As someone who’s worked in social media for over a decade, I wholeheartedly believe it’s always possible to measure the value of social and the tangible ways it impacts your larger strategy. But that doesn’t mean there’s a perfect way to calculate it—or that it’s easy.

With different business models, goals and highly scrutinized budgets, nonprofit social teams in particular seem to be under more pressure to champion their work. I interviewed Ryane Ridenour, Director of Social Media at Everytown for Gun Safety, and Meghan Nguyen, Digital Associate at the Innocence Project, to find out if that’s true, and understand how their social strategies play a pivotal role in achieving their nonprofit organizations’ missions.

Why a strong social media strategy is critical for nonprofits

Rachael Goulet (Sprout Social): Social media is where audiences spend their time, and is a primary channel for discoverability—that’s true for nonprofit, B2B and B2C brands alike. How does social serve your mission?

Meghan Nguyen (The Innocence Project): We’ve activated more than 4 million people on social. We’ve prompted them to make donations, visit our website, call legislators, sign petitions and demand justice.

For example, back in 2022, we were trying to get a woman named Melissa Lucio off of death row in Texas. She was clearly innocent. We activated our followers to call politicians to urge them to take her off of death row. Two days before her execution date, they offered an indefinite stay of execution. We couldn’t have done it without our followers and influencers. We have seen how impactful social media is for fostering live-saving connections. It’s a tool more nonprofits should use to activate their mission.

An Instagram Carousel from the Innocence Project that contains 9 facts about Melissa Lucio, a woman who was facing execution for a crime she didn't commit.

Rachael Goulet: That’s an incredible example. Why social? What does social media offer that traditional channels can’t?

Ryane Ridenour (Everytown for Gun Safety): On social, we have a mouthpiece that speaks directly to the public. We rapidly respond to gun violence, and make sure folks know daily gun violence is a problem. Not just the mass shootings that make headlines.

We try to educate folks on what’s happening with gun safety—both locally and nationally—and provide a community for people advocating for the cause. We want to make our work accessible and keep it top of mind even when daily gun violence isn’t making the news. Not everyone has the time or energy to give. Even if we encourage someone to send a message to their lawmaker, maybe next time they’ll do something bigger.

An X (formerly Twitter) post from Everytown that features data from their latest report about the rate of gun theft.

The most important metrics for measuring nonprofit social media ROI

Rachael Goulet: There’s still a widespread belief that brands don’t have a way to prove the success of social. But they can. It just requires figuring out which goals matter most to you and your organization. Which metrics do you use to measure ROI?

Meghan Nguyen: A lot of our goals at the Innocence Project have to do with growth. We want to grow our community of donors and advocates by at least 5% in 2024. But what’s been really apparent is that we should prioritize engagement over follower growth. Looking at engagement rate helps us make sure we have a loyal audience that’s returning to our page. It’s really important to create content that encourages interaction and leads to meaningful connections with our followers, rather than solely focusing on growing the number of followers we have. Quality engagement leads to stronger relationships, loyalty and often delivers better results than simply having a high follower count with low engagement.

We also work really closely with our digital fundraising team. By tracking links, we can see how much we’ve raised directly from social media.

An Instagram Carousel from the Innocence project that explains the impact donations make on their mission.

Ryane Ridenour: Clicks and link attribution clearly demonstrate hard impacts, like: Are we bringing new people into the fold? Are they engaged by this work? Is our community energized and excited to take action with us?

Even when people aren’t clicking links on social, we know it’s one of many channels where we’re asking them to take action. It’s contributing to the performance of other digital channels, like email marketing.

Tips for getting leadership buy-in on your nonprofit social media strategy

Rachael Goulet: Does leadership understand how your team goals funnel up to your overall mission?

Meghan Nguyen: We’re lucky. We’re a large, well-known nonprofit. We have a lot of resources, and our leaders understand the power of social. They know how social media can translate to dollars, and how it can have a meaningful impact in the space of social justice, including galvanizing our followers to call legislators or sign petitions.

