-5 times a day. Too many tweets will result in too many unfollows.


  1. If you're an organization or government agency, create a page and look no further.

    Don't get caught up in the decision between a group, page or cause. A page is the best presence to have on Facebook. If you want to raise funds for your organization, link to your website's donation page. Creating more spaces on Facebook will split your community. A central and clearly defined hub is important.

  2. Use the "Favorites" function to build partnerships on Facebook.

    Each Facebook Page has a link under the logo on the home view named "Add to my Page's Favorites." Use this functionality to build and foster partnerships on Facebook. If a foundation recently gave your organization a grant and they have a Facebook Page, then "Favorite" them on your page and post a comment on their wall letting them know that you made them a "Favorite." If your organization has numerous chapters throughout the country, favorite each one on the Facebook Page for the national office.

  3. Have more than one administrator for your page.

    Protect your organization by making sure that you have at least two staff as admins for your Facebook page. If a staff person or volunteer leaves, and there isn't a second person named as page admin, then you have essentially lost access to your Facebook Page and your hundreds/thousands of fans. (This is a good idea for all social media sites).

  4. Join Facebook's Nonprofit Network: http://www.facebook.com/nonprofits.

    On most social media sites, there is a nonprofit hub to join and learn from. Social media sites welcome nonprofits to their sites because users want them there. So be sure to use the many resources each site provides.

  5. Facebook Insights.

    Insights are key to helping you improve your Facebook page. By understanding your activity and performance, fan response, trends and comparisons, you are better equipped to improve your presence.

    Use the stats to gain valuable insight into what your consumers like, what type of content they interact with the most, what they tend to share with their friends and, maybe most importantly, what they don't like.


READ, READ and then READ some more.

There is no general consensus on social media guidelines and there is a lot of information on best practices. There are also a lot of experts that won't agree with the above guidelines and some may not fit your organization.

Internet usage research is also very informative for your social media strategies.

Finally, social media and technology changes fast, so it is imperative to read and be up-to-date. There are many of sources, below are the essentials.
The research: www.pewinternet.org
The blog: www.mashable.com
The book: http://www.forrester.com/Groundswell/index.html

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