Introduction to Social Media for Non-Profits


Social media has become an important part of outreach for nonprofits as well as customer/client/donor relation management for nonprofits and for-profit organizations. Social media provides agencies with a way to connect with their clients in a real-time way to provide updates, address complaints, and continue to engage stakeholders. (Young, 2017)

Before exploring social media for your nonprofit it is important to determine what you hope to achieve with your social media presence. For instance, some organizations post primarily organizational related information (such as links to their crisis line number and events), while others post pictures and motivational statements that go beyond official crisis line communications into general wellness.

Bernritter, Verlegh, & Smit (2016) discovered that brand warmth, and a desire to publicly affiliate with positive organizations made users more likely to “like” nonprofits on social media, rather than competence. This means that nonprofits have an opportunity to build a strong brand online.

Wyllie et. al. (2016) showed how social network analysis (SNA) can be used to identify new stakeholders and potential by donors by looking at who engages with your organization and who those people are connected to; this can provide avenues for expanding fundraising efforts; additionally, when posts go “viral” (experiencing wide distribution) they may be seen by potential future donors and supporters.

Finally, Goldkin (2015) identified multiple advantages to nonprofits who use social media including fundraising, advocacy and policy changes, and the ability to directly engage clients or service users.


Facebook is the most common social network in the Western Hemisphere according to Vincos (2017); it allows users to “like” and comment on posts. Facebook Insights allows you to see the engagement that each post received, including likes, comments and shares.

The biggest advantage of Facebook is that it allows you to communicate deeply with your clients and potential donors, who may share your posts. Unlike Twitter, there is no 140 character limit so you can tell your story without feeling constrained or limited, including images or videos.

Huang, Lin & Saxton (2016) describe the social media marketing of HIV/AIDS nonprofits, in order to examine what strategies worked well. They explained one-way informational messages and calls-to-action or event messages generated less user interaction than two-way dialogues.


Twitter, despite its fame, actually has fewer users than other social networks. At 300 million users, it pales in comparison to Facebook’s 1.59 billion, and even Instagram’s 400 million (Adweek, 2016) Twitter’s advantage is that nearly 3 in 4 of their users are outside of the US. For nonprofits that serve international audiences Twitter can help you match these donors and clients.

Twitter contains a 140 character limit, requiring message to be short and sweet.

Other Social Networks

There are a variety of other social networks that can be used for nonprofits to communicate with their clients. The exact networks chosen will depend on your audience. For instance, Instagram requires photos and videos, versus Facebook’s use of text, videos or photos – however Instagram’s engagement by user is higher than Facebook’s. (Nwazor, 2016)

Networks for nonprofits to consider include:

  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube


Hootsuite describes their goal as “managing all of your social media marketing efforts from a single dashboard. With Hootsuite’s platform, you get the tools to manage all your social profiles and automatically find and schedule effective social content.” (Hootsuite, n.d.)

Hootsuite allows you a dashboard in which you can see and make posts on all of your social media profiles at once; this makes it much easier for you to maintain regular posts on all your profiles in much less time, and to send a consistent message to your donors or clients.


Adweek. (2016) “Here’s How Many People Are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Other Big Social Networks”. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Bernritter, S. F., Verlegh, P. W., & Smit, E. G. (2016). Why Nonprofits Are Easier to Endorse on Social Media: The Roles of Warmth and Brand Symbolism. Journal Of Interactive Marketing, 3327-42. doi:10.1016/j.intmar.2015.10.002

Goldkind, L. (2015). Social Media and Social Service: Are Nonprofits Plugged In to the Digital Age?. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 39(4), 380-396. doi:10.1080/23303131.2015.1053585

Hootsuite. (n.d.) “Social Media Marketing & Management Dashboard –” Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Huang, Y., Lin, Y., & Saxton, G. D. (2016). Give Me a Like: How HIV/AIDS Nonprofit Organizations Can Engage Their Audience on Facebook. AIDS Education & Prevention, 28(6), 539-556. doi:10.1521/aeap.2016.28.6.539

