"How do I make my nonprofit's social media campaign go viral?"

This is a question social media managers get asked all the time. Every organization wants to go viral. Nonprofits around the world saw the Ice Bucket Challenge flood their newsfeeds in 2012 and wondered with envy, “Why can’t we go viral like that?”

And who can blame them? More eyeballs on the cause you're working so hard to promote? Who wouldn't want that?!

The problem is, when nonprofits chase after that shiny viral pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, 999,999 times out of 1,000,000 they fall flat on their face. And on the way down they end up wasting their time, wasting away their marketing budget, and even hurting their social media presence more than they help it. What's more, by judging their social media success on whether or not their campaign/video/article/post went viral, they're setting themselves up for disappointment and missing out on the opportunity to cultivate a smaller, but more authentic and engaged community of supporters that have the potential to actually help their cause instead of just like their video. 

No matter what internet gurus try to sell you, there is no magic formula for going viral. And it’s really hard (some might say impossible) to plan for. Viral status happens when there's a cosmic combination of appealing content, visibility, and the right public appetite for what you're offering. 

But beyond virality's elusive replicability, going viral is the wrong metric for nonprofits to pursue for a few reasons:

  1. Virality usually happens by accident. The Ice Bucket Challenge itself wasn't planned by the ALS Association–it was sparked serendipitously by supporters of the organization. When organizations set out to go viral, they typically look like they’re trying too hard. That kind of inauthenticity drives people away FAST.
  2. By trying to go viral, nonprofits end up diluting their message. The number of people who want to share cat videos will always be higher than the number of people who want to share your nonprofit's video (no matter how cool it is.) Many nonprofits try too hard to capitalize the kind of pop content that will attract as many eyeballs as possible in the hopes of going viral. This approach can end up diluting their real message for the sake of popularity, which in turn alienates their core supporters. 
  3. Virality is very, very fleeting. It’s the darling of the internet for a few days or weeks and then everyone moves on.
  4. Virality isn’t always a positive outcome. In fact, it can backfire in some pretty ugly ways. Many campaigns go viral based on criticism, and it can lead to the swift demise of the organization, as it did for Invisible Children’s infamous Kony 2012 campaign.  

Instead of chasing viral status, nonprofits would be much better off focusing on creating quality, sharable content that connects with a focused, target audience. Instead of asking "How do I make my nonprofit's social media campaign go viral?" shift the question to:

“How can I create a kick-ass content strategy that connects with my target audience?" 

The key here is focusing on connecting with YOUR target audience instead of trying to attract the whole wide world. In social media marketing, it's easy to get distracted by big numbers. But nonprofits need to keep in mind that their social media presence is only valuable to the extent that it drives meaningful impact, whether that's advocates for your cause, volunteers, donors, or clients. A small, engaged audience is much more valuable than a huge but disengaged audience. That means your content doesn't need to be seen and liked by everyone. It just needs to reach and engage the right people–the ones who love your mission, want to be champions for your work and join you in your cause. 

Craft your social media presence with that audience in mind. What do they want to engage with? What do they care about? What does your organization have to offer that brings value to their lives?

A solid, long-term, engaging content strategy might not sound as sexy as going viral, but it’s guaranteed to steadily build your tribe of supporters. And if something you produce as a part of that content strategy does end up going viral (in a good way)? Hey, congrats, superstar!


Looking for help crafting that "kick-ass content strategy?" Download our free "Social Media Cheatsheet for Nonprofits" to get started, or explore our services and drop us a line to set up a chat. We'd love to help your organization craft an amazing social media presence. 


Photo by Anthony Quintano via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Oprah’s Law of Content

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

By Elizabeth Moreno

The legendary Oprah Winfrey recently gave her very first wide ranging podcast interview on The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. The entire episode is well worth listening to as it offers an intimate and insightful glimpse into the life of perhaps the world’s most famous living woman. Throughout the interview she recounts her experiences growing up in rural Mississippi during the Jim Crow era, how she landed her first job in journalism at the age of 16, all the way to building the Winfrey "empire."

Around minute 37:30, Oprah shared what she saw as one of her early drivers for the success of the show—an insight anyone involved in marketing can learn from.

"I brought all my producers in and I said, ‘We are not going to do a show that we do not think about what is our intention for doing it.’…..So I’d go to the ideas meeting and I’d say, ‘By every suggestion or idea I want the intention for doing it. You don’t have an intention? Don’t bring it to me.’ And I enforced that idea, which became rule, which became law."

She went on to explain that anything they put on air had to pass this test of adding value to the lives of their audience members. 

"When someone would bring me an idea I would say, ‘Where does this show fit in with the mission and what is the intention, specifically? Are you trying to uplift? Are you trying to inform? Are you trying to entertain?’"

Oprah credits this "law" of identifying the intention of the content they produced as a driving factor in the show's 25 season successful run. 

