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Vol. 38, No. 3

Hashtags and shares for bar foundations: Social media no longer optional

Facebook turns 10 years old in February 2014. The social network helped usher in the modern era of social media, which is referred to less and less as “new media” because, well, it’s not new anymore.

Tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—and even YouTube and Instagram—have evolved into necessities, and not options, in today’s digital world. Meanwhile, newer social media tools (such as Kik, Vine, and Snapchat) seemingly spring up every day.

Despite its maturity, social media remains an elusive challenge for many professionals in the nonprofit sector, who often cite lack of time and resources as major communications challenges. From what we’ve observed, this is even more true for bar foundations, but those who work at bar associations may find that this article applies to them as well.


The reality is that debate over social media use for nonprofits has moved past “why” and on to what and how. The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 72 percent of online adults use social networking sites. That includes 89 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, 78 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds, 60 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 43 percent of those over 65. Aside from the web in general, the only other online service more widely used is email. According to Ad Age,  “Nothing has bested the reach of TV since its broad-scale launch in the early '50s, but now, Facebook alone surpasses the reach of the four broadcast networks in two key demographics: 18- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 34-year-olds.”

Simply put, if you’re not using social media today, then you’re missing out on important opportunities to engage existing or new audiences to raise awareness and increase support for your organization and the issues you champion.

With that in mind, here are some straightforward steps to improving how your organization uses these online platforms and services.

Start with strategy

One of the most important steps before embarking on social media is strategy. Think about what you are aiming to accomplish by using these new tools. How will you measure success? How can social media be used to advance your current organizational vision, mission, and programmatic goals?

Relevant goals can include: fundraising, educating people about programs and the needs you address, increasing attendance for events, making sure more people know about your bar foundation and work, and getting people to take action around a particular issue.

Once you’ve identified your main goals, the next step is to identify the people you need to reach in order to achieve them. Who is your audience? What online tools are they using? Can you spend time “listening” on those channels to see how likeminded organizations are using those tools, what your audience is talking about, and what language is being used?

Getting clear about your goals and audiences will help guide you as you choose social media channels and begin creating and sharing content.

Building your place on the social triumvirate

First, a brief overview of what we mean when we say “social media.” David Meerman Scott, in his book The New Rules of Marketing and PR, defines social media as a “superset” that refers to all the “various media that people use to communicate online in a social way,” including wikis, blogs, video sharing (YouTube, Vimeo), photo sharing (Flickr) and more. 

A subset within that “superset” is social networking platforms, where people can create personal profiles and interact with their friends and family or engage with likeminded communities. Each social networking tool can be used to engage different audiences for different purposes. Although not everyone can use all available forms of social media or be on all the major social networking sites, a bar foundation should have a presence on at least Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

There are a number of reasons why Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn comprise the social triumvirate in the context of bar foundation audiences. Next to Google, Facebook is the most widely used web property in the world. Twitter is the dominant platform for real-time news and content, and also a great way to build relationships with journalists and other influencers. LinkedIn drives more traffic to corporate websites than any other social network and has also become a favorite social service for those in the legal profession.

Each of these platforms offer guides for nonprofits:

If you’ve already established a presence on those platforms, it might be time to begin experimenting on one or two other additional networking platforms, such as Instagram or Google+. Because Google+ can influence how Google determines rankings in search, it might, in fact, be one of the most important social networking tools. And with 150 million users (and yes, some of them are lawyers) and growing, Instagram can be used to give your audience a glimpse of your organization and the people you impact.

Content, alignment, audience

After you’ve built your online home in those social neighborhoods, or if you’re already there, you can begin generating or repurposing content and bring your existing audiences to the party.

Chances are, you’re already generating shareable content through your newsletter articles, announcements, emails, events, and fundraising requests. These products also are likely being posted to your website. If you’re short-handed, sharing links to existing content on your website or blog is the easiest way to create social content immediately. Use existing photos and graphics liberally. And reply to comments! Be consistent in your activity; daily activity is ideal, but if that is too much of a stretch, go for weekly posts and updates, and identify and stick to a particular day or days of the week.

As content is being added to your social sites, make some time to incorporate your social media activities into existing organizational plans, which should already have a marketing component. You don’t need to create new sections to those plans—you add social media tactics and benchmarks to your existing strategies.

