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You are a media channel.

October 6, 2021
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Once upon a time, nonprofits could live and even thrive on a well-placed story in the media or from a PSA (public service announcement) that ran in prime time or on the evening news. For those of you who don’t know what that means, you’re likely in a generation where digital media has been prevalent most of your pre-adult and adult life. But for many people, there was a time where “traditional” media (broadcast television and radio, as well as daily printed newspapers) dominated the communication landscape. 

What’s happened since then is that even traditional media have entered the digital world, and we’re living in a time when anyone can be a media content creator. It also means no one is sitting around and waiting to get the news when it comes on at 6 p.m. Instead, it is fed to us all day and night via “breaking news alerts” on multiple devices.

The proliferation of information not only has created a media- and information-saturated world, it has created a lot of freedom and potential. No longer is there a bottleneck of journalists and editors blocking the gateway to getting news and information to our priority constituents. And because digital platforms today collect so much information on their users, targeting your messaging has never been more precise.

The reality is, while it’s easy to complain about how hard it is to cut through the clutter and noise created by all these digital and social platforms, it’s never been easier or more efficient to reach your potential and engaged audiences.

The Press Release Is Dead

It’s not that traditional media outlets don’t still have power and impact; many still do. However, getting “coverage” today, is more and more a “pay to play” situation. That means—if you’re not an advertiser or willing to pay for a feature segment (which are essentially advertorials), then your chances of getting time and/or attention from traditional media today are slim to none.

And let’s say you do score a coveted “free segment,” the cost and effort to securing such coverage usually far outweighs what you can do on your own, through your own media channels.

The New Big Three

The old media “Big Three” used to be the broadcast television networks of ABC, NBC, and CBS. What they released was consumed by the masses and bought, sold, and talked about the next day. The new “Big Three” today are arguably Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube (and by the time we turn around, it may have changed again to TikTok, Snapchat, and WhatsApp).

While leading media outlets continue to evolve and change, the Big Three when it comes to reaching and engaging your audience will always need to be “quantity, quality, and variety,” regardless of which platforms you use to communicate.

Many social media and digital content experts talk about things like user video and viral and shareable content, but those are really tactics looking for a strategy. Instead, make it your goal to be aggressive in your online content efforts and to increase the quantity, quality, and variety of your digital and social media posts. If you judiciously create posts that are worth the read or view (informative vs. informational); that is, giving your audience something they can use, rather than just facts that are irrelevant to their lives, then you will be a difference-maker for your organization.

All this is to say, it is no longer a safe or smart bet to work to gain coverage through traditional media channels. Instead you should be investing your organization’s time, talent, and resources to connect with and grow your audiences on platforms that you control and manage.

Different Media. Different Audiences. Different Messages.

There are plenty of tools that can help you manage and coordinate all your different social media platforms easily and efficiently. But there is always the temptation to handle them all the same way—and that would be a huge mistake. An even bigger mistake would be believing that your organization needs to be participating on every platform. The reality is, different platforms speak to different audiences in different ways, and you need to determine which ones are right for your audiences and your organization.

Some (admittedly, overly) simple guidelines are:

·      Facebook is the biggest (for now), but it’s mainly for people over forty. It’s also more text-based and less visual than other platforms.

·      Instagram is the second biggest (for now). It is far more visual than Facebook and appeals mainly to people over eighteen but under forty-five.

·      YouTube is for everyone and is all about video content. Chances are, the younger you are, the more you rely on YouTube for almost all your news, entertainment, and web information needs.

·      Snapchat and TikTok are for teens, pre-teens, college students, and adults in their twenties (as well as parents and creepers checking out those audiences). Snapchat is for insider communication within private friend groups, and TikTok is a platform for making and sharing short-form videos, in genres such as dance, comedy, and education.

·      Twitter is for those interested in following celebrities, news personalities, professional athletes, and politicians. It is almost exclusively text based and appeals to audiences who like to share theological and intellectual ideas, as well as links to sometimes controversial articles, videos, and ideas.

·      Pinterest is mainly for women who love fashion, food, and decorating, but it has been growing among men who like cars and outdoor activities. Like Instagram, Pinterest is very visual and is becoming a fast-growing marketplace for products and trends. Unlike other platforms, it is very “hobby or special interest” oriented.

·      LinkedIn is for professionals and, quietly, has become a great place to reach upscale executives and those on their way up the corporate ladder.

Ask Yourself a Few Tough Questions

As you look at your social media possibilities and efforts, it’s good to be constantly asking yourself some tough questions. Those include:

·      How many social platforms can you really manage well (considering your time, resource, and talent constraints)?

·      Does your organization have the right skills and resources to serve particular platforms? (Keep in mind that most platforms need eye-catching graphics or photography as well as decent video production and editing.)

·      What platforms are your competitors or similar organizations using (even those in other communities)? Remember, you can set up social media monitoring alerts using inexpensive online tools to track any organization’s content and activity, which can help you determine where you should be and even inspire your own content.

·      What platforms are delivering the most engagement from the demographic you’re targeting? (This information may provide you an answer for where to put your time and resources.)

What type of content drives the best engagement on each platform? (This can give insight into the type of new content to create.)


The Medium Is The Message

After spending a good portion of this post devaluing and discounting traditional media, I’m now going to turn the tables a bit and tell you why it’s still important to consider strategies to engage with them via advertising or public relations efforts.

Despite all the hype on use and accessibility of social media, traditional media is still very much a force. It’s not only still used as much as any vehicle (see the following chart), but it also is consumed as much as any other content.

This image illustrates the point from the previous paragraph.

Even with its decline in use, traditional media content is still consumed (sometimes on newer, more mobile devices) as much as it ever was. Some would argue that through delayed viewing and social sharing, it’s now consumed more than ever before!

Beyond these statistics and numbers, there’s also the credibility factor—the perception that when you’re interviewed or seen on traditional media channels, it is more legitimate or has higher value than being seen or heard on a podcast or within the newsfeed of any social channel.

In a recent presentation on this topic, I asked people in the audience to see being on television as the “Carnegie Hall” of media. Being heard on radio is like sharing the airwaves with the U.S. Navy “Blue Angels” flight team. And being on an outdoor billboard is like being seen on a giant movie screen. 

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” He said that the medium itself shapes and controls “the scale and form of human association and action.”1 

Basically, McLuhan was conveying that there is a greater emotional response to being seen or featured on some media that is unrivaled by other platforms. My point here is, even today, traditional media still carries more weight and “wow” factor than social platforms. So don’t ignore it!

Can you now see your organization as a powerful media vehicle, thought leader, and champion for the cause you’ve taken on? Are you ready to “pick up the megaphone” and become a stronger and more effective voice for those people and things that need your help? If so, I invite you to use and maximize these tips to do more good for you . . . and for them.

1 McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Signet Books, 1964, p. 9. 

About the Author:

Bill McKendry, Founder of DO MORE GOOD.org and Author of the upcoming book DO MORE GOOD | Moving nonprofits from good to growth.

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