Engaging Grantees In Foundations’ Social Media and How To Tell If It’s Working

Last week, more than 175 funders tuned into a webinar hosted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy to hear more about new research that seems to have struck a nerve. According to the report, titled Grantees’ Limited Engagement with Foundations’ Social Media, very few grantees—about 16 percent—are engaging on social media with their foundation funders.

Since the majority of foundations surveyed are investing resources in social media, people were obviously disappointed with this finding, and wanted to know how to improve their work.

I had the opportunity to participate in the webinar and afterwards looked through all of the questions submitted by the audience to see what was on people’s minds. Two primary areas struck me as garnering the most interest:

  1. Tactics foundations can use to more effectively engage grantees in their social media efforts
  2. How to tell if those efforts are working

Ways to engage grantees in foundations’ social media

One thing we’re working on at Knight Foundation is a plan for better communicating our social media goals to our grantees and potential partners, which we hope will increase our engagement efforts. In that vein, one component will be asking our grantees about their own social media strategies and how we can help bolster their work.

First and foremost though, engaging grantees—or anyone, really—comes down to content. You need to tailor content to the social web; it takes on a different tone and format than what you’re doing for say, press releases. Think more of the tone and overall feel of a blog, or e-mail newsletter.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when trying to engage grantees and potential partners on social media:

  • This may sound like something small, but having Tweet, Facebook Like, and Google +1 buttons integrated on your site, on every single page of content, in an easy-to-find place will not only help other people share your content but clue them in that you’re active on those channels.
  • Sometimes it’s just about being active and consistent on a particular channel and making sure your grantees know that you’re there. Once Knight became more active on Google+, we increased the number of people who added us to their circles.
  • We integrate staff’s Twitter feeds into people’s individual bio pages, hoping that it helps grantees and interested partners better connect with the people who work here.
  • We also integrate grantees’ social media channels onto their grant pages, including their Facebook and Twitter feeds (and YouTube if they have them).
  • We’re working on compiling all of our grantees’ Twitter handles to make sure we’re following them, sharing their content, and liking their Facebook pages. When you do share grantee content, be sure to tag them or mention them so they know you’re sharing their work.
  • What’s worked well for us too is opening up lines of communication between internal foundation communication and program staff. Program people will have good ideas on ways to feature grantee content on your site, as well as who are the key people to contact at the organization.

Measuring your efforts

The participants on the webinar also expressed interest in how to best measure whether foundations’ social media efforts are effective, whether the audience is grantees, other foundations, or the general public. Knight doesn’t segment online audiences when measuring how effective we are on social media, but we know our grantees are engaged because we see them retweet us, spread the word about upcoming grant deadlines, ask questions, or tag us in their Facebook posts.

Google Analytics is an important place to start. It won’t give you engagement metrics per say, but it will give you a sense of overall trends and how well certain pieces of content are doing. Looking for outliers and spikes in content will help you determine what kinds of content your audiences are interested in. Also, Facebook Insights gives comprehensive data about a page’s audiences, what they are liking or sharing and what your overall reach is.

Here are some other tools that may be helpful to foundations.

  • Knowing the basic analytics, such as numbers of likes, retweets, shares, video views, and comments on all your pieces of content is key. This means spending time on pages and browsing Twitter and Facebook to see how things are performing. Nothing replaces actually being active on these social media channels to see what’s resonating with your audiences.
  • A new tool in beta, Sparkwise, can help you visualize, compare, and curate your data across social media channels. Fast Company has a great article on how the app might help nonprofits tell better stories, but it also holds promise for foundations looking to track metrics across its website, Facebook, Twitter, and other channels.
  • Bitly allows users to track click-through rates in order to tell what pieces of content are resonating with audiences wherever the link appears, on Twitter or through e-mail, etc.
  • If you’re strapped for time, Tweetdeck allows you to schedule out posts in advance (so does the new Facebook Timeline). If you don’t have the resources to have someone be at a computer at all times, this can help.
  • If you want to know whether a hashtag has traction, check out Hashtracking, which shows you how many times a certain hashtag has been used in a 24-hour period. Tools like TwitterCounter, Twitalzyer, SocialMention, and RowFeeder also allow users to track Twitter stats like retweets and mentions.

If you missed the webinar live, you can listen to the recording on CEP’s YouTube channel.

You can also read more about how Knight Foundation uses social media to shift from delivering information to creating value.


Elizabeth R. Miller is a communications associate at Knight Foundation. You can find her on Twitter @ElzbthMllr.

Join the conversation about the findings featured in Grantees’ Limited Engagement with Foundations’ Social Media on Twitter using the hashtag #cepsocialmedia.

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