The last initial step is coaxing your existing audiences to connect with you on your social properties. Don’t confuse this with getting 1,000 fans or followers on your Facebook or Twitter accounts. While you may feel pressured to grow your fan/follower counts, the better activity is to inventory your existing audience (for example, people who have signed up to receive your e-newsletter) and develop ways to bring them to your social channels.

Many existing stakeholders may not know that you’re on social media. Include links to your social media sites in your next communication—a letter, newsletter, email—or even list your social media URLs in the program of your next event. Tip: Don’t just invite others to like/follow you; give them a reason. Post photos from an event on your Facebook page first before putting them up on your website. Post an announcement first on LinkedIn.

Up your game

Once you’re comfortable with the basic mechanics of sharing content on your social sites, focus on improving your content and engagement. Here are five elements to think about.

First, don’t just promote—inform, educate, even entertain. A good guideline is that only 20 percent of the content you share should be about you and the things you want to promote. A whopping 80 percent of your content should be about ideas, people, and issues other than your organization. This work of gathering and sharing relevant information is often called “curating.”

Bar foundations in particular can curate content about their grantees, such as grantees in the news, reports and activities about their grantees, and more. You can also think about ways to use your social media content to establish your organization as a thought leader around a particular issue area by curating relevant news and inserting your unique perspective during key moments.

Second, be visual. Photos and videos are becoming ever more important for engagement on Facebook and Twitter, and some of the fastest growing social networking tools (Instagram, Vine) enable users to easily create and share visual media.

One great way to do this is by learning how to create your own graphics. You don’t need to be a Photoshop wizard or hire a design pro (unless you have the resources) to create graphics. Using online graphic design services like or gives you free access to basic image editing and design tools like cropping, resizing, and coloring. Picmonkey also allows you to add text to photos, combine images, and create collages.

Graphics size is key. Creating graphics to specifically fit the dimensions of visuals on each social service can make your content much more appealing and gives your audience a better impression of your message.

Third, package your messages with people. When an announcement appears on your Facebook page from your foundation board president or executive director, it adds a human quality that connects with your audience better than an unattributed post. If your foundation provides grants to young people or aspiring lawyers, for example, post a quote and photo of the recipient rather than a congratulatory note from your organization. And be human—don’t be afraid to show your personality.

Fourth, when creating content, always be aware that two out of three users of sites like Facebook consume content on their phone or tablet. The major social sites will automatically reformat content for mobile devices, but since some of the content you’re sharing may include links to websites, such as your own site, those destinations need to be mobile-friendly as well if you want to deliver the best content experience.

Fifth, measure both your outputs and outcomes. Social media makes it much easier to determine the impact of your communications activities. Take stock of not just how many tweets you’ve sent or Facebook posts you’ve shared, but also what seems to have worked and what hasn’t.

How is the social media activity impacting your goals? Is it driving more people to your website? Are users sharing and amplifying your content with their friends or community? Have donations increased?

Also use social media analytics, such as those offered by TweetDeck or HootSuite, to better understand your audience. Do they tend to be male or female? What age group do they fall under? Where do they live? What topics are they interested in? You can use these insights to inform not just your social media usage but your marketing activities overall.

Operational considerations

While it would be wonderful if you could spend your entire day promoting your bar foundation online, we know that you already have many other responsibilities. But social media has become a marketing necessity, and time needs to be prioritized and budgeted to execute your social media program. No one ever says that there’s not enough time to answer the phones, because that activity is a given part of our everyday activities. We believe social media is now a “given,” too.

Have a frank discussion with your superiors and colleagues about budgeting time for social media. If you encounter resistance, identify influencers in your organization who can help you make the case while respecting the lines of authority in your team.

Some bar foundation staff also are employees of the related bar association. The key in those dual positions is to be especially vigilant about what hat you’re wearing when you create social content on behalf of your organizations. If you’re also managing social media accounts for the bar association and using social management dashboards like HootSuite, make sure that you’re posting from the appropriate account.

Many social media pros have posted content from the wrong account when they have three or more different Twitter accounts in their dashboard. At best, your organization looks sloppy. At worst, you post a personal frivolity on your bar foundation’s account, and it damages the reputation of your organization.

Finally, take the long view. Developing your social media skills and presence is an ongoing process. By grounding your activities in strategy, allocating resources, measuring your impact, and being consistent in your use and approach, you’ll position your organization for social media success.

Final tweets of advice

@bmesfin: Consistent engagement on social channels is a critical part of an organization’s ongoing communications strategy.

@keithpr: One of your best friends in learning social media is @google. Almost every question about social media has already been asked and answered.