Nwazor, T. (2016) “Faceoff: Instagram versus Facebook, For Business.” Entrepreneur. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Vincos. (2017) “World Map of Social Networks” Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from

Wyllie, J., Lucas, B., Carlson, J., Kitchens, B., Kozary, B., & Zaki, M. (2016). An Examination of Not-For-Profit Stakeholder Networks for Relationship Management: A Small-Scale Analysis on Social Media. Plos ONE, 11(10), 1-20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163914

Young, J. A. (2017). Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs: The Adoption and Utilization of Social Media in Nonprofit Human Service Organizations. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 41(1), 44-57. doi:10.1080/23303131.2016.1192574

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Introduction to Social Media for Non-Profits," retrieved on July 21, 2017 from

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailby feather

@RealTimeCrisis, Tweeting those in distress

A shorter post this Family Day, I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about the Twitter handle @RealTimeCrisis. Started by a Toronto police officer and a street nurse, they trawl Twitter for people demonstrating signs of lethality and reach out to them.

As I’ve written about in the past on my article on responding to suicide on social media, many people give people hints of their behaviour who never receive the support that they need. Sometimes family members and friends don’t know what to do – or, worse, they’re afraid of the answer they might get.

Enter Marie Batten and TPS Constable Scott Mills. Since 2012 they have been tweeting individuals in crisis and offering a helping hand, connecting them to resources in the community. Sometimes the Toronto Police will directly contact them and sometimes they’ll reach out. But either way – it is heartening to see people getting the support they need.

As online crisis chat and SMS/texting services become more common avenues for receiving emotional support and crisis intervention I suspect we’ll see more services like @RealTimeCrisis. For now they represent a best practice – an innovative strategy of reaching out when people need them most.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "@RealTimeCrisis, Tweeting those in distress," retrieved on July 21, 2017 from

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailby feather

On One Man’s Reason for Suicide

Note: I normally keep to a post every other day, but I think this post deserves to come out now, instead my next post will be on Saturday rather than Friday.

Suicide is an intensely personal decision. What drives a person to kill themselves is a question often asked of those bereaved by suicide (grieving the loss of someone important to them by suicide.) This is a question as important to those left behind as it is to those who are in the throes of a suicidal crisis.

On February 9th, 2015 a popular food blogger named Wilkes McDermid ate his last meal at the Coq d’Argent restaurant in the City of London before jumping off. He posted a final suicide note, apparently penned a year earlier, detailing his reasons for suiciding. He also attached some scientific journal articles, a “Frequently Asked Questions” section detailing some common oppositions to suicide and a previous note he wrote two years prior when he made failed plans to suicide in Cape Town, South Africa.

I thought this post would be a good opportunity to go over some of those reasons, and to offer some interpretation of how he ended up in the predicament that he did.

While his writing is longer than any blog post I have written, at 4500 words, it would take much more than that for most people to truly elucidate every reason they have for dying and explore it in the kind of depth that would convince others around them it was the right thing to do.

I’ll be the first one to say that I am no expert in suicidal autopsies or psychiatric evaluation; I can only offer my opinions based on my knowledge of cognitive behavioural therapy and my interpretations of his writing.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you take a read of his post now, so that you can get a feel for it without my words biasing your interpretation. I’d love for you to share your thoughts.

The blog post opens by noting that McDermid would like to answer the questions of his friends and family but that doing so ‘live’ would be too great a risk because the medical community “values quantity of life over quality of life.” I think this is a reasonable view; disclosing imminent suicide plans would have led to his hospitalization. I don’t think it was reasonable that the quality of his life would have remained at it’s current level, however.

Next, McDermid declares the reason for his death is that women favour men who are tall (he gives 5’10+), of Caucasian or black races and who are wealthy or have “other manifestations of power.”

He goes on to list a number of research studies demonstrating that there is a preference in women for men holding these attributes. And to his science, I don’t disagree. All else being equal, many men will choose a woman with larger breasts over a woman with smaller breasts.

However, this is where I take my first qualm: all is never equal. Rall, Greenspan & Neidich (1984) notes that physical attractiveness is relative. You’re never competing against every other man in the world, only against every other man in the room.

