That was then. This is now.
In 2013, organizations focused on social good began to embrace marketing automation and make the shift to responsive websites (as opposed to separate mobile ones). Staff, board members, donors, program participants, volunteers, advocates, and others spent most of their time on Facebook™, and just as many were on Google™ Plus as were on Instagram™ (source). Organizations were investing more in good photography and paying to advertise because our feeds were starting to show almost as much content from organizations as from our friends.
Fast-forward to 2020. Smartphone ownership has doubled and 83% of Americans are accessing websites, webinars, meetings, and more from them. We are jamming to dance parties and listening to live interviews through Instagram stories. Families are creating and sharing elaborate videos on TikTok™. People are marking themselves as “safe” after local disasters on Facebook. And without thinking, we now automatically flock to an organization’s website to find out if they are open or see how they are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What today’s digital culture means for social good organizations
Have you ever told someone about an item you covet or a show you love, only to discover an ad for that very same thing as you scroll through your various feeds? While it may strike you as annoying or creepy, the clicks, actions, and the revenue those ads generate seem to work. Organizations and businesses alike connect with their audiences, and viewers find what they didn’t even realize they were looking for.
Some email service providers and CRMs now offer and encourage adaptive or predictive sending—a feature that uses past performance data to deliver your message at the time the recipient is most likely to open it. It seems the more technology knows about us, the more we expect personalized content when and where it works best for us.
Experiences like these, which are normal in today’s digital culture, have set the bar higher for nonprofit brands. Instead of producing a stream of organization-centric information, our audiences increasingly expect us to tailor what we send them to their unique habits and preferences.
There is also a greater sense of immediacy we’ve all come to expect from the organizations and brands we interact with. When an organization doesn’t immediately respond to a comment or remove an outdated event from their “upcoming events” landing page, audiences start to lose confidence.
In addition to speed, there are high expectations for accuracy. Audiences want organizations to share the correct information and expect organizations will follow-through on any information they share, from a name or address change to communication preferences. This is about more than maintaining good, clean data, though; it’s also about making sure your entire team knows what you are up to and can easily answer basic questions about who you are. As individuals use tools like Slack and Microsoft™ Teams to keep in touch with each other, they assume staff at social organizations also use these tools and therefore should have a full picture of what’s happening across the organization.
Beyond keeping materials up-to-date and creating relevant and personalized experiences, social good organizations must think of their website as an essential part of their brand. These days, when in-person gatherings are limited (and potentially forever changed), an organization’s website may be the only place people can visit to learn more, sign up, watch videos, take action, donate, etc. If that’s all someone ever sees or reads about you, does it leave them with the right impression and lead them to do more? Does it work flawlessly or frustratingly? This, too, will shape the experience with and influence the impression of your brand.
How organizations can shape their brand experience online
In the 2013 npEXPERTS eBook, we offered these questions to guide user experience (particularly as it related to email marketing):
- Is it clear what we are asking our supporters to do?
- Are we giving enough of a reason to take the action we are requesting—without overwhelming them or using jargon that only we understand?
- Are we featuring someone they might relate to, either another supporter or program participant?
- Once they click on a link in the email, does the corresponding page feel connected with similar wording and graphics?
- If our supporters forwarded this email to a friend (they might!), would it make sense to someone who doesn’t know us that well?
These questions still hold up, though we’d encourage social good organizations to evaluate every single post, Tweet, story, message, ad, landing page, and more through this lens.
Branding is not a one-time fix, limited to a shiny new logo, nor is it a memorable elevator pitch. It is an ongoing practice of aligning around your organization’s identity and voice internally, then using it to create experiences that shape perceptions and behaviors that advance an organization’s mission and spark collective change. How can your organization use your website, email, social media, SMS, and other digital tools to further your work? We expect it’s a question we’ll still be asking for years to come.
This article was originally published as part of the Blackbaud Institute’s npEXPERTS – The Digital Spark, which brings together 16 social good experts to share their perspectives on rethinking human connection through digital adaptation, relationship marketing, virtual culture, and so much more. Get the rest of the insight at https://blkb.co/37XyNqj