When Facebook was first adopted by non-profit organizations, the social media site seemed to provide it all. With active users who engage with content, a low to free price tag and direct access to dedicated members right from their fingertips, creating a Facebook page was a simple choice for organizations. Since then, it has become a critical tool that non-profits rely on to spread their message — but times are changing.
According to Facebook’s Second Quarter 2018 Results Conference Call, audience growth on the social media platform has plateaued at only 185 million daily active users in the US. And, changes to algorithms on the platform are making it more difficult to reach those active users than ever before. With such dramatic changes after years of growth, organizations need to take notice and adjust their plan of action when trying to reach constituents.
Facebook & Security
In recent months, Facebook has made headlines with consumer privacy issues. It has come to light just how invasive the social media platform can be. The information Facebook can track doesn’t stop with age, employer, relationship status, likes and location, it goes as far as tracking what additional websites and apps you visit. With the ever-present “Like” and “Share” buttons, and Facebook Pixel, a code snippet that allows Facebook to track user activity, the social media website can track users’ every move online.
Anonymity offline has also become a major point of concern for Facebook users, especially with their facial recognition technology. It has been warned that this feature eliminates online anonymity but also the ability to be on the street or attend public events without being identified. This is an important point for organizations who drive advocacy on sensitive issues.
The Uncool Factor
With the rise of Gen Z and the need for non-profits to reach younger generations, it’s important to speak their language and use the tools that they do. Much like Friendster and MySpace before them, Facebook could be facing the challenge of becoming irrelevant with younger audiences. According to research conducted by Pew Research Center, 51% of US individuals ages 13 to 17 say they use Facebook, a dramatic plunge from the 71% who reported using the social media network in their study from 2015. This presents a key challenge for organizations looking to engage with the next generation of donors.
The News Feed Struggle
Since Facebook has implemented the Facebook Zero algorithm to prioritize posts from family, friends and groups in news feeds, it’s easy for posts to go unseen. The need for fresh content or ads has never been more important to spread your message. If as an organization you decide to move forward with ads, Facebook plays a substantial role in determining if your ad gets attention and just how much it receives. The platform removed 5,000 targeting options in August 2018 to prevent misuse, even though the feature allowed non-profits to legitimately reach certain constituent audiences. Although a full list of the prohibited attributes has not been published, many are believed to relate to attributes such as ethnicity or religion – often a valuable data point for non-profits looking to target their outreach.
The Online Community & Social Media Relationship
Despite the issues that have arisen with Facebook, social media is still a valuable tool for organizations to spread awareness, but they are not communities. On Facebook, users may have social interactions online, but the individuals connecting are not united by a shared purpose. There is not a real dialogue happening. This is where a community comes into play for non-profits.
An online community provides a destination for discussion, but also a place for growing a loyal following and creating an environment of support. In your organization’s community, members and/or donors tightly interlink because of their dependence on the organization or shared belief in a cause. Not to mention a community provides non-profit organizations with benefits like secure ownership of content, data and constituent information. In a community, content is created by members, but you are in control of the discussion, and content can be searched and used in the future. The organization is better able to recognize individuals and provide a more comprehensive 360-experience for its audience.
While social media may not be the ideal platform to engage donors or members, it shouldn’t be ignored altogether. Social media does have value and is useful for certain campaigns and situations – especially capturing the attention of potential members, donors or volunteers. Once they’re engaged on social media, this audience can convert into community members for your organization. If you can make this transition successfully, social media can act as an acquisition tool and your owned community can be your main point of communication. Organizations looking to leverage social media and communities to engage their audience should remember — every platform has its place. When used correctly, they are all powerful tools that can help to drive your message with your supporters.