Personality does have a strong influence on people’s physical attractiveness of us, particularly for women evaluating men. While it would be disingenuous to assume that women are not as visual as men – particularly when we have no other information to go on (see the disaster that is online dating for that in action), both genders consistently describe situations where they met a less-than-physically attractive person who “won them over” with their personality.

For some research support to that, see Tepper & MacDonald (2014) which notes that people are less willing to reject potential romantic partners in a real-world situation (e.g. participants in a research study who are not expecting it) than they are when given hypothetical situations.

Additionally, Murray & Holmes (1997) document a sort of “illusion” effect that occurs as you begin to fall for a romantic partner. Negative elements become less emphasized, and you see an illusory version of them. This gives hope and scientific backing to the idea that your personality really can help you get a foot in the door.

McDermid continues by citing a rate of 95%~ of the interracial (Asian/white) relationships he sees being with an Asian woman and a white male, while only 5% of the time is it an Asian male and a white woman.

This may be true (I haven’t evaluated the methodology of the formal and informal studies and surveys he cites but I’ll take them at face-value), but is that such a problem? He appears to be consistently seeking out interracial relationships and refusing to settle for anything but.

Considering that the Asian population in the US is 5-6% (CDC, 2013), it’s not surprising that most Asian women would end up with white men, because non-Hispanic white and black people make up a combined ~75% of the population. These rates are similar in England, and most western countries.

McDermid dedicates a surprising amount of his blog post on refutations of straw-men arguments (“you haven’t counted everyone in the world.”) He quickly dispenses with those arguments, as anyone with basic statistical knowledge should.

It is okay to be at a disadvantage. You can still lead a fulfilling life. Myself, at 5’6 with some physical health issues (retinopathy leaving me unable to drive, scoliosis, exercise-induced asthma) have certainly faced my share of barriers but I have also had some success as well.

Looking at it from an economic perspective, people born in poverty certainly have a harder time accessing social mobility than the rest of us. But many of them do overcome those barriers. Jealousy is okay. You can want what someone else wants. You can be frustrated that you don’t have it! That is a natural, expected, human emotion.

When you’re done getting all your frustration out, though, you have to begin to move forward. If you’re 20 metres back at the starting gate, it can make the race seem pointless, because others have an advantage. But you need not concern yourself with where other people are, only with where you are yourself.

This is not easy. But it takes cognitive energy to continuously ruminate on how others have it better than you, and that energy is far better spent accomplishing something worthwhile.

It’s the latter half of the note (and I call it a note rather than an article or a post because it is a suicide communique to all who knew him, and many who don’t) that I found most interesting.

It begins,

To everyone who says “why don’t you just accept it”, I ask you this. What if your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband was taken away from you through no fault of your own? How would you feel? What if you were then told “it doesn’t matter, just learn to live with it”. Then what if you were told, “it’s your fault, it’s your personality that has caused that” and “stop being so negative”. How would you react. That’s what I’m faced with continuously. I can’t stop people lying to me for the rest of my life… but I can control how long my life will be and therefore how long I will have to suffer.

He equates his pain, of not being able to find a romantic partner, to the pain of someone who has lost their partner through death. In this moment he is mourning his future, the loss of hopes and dreams. These are an extremely strong hook for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, and McDermid had laid his to rest.

He seemed to feel his entire life was suffering, because of his lack of romantic companionship. His entire life, the rest of him was meaningless and valueless because of his inability to negotiate this one element of life.

This reminds me of the classic “Six Stage Process for Coming Out”, also known as the Cass Identity Model (Cass, 1979) In this model there are six stages for a person who is coming to terms with their sexuality:

  1. Confusion
  2. Comparison
  3. Tolerance
  4. Acceptance
  5. Pride
  6. Synthesis.

Essentially, the person finds themselves confused by their sexuality, then realizes they are different from others. They tolerate these differences, then begin to celebrate them. Next, they feel proud and wish to let everyone know, and finally they synthesize their sexuality into their broader identity; it becomes merely another part of them.

