While business interests tend to differ from nonprofit interests, on social media everyone shares a similar goal: to gain followers who are genuinely interested in your products or services. In that arena, some socially-savvy nonprofits have piqued our interest. These organizations are building big, highly engaged communities that are interested and invested in their causes.

“I’m not sure an organization like Random Acts could exist without social media,” says Melissa Dark, Marketing Manager at Random Acts. “It’s our HQ, our meeting rooms, our marketing and advertising and, in some ways, our product.”

Indeed, Random Acts has social in its DNA — the organization was founded by actor Misha Collins after he put out a call over his personal Twitter account to help Haiti. The response so overwhelmed him that Random Acts was born. Its social success has not gone unnoticed. Random Acts won this year’s Shorty Award for best charity on social media (while Collins was recognized as best actor).

“We are a virtual organization — our staff are 100% volunteers and are based all over the world,” Dark tells us. “And our supporters are international too — relying on social networks to keep them informed and connected. We use a number of social media channels to reach our supporters, connect them with us and with each other, and to spread the word about kindness.”

“Social media is very important to us,” explains Calvin Stowell, Director of Digital Content for DoSomething, which tries to engage youth in causes that range from stopping bullying to protecting the environment. “We’re an organization for young people and social media is one of the best ways to reach that demographic. Our annual survey actually showed that Facebook is the number one reason people know who we are and what we do. We like to brag about that because it was all done on a zero dollar budget!”

Meeting Users on Their Own Turf

That zero dollar budget has managed to net DoSomething a substantial social following; over 628,000 people follow its Twitter account while over 360,000 Like the organization on Facebook. Numbers like that would be the envy of many a marketing professional, and DoSomething’s gotten them by knowing its audience.

“We try to be everywhere young people are,” Stowell tells us. “So we look at the data and see the demographic behind and site, and if our audience is there, we will build a platform so we can meet them.”

But demographics is only part of the problem; even if you’re in the right place to find your audience, how do you catch their attention? “Content is king,” Stowell declares. “We try to make ourselves worth following. It would be boring if all we ever did was post tweets asking people to do things for us, so we try to mix it up and become more of a friend than a brand.”

“We want young people to see one of our projects on social platforms like Facebook or Twitter and sign-up to take part and make a real change happen,” she adds. “Social media is incredibly effective, if used right, in converting people from just browsing their newsfeeds to doing something like starting a food drive, or making their schools more energy efficient, or helping get shelter animals adopted.”

Engaging the Audience to Have an Engaged Audience

Random Acts is comparably smaller, with over 17,000 Twitter followers. But for an organization based on the idea that small acts can bring about great change, follower count matters less than the activity and engagement of its fans. To reach those fans, the organization is active on a lot of social platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr are the most popular, but it also uses YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram. It dabbles in Google+, LinkedIn, and Vine, as well. Each network has its place in the organization’s social strategy.

“Twitter is great because it allows us that valuable connection with supporters — we can reach out to them and they can talk to us quickly and effectively,” Dark says. “Tumblr is less popular in terms of numbers, but it’s where some of our most passionate fans live. Whenever we run one of our regular art competitions where we ask supporters to submit artwork for us, we always get the most enthusiastic response from Tumblr followers.”

For example, the organization’s Tumblr page is currently hosting a cake-decorating contest, and the response from its followers has been lively. Of course, you can’t get this kind of response without making a real effort to engage your followers. Looking at Random Acts and DoSomething on Twitter, Facebook, and other social channels, you’ll see these organizations taking the time to talk to anyone that takes the time to talk to them. And that, more than anything, may be the real key to their social success.

[Image credit: Robert S. Donovan]