For many companies, promotions on social media ultimately aspire to to make a sale. No matter what field your business operates in, you’re trying to convince your audience to buy a product with the help of platforms like Facebook or Twitter. But how do you convince your audience to support an idea or a cause?

Nonprofits don’t necessarily have a sale on the line, but many of these organizations have taken to social media to spread their messages, attract support, and raise funds. They may not be offering discounts to fans, but the strategies they use to increase awareness and raise money can be applied to any brand. For instance, we profiled how Sevenly uses Pinterest to get customers excited about important causes while selling its T-shirts and hoodies. Here are some successful approaches to social media taken by three well-known nonprofit organizations.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: Leveraging Partnerships

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is a nonprofit that works to find new treatments and cures for pediatric diseases. The hospital has a high need for fundraising in order to support its research into cancer and other catastrophic illnesses. On St. Jude’s Twitter Feed, the hospital focuses on garnering donations and spreading the word about its programs.

One of the ways St. Jude has created a bigger audience for its message is to call upon its partners within its social media network. The hospital has partnered with many other brands that are equally invested in promoting their associations with the nonprofit. That means that all parties will tweet about each others’ programs and affiliations.

Thanks to frequent retweets from its partners, a larger audience will see the inspirational stories about patients and read the calls to donate. If your brand has any relationships with other Twitter members, make sure you are helping to promote them so that they will extend the same courtesy to your business.

The ONE Campaign: Get Inspirational With Hashtags

The ONE Campaign is another medically-minded organization that has a strong Twitter following. Part of the way ONE has been successful with hashtags, is by mobilizing a critical mass of people to use the platform. For instance, for the “What Will It Take” dialogue about ending poverty between rock star and philanthropist, Bono, and World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim, large numbers of Twitter followers jumped on the hashtags for both #WhatWillItTake and #WBLive. The ONE Campaign strategically promoted these hashtags to bring their particular mission into the conversation.

ONE has also used hashtags that are not event-specific. Since the U2 frontman is a top representative of the nonprofit, it frequently mentions #Bono in tweets, as well as tagging potentially generic terms such as #lifesaver and #infographic. Like St. Jude’s focus on retweets, a smart use of hashtags can help get information about your cause in front of a bigger audience.

ASPCA: Use Photos to Encourage Action

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, better known as the ASPCA, posts several types of photos on Facebook. First and foremost, it uses a regularly changing cover photo to highlight a specific area of its work. The most recent images are about the group’s efforts to help animals in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but past photos address topics like ending puppy mills, and encouraging pet adoptions. Especially for an organization with a variety of programs for stopping animal cruelty, this is a great approach to increasing awareness of the scope of these problems.

ASPCA’s photos also strike a good balance between uplifting narratives and calls to action. The group’s social media leaders know that good news can act as a sign that ASPCA’s efforts are having an impact, and also to be a foil for the problems that remain. Photos of cute dogs and cats catch, then maintain, the interest of people who might casually run across the Page.

Most of the call-to-action photos focus on people rather than the animals. Those images show volunteers and veterinarians going about their work. It’s a good way to show how important the human element is to accomplishing ASPCA’s goals. When you can put a face to your cause — whether it’s a cute furry face or a human one — that helps people connect with the effort.

Do you know another nonprofit that’s gotten the word out on social media? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credit: Michael Fleshman]