Applying this to McDermid’s situation, he had passed through Confusion and was stuck on Comparison. He could not see past the advantages that others had in their life, to move on to tolerance. He was miles away from tolerating being alone, accepting it, being proud of it (if that would ever occur) and certainly nowhere near his romantic life being a single piece of his identity.

Indeed, loneliness had become his identity. It consumed him. He was not English. He was not a food blogger. He was alone. That was him. And it didn’t have to be.

At the end of the “letter” portion of his note, he signs it “Goodbye, I wish you all the best Wilkes McDermid, 03-Feb-2014”; nearly a year to the day that he wrote it, he finally pushed through his innate self-preservational instincts.

The rest of his note consists of a Frequently Asked Questions section, a biblbiography and a draft of a similar note he authored in January of 2013, where a variety of factors including the weather conspired against him. In that note, he discusses his belief that what he is doing is euthanasia, not suicide. My opinion, pro or con on that belief is not helpful, but I truly don’t believe he had exhausted all options yet.

I’d like to go over each of his frequently asked questions, because I think they make a good read for helpers talking to suicidal individuals and the kind of thinking distortions that can be present, as well as to help those considering suicide themselves realize their distorted thinking patterns.

I’ll list them all at once to make reading the page easier:

  1. “Aren’t you being selfish?”
  2. “But people care about you”
  3. “But ‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem’”
  4. My boyfriend my [sic] be caucasian and over 5ft10 but he’s ginger… so you’re wrong…”
  5. My boyfriend my [sic] be caucasian and over 6ft2 but he’s overweight… so you’re wrong…”
  6. My boyfriend is Chinese so there, you’re wrong.”
  7. Stop being so negative”
  8. You’re talking shit, that’s simply not true”
  9. OK – You only find those results because you’re in London (Soho/Mayfair…[insert any random geographical location]).”
  10. Lots of people lead long fulfilling lives without a relationship.”
  11. I have a friend who is Oriental with a Caucasian girlfriend… so you’re wrong.”
  12. One of my female friends is white and really likes Oriental guys. So you’re clearly wrong.”
  13. You are clearly mentally ill? Why don’t you go to a psychiatrist?”
  14. But you will burn in hell! Suicide is a sin! The afterlife is real!”
  15. Remember you always have a choice”
  16. So what? You might be right… be an exception!”
  17. Suicide is the cowards way out”
  18. You’re clearly racist”
  19. You’re a Nazi. What you’re promoting is ‘Social Darwinism’”
  20. The reason why you don’t find Oriental guys with Caucasian girls is cultural”
  21. Why don’t you just use a prostitute every few weeks?”
  22. “So what would you tell someone else in the same position?”

They seem to fall into four categories:

  • Anti-Suicide Cliches (1, 2, 3, 14, 15, 17)
  • Denying The Evidence / Pointing Out Exceptions (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 20)
  • Dismissing The Problem (7, 18, 19, 21)
  • Miscellanous Attempts at Helping (10, 13, 16, 22)

As you can see, the bulk of his writing is spent on trying to convince people that the evidence is as he says it is. On the other hand, those born in poverty don’t spend a lot of time trying to convince others that being in poverty makes it harder to have a middle class lifestyle; it is merely accepted as a truth. And once we’ve accepted that truth, we can begin working on other areas of ourselves so that we can cultivate hope.

I don’t believe individuals who noted that lots of people live fulfilling lives without relationships were being facetious or trying to dismiss his pain as much as they were trying to provide a role model for McDermid. He was well-liked and his blogging was well-known in his niche, but he couldn’t see past the idea that life was not worth living without someone else in it.

#13 mentions that he is mentally ill, and he should see a psychiatrist. I reject the idea that he was mentally ill; at least, I don’t think he had a DSM-IV/V mental illness. He seemed relatively rational and lucid, despite the suicidal tunnel vision.

Unfortunately, it was his rationality, his equation that was faulty. Dating and relationships are only one part of your existence, they are a piece of life. They are not all of life, and if you’re dead, how will you ever be able to find that person?