"The reason that this show was so successful—like beyond—in its connection to the audience is because we talked about that every day."

In the social media world, many organizations and businesses get too preoccupied with filling up their content calendar that they lose sight of WHY they're posting what their posting. This results in a page of content that may be on topic for their niche, but isn't necessarily generating growth or furthering their cause.  

Social media is driven by engagement, and to drive engagement you MUST add value. We humans are pretty good at sniffing inauthenticity. A post that looks like it was added to fill up your posting schedule will get scrolled right past, while a post that is crafted to connect with your audience is far more likely to spark an interaction. A post that genuinely inspires someone, makes them laugh, feel empowered, gives them tools they can use, or makes them think about an issue they care about differently has the potential to drive Oprah-level engagement. 

So the next time you go to post an article or photo on your social media page or publish something to your blog, simply stop, pause, and ask yourself if your post passes Oprah’s law of content:

What is my intention with this post, specifically? Am I trying to uplift? Am I trying to inform? Am I trying to entertain?”

And as Oprah might say, “You don’t have an intention? Don’t post it.”

Eight Facebook Live Ideas for your Nonprofit

Most of the content 10 years ago was text, and then photos,
and now it’s quickly becoming videos.
— Mark Zuckerberg

Social media is increasingly being driven by video content. Video offers nonprofits a big opportunity to connect with their audiences and authentically tell their stories. Last week I covered the basics of doing your first Facebook Live for your nonprofit. This week we’re diving into content!

 What makes for a great Facebook Live? Here’s 10 ideas to get you started:

1. “From the field”

Show your donors the impact of where their money goes! This is a great opportunity for nonprofits that work internationally as flying your out donors out to see your work can be extremely costly. They’ll love getting a peek into your work in action. Does your nonprofit sponsor clean water initiatives in Ghana? How cool would it be to bring your audience to the unveiling of your latest well? Does your nonprofit sponsor school kids in India? Bring your donors to their graduation Live! 

2. Q and A’s

What questions do you get most frequently? Put on a live Q&A to answer them and encourage your audience to tune in and ask questions in real time! Does your nonprofit put on some kind of a training program? Answer questions prospective applicants might have Live on Facebook! It’ll be easier for them to tune in than to attend an info night in person. Does your nonprofit have a volunteer program? Host a mini orientation night on Facebook. Check out Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann’s Live Q&A for a great example.

3. Meet the team

Who are the charming, passionate, talented people who run your nonprofit every day? Introduce them to your audience! This would be a great idea if your nonprofit is currently hiring or seeking volunteers. Give potential employees or volunteers a chance to meet the awesome people they’d get to work with!

4. Big announcements

Are you launching a big new initiative? Announce it Live! Be sure to build up anticipation beforehand by posting reminders and sign-ups to tune in for the big reveal. In my last post, I covered more info and links on how to do this.

5. Animals

It’s no secret: animal videos do great on social media. If your nonprofit works with animals in any capacity, you’ve got gold content for Facebook Live! Check out this Live Video from The Humane Society of the United States. Over 200k people tuned it to watch this baby bird feeding.

6. How-to’s & tutorials

What kind of specialized knowledge does your nonprofit have to share? Are you a community garden? Host a Facebook Live in the on planting garden starts for your summer garden. Does your nonprofit do advocacy work? Bring on an expert to talk your audience through calling their senator’s office for the first time.

7. Policy updates

If your nonprofit does advocacy or policy work, consider hosting Live updates around breaking news. You don’t need to be asked to be interviewed by a news station - you can bring your unique point of view on current events directly to your audience in real time. Bring in an expert to debrief a recent policy change in the news and encourage your audience to ask questions during your broadcast. Greenpeace USA recently hosted this Live video with Greenpeace expert Tim Donaghy answering questions about Exxon CEO and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson.

8. Event sneak peek

Are you hosting a big event and seeking to mobilize your audience to turn up? Maybe you’re hosting an art show fundraiser—host a Live video as you’re setting up the artwork, giving your audience a glimpse into what they’ll find at the event.


As you can see, there’s all sorts of content that works well for Facebook Live. So what should you avoid?

  • Your powerpoint presentation at a conference. Do you want to tune in to this dark, grainy broadcast? Yeah, me neither. Keep things up close and personal!

  • Your board meeting. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • A general organization update about various things you’ve been up to. Keep your videos specific. Set expectations by letting your audience know exactly what they’re tuning in for.

If you’re wondering if something would be good content for a Facebook Live simply pause and ask yourself, “How does this benefit my audience?” Does it inform? Entertain? Encourage? Equip? If it doesn’t provide substantial value to the people you’re trying to reach, scrap it. (This goes for anything you post on social, not just video!) Remember, your social media should never be used as a megaphone for your organization. It’s a tool to engage your audience. That’s why they call it social media. If you want to engage, you’ve got to offer value first.

Have you done a FB Live for your nonprofit yet? Comment below and add your tips!