This is the first post in a three part series on social media and non-profits.

Social media is everywhere with no signs of waning popularity. It is an important tool for marketers and communicators. For non-profit organizations there are many benefits to using social media. It is an ideal platform for storytelling and capturing the human side of your organization. It is far reaching and can help to build awareness for your organization. There are also some fundraising advantages to using social media which we will discuss in a later post.

Like anything that requires resources and creates a public profile, using social media should be approached with careful thought, planning, and measurement.

While it is relatively easy and inexpensive to set up pages or profiles on social media, it is not as easy to maintain them. It can also be tricky to ensure that your brand is reflected in your social media presence. So whether you are just getting started or have had some inactive pages set up for months (or years), take some time as an organization to answer the following questions.

What are we trying to achieve by using social media?

Everyone else is on social media is not a good enough answer. A clear direction will help you to measure and assess whether or not your efforts are having the desired impact. Watching your overall analytics and analytics before and after each post will help you determine which types of posts to try again and which ones not to.

Who is our audience and where is the best place to reach them?

Depending on your audience you do not need to sign up for every social media platform available. If you are communicating with a professional audience, LinkedIn is a good choice, or for more lifestyle type posts with a broader reach, Facebook is a good choice. The Pew Research Center (http://www.pewinternet.org/) is a great resource for understanding trends in social media and figuring out where you need to be.

Once you get started, get to know your audience and pay close attention to who they are.

Who will be in charge of posting and how much time are you willing to invest?

This is a really critical question as it is important to have a designated social media person. This person can set the foundation ensuring you are meeting your 2-3 posts/day minimum and also the gatekeeper for knowing what should and should not be posted. Understanding your resources will also help you to choose how many places you want to be active. It is better to have a Twitter account that is well maintained than to have inactive accounts on every available platform.

Once you have answered all of those questions and are ready to get started, do a couple more things.

Develop a social media policy

This can be as simple or as detailed as you need, but at the very least should include considerations for who can and cannot post; policies for types of posts about your organization on their personal pages; and a plan for how you will respond to negative posts and comments made about you.

Determine your personality and tone for posts

Your posts should reflect your culture and your brand and, of course, connect back to your goals and objectives for being on social media. For example, if you are using social media to recruit young volunteers you might want to write with a less formal tone and create visual posts that your audience can relate to.

And finally . . .

Create an Editorial Calendar

While there will be sharing and organic content that comes up it is important to plan your posts. Planning posts will help you to stay on track and keep your page active. Facebook allows you to enter posts in advance and tools like Hoot Suite enable you to post across platforms. This also helps to analyze and determine which posts are having the furthest reach and leaving the most impressions. The Editorial Calendar should also be flexible, always looking back to what works and what doesn’t. If a post is ineffective change direction and try again.

With all these questions answered and planning elements complete you are ready to get started. Before you know it, social media will become an essential part of your organization’s toolkit and a key function in daily communications with external stakeholders.