Why sharing trending stories is a must for your nonprofit

On July 28th the story of Cecil the Lion started to trend on social media. It wasn’t long before the hash tag #CecilTheLion had topped the list on Twitter trends.

In case you missed the story, Cecil was a protected lion killed for sport by a now hated American dentist, Dr. Walter Palmer, who is believed to have paid about $55,000 for the privilege. Cecil the lion was one of the most beloved and famous animals in Zimbabwe’s national parks.

Quickly Dr. Palmer was wanted by Zimbabwe officials and became the most hated man on the internet. The people were demanding justice.

Daily Kos saw the story and quickly spun up an ActionSprout call to action demanding the justice supporters so desperately desired.

The results were amazing. 

Within five hours of posting the action on Facebook they were nearing 16,000 actions completed.

When the dust settled two days later Daily Kos had earned over 70,000 signatures.

daily kos metrics

Daily Kos’ Engagement rates were through the roof!

  • 41% of viewers completed the action
  • 90% of folks who engaged with the post (liked, commented or shared) went on to complete it
  • 6.2% of all impressions lead to action completions
  • 63.5% of their reach was viral

At one point, 857 people were on at once signing the petition!


What made this action about Cecil the Lion so successful?

It was based on a trending topic. 

Trending topics and breaking news always perform well as actions. It’s a good idea to keep your eye open for stories that apply to your cause.

It was a trending topic people were passionate about. 

Passionate is an understatement when it comes to Cecil the lion. A group of supporters on Twitter were asking for blood at one point. People were fired up about Cecil.

Daily Kos used a mobile optimized action.

Daily Kos used a mobile optimized action. As you can see the majority of action takers were doing so from a mobile device. More and more supporters are accessing Facebook content and petitions from their mobile devices.

What does this mean at the end of the day?

You may be thinking “Sure this is interesting, but how can this help my nonprofit?”

When supporters completed Daily Kos’s action they opted into their mailing list. In five hours time Daily Kos had added almost 20,000 supporter email address to their mailing list. These supporters knowingly opted into their mailing list in support of Cecil and Daily Kos at large.

So what could a trending action do for your nonprofit? A lot- potentially thousands of new email address.

Want to take advantage of trending actions for your cause? Learn more about ActionSprout and get started for free. 

Understanding Facebook’s Algorithm: The Key to Engagement and Reach!

If you manage a Page on Facebook, you’ve probably read different strategies that promise to increase the reach of your content. Some are rock-solid, some are bogus, but few of them explain why you should be doing this or that.

You wish you could just pull back Facebook’s curtain and take a look at what really matters. How does Facebook decide how many of your supporters receive your killer article in their News Feed?

Well today, we’re going to pull back the curtain for you! We’ll cover Facebook’s algorithm and the means by which it chooses who sees what on Facebook, and how many people your content will reach.

Let’s get started!

First of all, Facebook’s goal is to have its users keep coming back to Facebook and spend more and more time on the site. It’s quite similar to yours, in that you want supporters to keep coming back to your content and spend increasingly more time with it.

In order to do that, Facebook needs to give their users the best content possible. (And so do you!) Giving users the best content is the algorithm’s job, and understanding how it works is key to getting the most out of Facebook for your organization and reaching your goals.

Why and How Does Facebook Filter the News Feed?

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Facebook’s News Feed is the stream of content that users see when they log into Facebook. It is made up of posts including photos, links, videos and status messages, shared by users, friends and the Pages in their network.

This stream would be overwhelming if Facebook didn’t filter through the content. The site uses an algorithm, or set of rules, that measures how relevant a post is and which users it should be shown to in the News Feed.

Here’s what that means in practice: Facebook shows users around 300 posts on their daily News Feed—out of the possible 1,500. That means the average post is only seen by 6.51% or less of that Page’s fan base.

Many organizations have noticed changes in the algorithm, in terms of who and how many people see their posts. Maybe you’ve heard some of the rumors that Facebook has been reducing organic reach or trying to get everyone to pay for ads.

However, the algorithm is only trying to show your supporters content that they will like and will keep them coming back for more—which is pretty helpful. And when you understand the algorithm, you can stand above the crowd and get the algorithm to significantly increase the reach of your posts.

The algorithm has roughly 100,000 highly personalized factors that it uses, but you only need to understand 5 concepts to understand the algorithm: user interest, post popularity, creator popularity, type of post, and recency of post.

Below we’ll discuss what each one of those components mean and give you some straightforward tips on how to take advantage of them so that Facebook’s algorithm is going to work for your organization.

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Previous Interest

The algorithm measures previous interest by paying attention to the user’s past engagement: likes, comments, posts and shares. In making decisions on what to show, Facebook wants to know whether this user historically engaged with posts that are similar to this new post. Past behavior is a strong indicator of future behavior!

If you want to see this concept of previous interest in action, you can. Go to your personal News Feed and start engaging with the posts from a particular organization—it doesn’t even have to be one that you have followed in the past. The more you start engaging, the more of their posts will show up on your News Feed over time. This is the cycle that builds real relationships with your audience.

Facebook makes these previous interest calculations for each individual user based on each post that they have engaged with historically. So our own content strategies must take the individual into account as well. Why would anyone in your Facebook community want to engage with this content?

The simple answer: They engage with content they want their friends and family to see them engaging with.

Read more about this concept.

