How To design a charity social media strategy that gives a tangible return on investment

Connections between social media logos

I have been in many trustee meetings where reports declare the ‘success’ of their social media strategy based on the ‘evidence’ of tweets and followers. Social networks are far too established now for this behaviour to continue to be accepted.

This post identifies the need to move beyond assessing the effectiveness of a charity’s social media strategy by measuring outputs like followers, re-tweets, etc. Of course these identifiers are relevant, but they must be grounded in a reporting narrative that focuses on overall return on investment. It goes on to offer some simple tips for gathering content to fuel your new strategy. 

Get the social media strategy right first

Here is a threefold process which I have found useful in addressing this.

Start with the end in mind

What does your charity want to achieve by engaging with social media? This may sound like an obvious question but I have come across many charities that spend time on social media simply because they think they should.

Avoid vague objectives like ‘increase the profile of the charity’, which are about as much use as no objective at all. Instead, define your objective so that it can be measured. Here are a few better examples:

  • Increase the number of volunteering enquiries
  • Increase the number of individual donors
  • Drive traffic to the blog (there is a subsequent issue here about the objective of the blog, but it at least gives clear focus to the social media strategy)

Define an engagement pipeline

If you want to achieve your (measurable) objectives you need to think about how that will happen.

What are the steps that people will take from seeing your social media activity through to taking an action that puts a tick in your 'objective achieved' box? Here is an example set of considerations focused on the 'Increase the number of volunteering enquiries' objective:

One Acquire an audience. This will involve defining your target audience, considering their interests, and designing a content strategy for social media sharing that will engage them.

TWo  Define your first level of engagement. This will probably entail calls to action (CTAs) within the content that you share that take people deeper.

Three  Create and review your landing pages. These are pages on which people land when they have responded to a CTA. See this post for some simple ways to improve your landing pages.

Four Consider how your relationship changes with someone after they have responded to a CTA. What other stages are necessary before they are ready to volunteer? Strategise the ways in which your website and social media presence features in this process.

Review and change direction

Once you have defined your objectives and have planned for how people can move towards achieving these objectives you will be able to identify the metrics you need to report on. While primary focus should remain on the overall objective it is also valuable to see how each stage of the pipeline is performing. Most importantly your reports should allow you to answer the following questions:

  • Is the time and effort we are investing bringing a tangible return?
  • Does the value of this return justify the ongoing investment?

If they don’t then you need to adapt accordingly. If you think that a period of investment is needed before showing a return, you should at least set a timeline and a set of targets to ensure that you don’t kid yourself for too long that success is just around the corner.

Your reports should also allow you to understand why your strategy may not be working and how to improve it. They can do this by highlighting which stages within the engagement pipeline are performing well and which tactics effectively move people to the next level of engagement.

Gathering content for your social media strategy

Many organisations feel the pressure of engaging on social media without being sure of the rewards. In this section, we look at how to gather social media content efficiently. There are plenty of free tools available that can make this much easier, and integrate the task of gathering and curating content with your everyday workflow. These are our favourites:

1) Use an RSS Reader

These gather content from your favourite blogs and news websites into one place, so with one sign in all the new stories since you last logged in are available to view. We use Feedly, which is beautifully designed and integrates with Buffer App (our social media scheduling service of choice) - so for every interesting story you see you can click one button and schedule it up on social media. Here’s what it looks like: 


For more on using Feedly and Buffer App see our post "5 free apps every charity should use on Twitter".

2) Set up Google Alerts

Every time someone references your organisation you need to know about it. Setting up a Google Alert will send you an email when your combination of keywords are found - you can also set these up for your sector, campaigns, or the names of individuals or organisations (or for pretty much anything). See here for more information and how to get started. There are also other tools available for gathering news such as that might be worth checking out depending on how much news is generated about your organisation.

3) Use content created by your beneficiaries

This is perhaps the most time-consuming of these options, but once you have processes in place it doesn’t always need to be! People following your organisation will no doubt be interested in the people you’re working with, and the stories of your impact. Story is key, and the more stories you can tell about your work the better.

Shelter using stories on Facebook

Think about the points in your organisation’s interaction with your beneficiaries that you’re already gathering content and information. Can you recycle this in any way through gathering it in new places? (This obviously needs to bear in mind privacy and the disclosure of sensitive information.)

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4) Subscribe to newsletters

Other people in your sector are probably producing content and sending news and links to resources. Sign up for as much as possible, if needs be using a separate email address so your inbox isn’t cluttered. This will enable you can sift through and share on the valuable information (making sure to credit where appropriate!). People following the work of your organisation will no doubt be interested in the work that others in your sector are doing, so be generous with what you share - the more credit you give the more likely others are to reference you in the future.

5 free ways to gather social media content for your charity

5) Consolidate information in one place

Once you’re gathering all this information it can be a bit overwhelming. The easiest way to reduce this is to keep all the useful information that you might want to share in one place, and then rather than dealing with it all individually as it comes in, going through it once a week (or more regularly depending on your sharing schedule).

An app that is brilliant for just this is Pocket. There are lots of different ways that you can send content to your pocket account (think of it like putting a piece of paper in your pocket to look at later) - via a Chrome plugin where you can press a button at the top of your browser, via email, from Twitter, and a whole other host of ways too (500 to be precise due to their open API). You can then take a look at your pocket on multiple devices, and while offline (handy for those of us still braving London’s tube despite the lack of WiFi).

If you want to get really snazzy, you can use IFTTT to set up specific instructions that integrate with Pocket (eg. Send every photo tagged with #myorganisation on Instagram to pocket). There are loads of these triggers already set up, and you can set up your own too. 


Once you’ve gathered all this content its time to share it. We use Buffer App, which integrates with both Feedly and Pocket, and schedules your tweets in advance.

If you’re producing good content then your followers and influence will increase - but remember that social media is about conversation, and its the people and organisations you meet, relationships you make, and dialogue you engage with that matter.

Social media boils down to the marriage of two main concepts — content and conversation. Without content, conversation is mere networking. Without conversation, content is dead. It goes nowhere.

Brett Virmalo - Tipping Point Labs

Take your real-life emphasis on conversation over to the digital realm, put processes in place to share great content, and watch your influence increase.

This post was originally published in February 2014 and was last updated in April 2017

25 April 2017
Andy Pearson