He did note that he had spent some time in a psychiatric hospital (where, coincidentally a number of patients formed relationships.) He describes the treatment he received there as pseudoscience; he doesn’t elaborate on the particulars (beyond noting that one exercise required him to “stare at an orange for an hour”) but CBT has been well-proven to help eliminate the kind of faulty reasoning that he was experiencing.

#16 discusses the idea of being an exception. This is what we all aspire to. To work hard, to get lucky (pardon the pun), and to fight against the odds. The investment advisor Chris Gardner (whose life was famously the inspiration for the film The Pursuit of Happyness) and the former US Senator and motivational speaker Les Brown, to highlight two individuals came from humble circumstances and did amazing things with their lives.

Instead of being known as the man who fought the odds, McDermid will be known as a man who gave up. Who resigned himself to a self-fulfilling fate. This is to speak nothing of the ways he could have made himself a more attractive potential mate:

  • He could have taken steps to lose the weight and to build muscle
  • He could have relocated to an area where he would be more in the median range for height rather than the lower end
  • He could have poured his efforts into his blog in an attempt to build the wealth or status that he claims is important

But instead, he chose to take his life. I am not judging him harshly, for he took the route he thought most rational in his mind at the time. But I wish he had been able to hold on, to see that his life could be more than having a partner. As a man who has struggled with romantic relationships I have been there, in that pit of despair, but you can get through it if you don’t give up.

Your life can be bigger than your disadvantages. You can rise above them. Keep your heads up, gentlemen (and ladies.)


“Asian American Populations”. (2013) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States Department of Health & Human Services. May 7, 2013. Retrieved February 12, 2015 from

Cass, V. (1979). Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4 (3), 219-235.

Joel, S., Teper, R., & MacDonald, G. (2014). People Overestimate Their Willingness to Reject Potential Romantic Partners by Overlooking Their Concern for Other People. Psychological Science (Sage Publications Inc.), 25(12), 2233-2240. doi:10.1177/0956797614552828

Murray, S.L., Holmes, J.G. & Griffin, D.W. (1996) “The Self-Fulfilling Nature of Positive Illusions in Romantic Relationships: Love Is Not Blind, but Prescient” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 71(6):1155-1180

Rall, M., Greenspan, A., & Neidich, E. (1984). Reactions to eye contact initiated by physically attractive and unattractive men and women. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 12(1), 103-109.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "On One Man’s Reason for Suicide," retrieved on July 21, 2017 from

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailby feather

How to Respond to Suicide Threats on Social Media

As social media finds a greater and greater importance and significance in our lives, it’s important that we get better at responding to suicidal threats that appear on social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

Failures To Respond

There have been a number of situations where a failure to respond appropriately (or simply an inability to locate an individual in time) when threats on social media are posted has led to suicides and homicides.

In December 2014, Amber Cornwall, aged 16, died of suicide by hanging after posting on Facebook “If I died tonight, would anyone cry?” She killed herself later that night, and was found the next morning by her parents. Her parents say she was heavily bullied before her death. (WLOS News 13, 2014)

Adrian Alvarez shot himself at his school in October, 2013 after posting on Facebook that he was sorry for all the pain he caused his friends and family. The father of an infant son, he was 16 years old. (NY Daily News, 2013)

A woman from Shanghai, going by the instagram username jojostai1012 posted a series of pictures including the lines “I will haunt you day and night after I’m dead”, and burning her possessions before she jumped out of a high-rise building in March of 2014. (Daily Mail, 2014)

In each of these situations, evidence of statements of lethality was present hours before the individual took their own life. Dozens, in some cases hundreds of people saw these messages and nobody reached out to ask the individual if they were feeling suicidal.

In the case of the woman from Shanghai, the photos of her destroying her possessions represent an imminent risk factor that required immediate intervention to preserve life.

How to Respond

The process for responding to online posts that make you concerned a person may be considering ending their life is similar to the process you would take if they were in person or on the telephone.

Start by reaching out via private message (if possible), and asking the person if they are feeling okay. Incorporate an empathy statement and begin to build that rapport.

This process will be easier if you have a pre-existing relationship with the individual, but even if you don’t, getting them talking will demonstrate that someone out there does care about them.