Ryane Ridenour: In the nonprofit space, social media can be trivialized, even though we’re meeting people where they are. Nonprofits are forced to be scrappy because most of our resources are allocated to the mission.

Rachael Goulet: How do you get buy-in from stakeholders? What kind of performance reports or summaries resonate with them?

Ryane Ridenour: Sprout Social helps us tell a cohesive story of our data across platforms. We can see what’s working and what’s not, which helps us demonstrate impact and secure buy-in. In the past, we would only report on bigger moments (i.e., campaigns), but now we’ve gotten to the point where we send weekly reports of audience trends, video views, engagements and more. The reports link to our top performing posts. It helps us illustrate where we should invest resources.

Sprout Social's cross-network post performance report that shows the total number of engagements and by engagement type.

Meghan Nguyen: We prioritize getting everyone on the same page. We have weekly meetings with leaders on our team, and regular meetings with our executives. We demonstrate our ROI through presentations that clearly illustrate concrete impact.

Rachael Goulet: As someone who’s worked in social for over a decade, I’ve learned that saying “we’re just too busy” doesn’t work when it comes to advocating for more resources. Instead, it’s been much more helpful to say “here’s what we could be doing if we had more resources.” I’m sure that’s even more challenging in the nonprofit space where possibilities are endless with more funding. When you ask for more resources for emerging platforms or formats, what’s your go-to approach?

Ryane Ridenour: We used social listening to make the case for increasing our investments in video. We demonstrated the “share of video content” created by our allies (a small fraction) compared to the huge ecosystem of content created by our opposition. It was such a tangible way to show the gap, and help us secure more resources.

A preview of Sprout Social's Competitive Analysis dashboard that demonstrates how three competitors compare in share of voice, impressions, engagements and sentiment.

Rachael Gouletr: Wow, that’s such a cool way to use Listening!

Meghan Nguyen: We frame requests around specific opportunities we want to seize, like establishing a presence on emerging platforms like Threads or TikTok. Our resources are limited, so we focus on platforms that offer the most promising ROI due to their highly engaged user bases. We pitched them to leadership by explaining that advocates on these platforms can help us achieve our goals. Ultimately, we have to align the value of any platform with our target audience, campaign objectives and tangible outcomes.

A Threads post from the Innocence Project that demonstrates how their community engages with their updates on the emerging platform

What the future holds for nonprofit social marketers

Rachael Goulet: How do you think your organizations will be measuring social ROI 5+ years from now?  Will it be easier or harder to pinpoint social’s direct impact on fundraising and other goals?

Ryane Ridenour: A lot is up in the air right now in the social landscape. I would hope that our tools are even more robust, integrated and centralized. It’s also still really hard to measure how much social instigates cultural shifts, and the ROI around them. But if we are doing our jobs right, we are changing the culture around what safety means.

Rachael Goulet: That is such an interesting use case for social listening in terms of seeing how specific terms are talked about, and watching how the culture and conversations shift over time. There could be goals you create around share of voice for certain keywords.

Meghan Nguyen: Looking ahead, we will refine our approach to measuring ROI. We haven’t yet fully taken advantage of advanced analytics tools. But we want to use social listening to understand how people are talking about us and tap into sentiment analysis.

We will have to continuously stay up-to-date on platform changes. It will probably only get more complex as algorithms evolve and new laws are passed, but we are prepared to continually adjust. When one door closes, another will open. The only certainty is that things will change, so we will have to change with them.

Building community on social is mission-critical

Thank you so much to Ryane and Meghan for pulling back the curtain on their approaches, and allowing us to see the strategy behind building a nonprofit social presence and communicating the value of social internally.

It’s clear both Everytown and the Innocence Project leverage social media to activate communities, facilitate meaningful connections and drive tangible outcomes such as fundraising and advocacy. Their robust social media strategies play a crucial role in advancing their missions.

Looking for more insight into the unique opportunity social offers nonprofits? Read our guide to finding social media management tools that empower nonprofit marketing teams to maximize their mission.

The post 2 nonprofit social marketers share how they build & measure their social media strategies appeared first on Sprout Social.