Why Facebook Still Matters for Non-Profits, Pt. 2

Lou Kotsinis Lou Kotsinis wrote this on Feb 25, 2016

Lou Kotsinis co-founded BCS Interactive in 2011; he writes about digital marketing, user experience, business topics and client management. Follow him @bcsinteractive or @loukotsinis.

A while back, I posted about the value of Facebook as an audience-building tool for non-profits and social causes. My purpose was to counter the argument that organizations shouldn’t consider Facebook a central component of their online strategy, given that it’s become a pay-to-play platform.

Today, I’m going to continue to build the case as to why non-profits in particular should focus heavily on Facebook as a marketing channel despite its shortcomings, and specifically, why these organizations should continually aim to grow their page to as many quality likes as possible.

How We Arrived At Engagement As The Only Relevant Metric

In Facebook’s early days, organizations were right to focus primarily on the amount of followers their page had. Facebook was a new, exciting medium and a revolutionary way to build a targeted on-line following. Although I don’t have access to early figures, organic reach (i.e. the percentage of fans that saw a post that was not promoted to them via paid advertising) would have been high. I do know that in 2013 - Facebook went public in 2012 - organic reach averaged 16%, meaning that for every 1,000 fans, 160 would see an organization’s post without it having been pushed to them via paid promotion.

As Facebook grew exponentially in popularity, it became saturated with pages and content, and organic reach began to trend downward. This was primarily for two reasons: 1. Facebook had built an enormous user base and began to generate revenue by charging for the opportunity to reach those users; 2. The sheer amount of daily content being added to the platform prevented all posts from being shown to every user, all the time.

Together, these two elements have colluded to change the way most organizations approach Facebook. Facebook page likes, once the holy grail of social media success, have been cast away as pointless. After all, why aim to have 100,000 fans if none of them are participating in the conversation? Instead, the new barometer has become engagement, or how many likes, shares and comments a post receives.

Why You Need to Emphasize Likes

It’s true that if fans are not interacting with your content, your efforts on Facebook are being wasted. But what’s lost in the “engagement-only” argument is that no amount of engagement in the world matters if there isn’t an audience there to engage.

So, keeping in mind that engagement is indeed a critical component of your Facebook efforts, and that you should always aim to acquire quality followers (see more on this below), here’s why you should be focused on building as large a Facebook audience as possible:

1. The Bigger the Audience, the Better the Reach.

This first reason is an obvious one. Facebook is a pay-to-play platform; unless you’re paying to promote your content, about 1–3% of your audience will see your posts. 1% of 100,000 is 1,000. 1% of 500 is 5. Would you rather have 1,000 people see your posts, or 5? It’s simple math — the larger the audience, the larger the organic view — even if that view is only based on a small percentage of the overall fan base.

And if, as some argue, Facebook eventually moves to an entirely advertising-driven platform where organic reach is zero, this logic will still hold. The more fans your page has, the more followers you’ll reach through your paid promotion.

2. A Significant Presence Attracts Large Funders

A major source of funding for non-profits comes from entities like foundations and for-profit corporations committed to social causes. Although these organizations give because they are committed to doing good, they themselves want exposure, whether they admit it or not. Given the chance to partner with a non-profit with 3,000 Facebook fans versus one with 100,000 fans, which do you think they’ll choose?

At BCS Interactive, we experienced this firsthand in 2013, when Chapstick approached our client, The Music Empowers Foundation, to partner on a promotion for up-and-coming musical artists. At the time, MEF had 50,000 Facebook fans (208,000 at the time of this writing). Every time someone shared a video of a selected artist on its own Facebook page, Chapstick would donate $1 to Music Empowers. In return, Music Empowers posted regularly on Facebook about the campaign, which eventually generated $50,000 for MEF.

Admittedly, Music Empowers had help from staff that actively lobbied for partnerships like this, but I can’t imagine a brand as large as Chapstick committing these kinds of marketing and financial resources if they didn’t feel they’d get significant brand exposure — something they wouldn’t have received from an organization with 1,000 or even 10,000 fans.

3. Increased Grassroots Support and Fundraising

One of the beautiful byproducts of building a large, quality Facebook presence is that as page likes grow, more individuals and groups come forth to offer their unprompted support. Again, the more people that hear about you, the more lives you’ll touch — and the more those individuals will be willing to come to bat for you.

In the case of Music Empowers, as they grew their Facebook fan base, we noticed an increase in high school and college students from across the country setting up their own fundraisers, simply because they had heard about what the foundation was doing and wanted to play a part. With another client, Cure Breast Cancer Foundation, we saw a large increase in breast cancer survivors share their stories on our social media channels. Yet another client, a music charity called SpreadMusicNow is experiencing similar momentum as it grows its fan base.

What I’ve cited above are a few of the main reasons for emphasizing page likes. Here are some more:

  • The ability to understand your online community through substantial, statistically-viable audience research
  • The perception of brand clout that comes with a sizable page; i.e., if cause XYZ has 200,000 fans, “they must be doing something right”
  • Unsolicited donations. Granted, in my experience, these haven’t been record-breaking in amount or frequency, but it sure is nice to see donations come in without even having lifted a finger. And the larger the page, the greater the chance of this happening.

Always Focus On New Likes. And Always Focus on Engagement

To be clear, I’m not saying focus only on acquiring fans. Rather, as you’re growing your page, you should be doing all the things necessary to engage your audience — including posting interesting, relevant content, interacting with members of your community and providing value.

Second, when I say acquire “as many likes as possible,” I’m referring to quality fans derived from organic means, online and offline referrals, and paid advertising*, and not to the practice of “buying likes” — something no organization should be doing.

Focusing on Facebook as a platform for your cause — and specifically emphasizing more page likes — takes a lot of work. And, yes, you will still have to pay for engagement. But if you’re a cause or non-profit, the investment in the platform is worth it; I’ll elaborate more on this in my next post.

* @jaybaer argues that paid Facebook advertising should only be used to drive traffic to an organization’s Web site (and not to entice those individuals to like the Facebook page itself). He points to statistics that show minimal engagement from fans who were brought in via paid ads, versus those that became fans of their own accord after connecting with the organization via other means. This is indeed an important consideration, but it needs to be weighed against the benefits I’ve cited above.

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Tags: social media

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