Once you have built up a rapport and began to have a conversation about how they are feeling, ask the question! All you have to do is ask. “Sometimes when people say they’re sorry for all the pain they’ve caused, they’re thinking about suicide. Have you thought about suicide?”

Then you can move into the CPR Risk Assessment. Do they have a plan? Means and access? A timeline? Do they have any previous history of suicidal behaviour or bereavement by suicide? What kind of coping mechanisms do they have? Who in their life can they rely on?

Once you’ve determined the depth of their suicidal danger you can work collaboratively with them to establish a safety plan, as per the ABC Model of Crisis Intervention. Is there somewhere they can go (hospital, friend’s house, mental health crisis bed) for more intensive support than they can get right now? Can their access to lethal means be mitigated?

In the aftermath of the suicidal crisis, you’ll want to help them connect to counselling, case management or therapy to help them cope better in the future.

Emergency Intervention

If you have access to their location, 911 or emergency services can dispatch a police officer or paramedics to provide them with transportation to the hospital or immediate medical care. If you lack specifics, this may be a more difficult process.

Police often work with phone companies to provide the GPS of individuals in a rough area, and this may aid in your locating them if they have a cell-phone.

Facebook provides an option to report posts that are of a suicidal nature but as they point out, “If you’ve encountered a direct threat of suicide on Facebook, please contact law enforcement or a suicide hotline immediately. If the person you’re worried about is a member of the US military community, be sure to mention this so they can provide this person with custom support.”

Correct Responses

For all of the failures to help people feeling suicidal, there are some examples of proper responses online, although it’s likely most of these are not published, as the person simply stays alive rather than their death being reported in the media.

An 18 year-old man who posted “Thinking of jumping” next to a photo of the George Washington Bridge was helped by officers of the Port Authority police, after they were tipped off by a concerned friend.The Emergency Services Lieutenant sent the man his phone number, and he reached out. The officer convinced him to meet in person, and after talking he agreed to go to a local hospital for help. (CNN, 2013)

In 2009, a woman used the social networking site Twitter to send a message to the actress Demi Moore detailing her plan to kill herself using a large knife, followed up with “gbye … gonna kill myself now”.

Moore responded to the tweet publicly which led to people reporting the threats to the San Jose Police Department. The woman was found, uninjured, and taken for mental health evaluation. (ABC News, 2009)

In each of these successes, a person posted obvious statements of lethality, and individuals reached out. They reported the threats, built empathy with the persons in distress and referred them to the support they needed.

Additional Resources

The Suicide Prevention Resource Centre publishes a guide (PDF) on Suicide Threats on Social Networking Sites which provides a brief overview, some risk management pointers for helpers and social networking sites and some guidelines for both your safety and the safety of the distressed person. (Olson, 2011)


ABC (2009, Apr 3) “Did Demi Moore’s Twitter Feed Stop a Suicide? | ABC News” Accessed electronically from on February 3, 2015

CNN (2013, Nov 15) “Teen’s remarks on Facebook sends cops into social media action to save a life –” Accessed electronically from on February 3, 2015

Daily Mail (2014, Mar 17) “Chinese woman appears to post her suicide on Instagram | Daily Mail Online”, accessed electronically from on February 3, 2015

NY Daily News (2013, Oct 17) “Texas teen posted Facebook warning before school suicide”, accessed electronically from “” on February 3, 2015

Olson, R., (2014) “Suicide threats on social networking sites”. Suicide Prevention Resource Centre. Accessed electronically from on February 3, 2015.

WLOS. (2014. Dec 22) “Bullying Led To E. Henderson Student’s Suicide, Says Family”, accessed electronically from “” on February 3, 2015

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "How to Respond to Suicide Threats on Social Media," retrieved on July 21, 2017 from

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailby feather

What is Social Listening?

Social listening is an area of customer (or client)-relationship management that, as the name implies, involves listening to social networks. This is important both for for-profit companies who want to know if their customers are having poor experiences on social media and non-profits who want to make sure that they are serving their customers the best they can.

There are a few elements involved in creating a Social Listening Plan.

  • Discover which social media your clients are using
  • Identify the positives and negatives they’re expressing about your organization
  • Design a process for reaching out to them
  • Implement the process and collect feedback
  • Repeat the process on a regular basis

We’ll go into each of these elements below.

Discover which Social Media Your Clients are Using

It’s important to know where your clients are, and this will depend on your demographics. Many non-profits service clients who are economically disadvantages and so they don’t use or own computers at all, but as more and more individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds move online, it will become more important for non-profits to know where their clients are.

Learning some basic Google searching skills will help you find your clients.

  • Typing your organization’s name in brackets will search for exact matches of your agency name
  • Using the hyphen or minus sign “-“ will remove elements from the search
  • Using the asterisk “*” will find wildcards, so if your organization is known as “Center” but is commonly misspelled “Centre”, you can search for “Cent**” and both matches will be found.

If you circulate any kind of survey or evaluation, you can ask your clients what kind of social media they use. This can be part of a broader social media strategy, to help your organization engage with clients online. The more involved your organization is with those clients the more likely it is that they will reach out directly to you. The best social listening is the social listening you don’t have to do – because your clients do it for you.

Identify Areas of Praise and Concern

No organization has perfectly satisfied clients. It shouldn’t be too difficult from reading the communication your clients are posting what their major concerns are. It’s important at this stage to resist the urge to respond defensively; barring something inconceivable (a person claims that a crime was committed against them by one of your staff in a program your agency doesn’t offer, for instance) these complaints should be treated as valid.

If your organization has a large online footprint it can be helpful to summarize this information so that you can begin making a plan to rectify the identified issues. This can be an ad hoc process, or integrated into your organization’s strategic planning process.

Begin Reaching Out

Depending on the exact natures identified by your clients, the concerns may be obvious. For instance, if a lot of the negative feedback surrounds how difficult it is to access services, that’s very straight-forward. If complaints describe poor service by staff or other more subjective complaints, then you might have more work cut out for you.

Before you begin reaching out, you need to design a process for this. Will you appoint one employee for the task, or have each program coordinator or individual employee handle complaints in their area? The advantage of using someone who works in that area is that they have more experience and are more aware of the nuances of providing service in that area, but they are also vulnerable to getting defensive.

Small organizations may be stretched thin and want to add a little bit of this work to each employee, while larger organizations may have an Outreach Coordinator or similar who adds social media outreach to their existing duties.

Depending on the platform, the exact way you reach out will differ. Twitter and Facebook both have opportunities to be seen as your organization (Facebook’s “Pages” and company-branded Twitter accounts), while other social networks may make it more difficult.

Think carefully about how you will respond. Make changes in advance if possible, to begin rectifying the situations identified. If you can tell people that changes are underway, they are much more likely to respond positively.

Invite those with more difficult problems to get in touch with the organization directly. Make it known that you want to make sure that their negative experience isn’t repeated.

Implement the Process and Collect Feedback

Once you let your clients on social media know that you are beginning this process of improvement, you’ll want to collect feedback from them. Invite them to complete an anonymous survey to find out about their experiences. Integrate this into your existing evaluation procedures if you have them, and consider using tools like SurveyMonkey to automate the process of data collection.

Be aware that positive change may not be reflected in feedback immediately. Dissatisfied clients may not have the energy to respond, and they’ll need to be coaxed. Knowing that you’re not going to judge or fight them, and merely accept what they have to say as valid from their point of view, will go a long way to helping feel comfortable in responding.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

It’s important that your social listening not be a “one off” process. Social media is changing every day, and more and more contributions will pour in from your clients. If you take your ear off the ground, you’ll miss these important communication and reputation management opportunities.

Consider using tools like HootSuite to manage your overall social media presence as well, to ensure that clients can make it as easy as possible to tell you exactly how great a job you’re doing, and ways that you can continue improving.

It takes work to perform adequate social listening, but with efforts you can improve your organization’s reputation in the community and improve your services.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "What is Social Listening?," retrieved on July 21, 2017 from

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailby feather