To generate engagement over time, a Facebook post must first and foremost be about helping our supporters. Here are some strategies to do so:

Identity: Make sure your post, its tone and issues, fit with the identity of your audience. Motivation: What does ‘liking’ my organization’s post say to your audience’s friends? Does it show that they are smart, helpful, caring, intelligent, hip, humorous? Can they provide some inspiration or give their friends an opportunity to make a difference in way they’ll appreciate? Conversational: Creating a space for discussions is another way to boost engagement. Ask questions in some of your posts, encourage users to participate in conversations, and respond to comments. This ongoing engagement will demonstrate interest.

Post Performance

Post performance boils down to one maxim:

The more users that like and engage with a particular post, the more likely other users will do the same.

Thus, when you post something that gets good initial engagement, Facebook then becomes more likely to share it with even more of your audience’s News Feeds.

In fact, current performance of a post might be the best prediction of whether other users will want to see and interact with your content. There are some easy lessons from this:

  • Images are really great for quick engagement. They naturally attract our attention and because they are quicker to grasp than video or text, images can drive quick initial engagement.

  • Seed your posts. Share it yourself, ask coworkers and allies to like, share and comment. Make sure to ask judiciously when it’s really important content—people won’t do that for you every day.

  • Share successful posts from other Pages and organizations that share your values and mission. Shared posts typically perform well on similar Pages, but sharing also breeds reciprocity, so they might do the same for your posts next time!

Your Page

If other users have generally engaged with your past posts, Facebook will be more likely to show users your current post. That’s right, Facebook is always judging your Page and the more your audience likes your stuff over time, the more likely Facebook will share all of your content more broadly.

This will keep coming up, but make sure to regularly share highly engaging content with your audience. Some organizations have trouble doing more than press release-style posts, and that will hold them back the one time they have a great post to share.

Be sure to build off successes. Repost high-performing content, unleash that killer meme you’ve been waiting to finish and most importantly, post opportunities for fans to deeply engage with your organization, like a petition, or volunteer opportunity.

Type of Content

There are several categories of Facebook content: status updates (simply text), links, photos and videos. The algorithm makes a note of the kinds of content an individual regularly engages with and then shows them similar content.

For example, if you have engaged with a lot of baby photo posts from your friends, you will likely see a lot more photos (and probably baby photos) in your News Feed in the future. If you get a lot of your news by clicking on link posts and going to the articles, Facebook will show you more link posts.

This really translates to one clear practice: Post a variety of content types. You want to engage all of your fans, no matter what type of content they prefer, so don’t be afraid to use all of the content types available.


Some people think this refers to how recently the post was posted, but that’s not exactly the case.

What the algorithm takes note of is the recency of post engagement.

For example, a post may not get a lot of engagement right away, but as people start to engage with it more, the algorithm notices this and the self-fulfilling prophecy of the engagement cycle takes over.

One thing to note is that no one can tell you how often to post or even how many times a day you should post. Generally more is better, but it really takes some experimenting.

The best way to determine this is to take advantage of the data Facebook provides in your Page Insights, and use that to guide your posting behavior.

Staying Ahead

Once you understand the basic indicators, there are two more features of Facebook’s filtering system you need to understand:

Constant updates. Facebook is constantly tweaking the News Feed algorithm. For example, Facebook recently decreased the reach of content that directly asks people to like or share the Page. If you understand the basics, you’ll be able to better adapt to changes.

Embrace the randomness and experiment. Facebook’s News Feed algorithm uses tens of thousands of indicators to choose who it shows posts to. Quite frankly, with the 100,000 factors in the algorithm customized for each individual, even the folks at Facebook can’t always predict what will happen with any given post or Page.

Here Are the Key Takeaways:

  1. Facebook uses an algorithm, a series of calculations, to select which posts to place in a user’s News Feed. The algorithm’s bottom line is to keep Facebook’s users happy and coming back for more. Think about how your posts can help meet those goals and more of your supporters will start seeing your posts.
  2. Facebook really makes calculations for each individual user. So our content strategies must take into account why any individual would engage with any particular content. Why would any user want to be seen liking your posts?
  3. Post various types of content; the algorithm will be more likely to share certain types of posts to people who have shown an affinity for one.
  4. Repost highly engaging content. Posts with a lot engagement tend to get more News Feed visibility.

As always, experiment! There are around 100,000 factors for how Facebook filters posts on the News Feed. Try some different strategies and use what works for you! Don’t be afraid to break these guidelines! Every Page and audience is different.

Facebook Is a Very Visual Communication Channel

You don’t have to spend much time on Facebook to know that images dominate the News Feed.

Whether they appear on their own or are linked to other content, images are everywhere. But as more images find their way into the News Feed, it becomes harder for your images to stand out and receive the reach and engagement you hope for.

Image posts really do drive more engagement!

  1. Images catch attention on a cluttered News Feed.
  2. Images quickly present information in a compelling and an even emotional way.
  3. They tell the story and successes of an organization.
  4. They are easy to share and therefore expand your cause.

Images also support your mission:

  • They generate Facebook traffic by getting more likes, comments and shares on Facebook to grow and cultivate relationships with your audience.
  • They generate link traffic by driving people to an organization’s website, off-site web forms such as Convio or Salsa, or an action within Facebook such as an ActionSprout social action (quick note: link posts often do a better job in driving clicks).

So what’s a Page manager to do? Don’t sweat it!

Here are 10 best practices to boost the power of your images:

1. Think about What Your Audience Wants

When you post, think to yourself: “Why would someone else share this image?” Typically, things that do well on Facebook include cute animals, scenes of nature and cultural icons.

These do well because when your supporter likes or shares an image, it’s not just about what they like personally. They are liking it because of how it will make them appear to their friends and what they think their friends like.

Does it make them look smart, compassionate and funny to their friends? Do they think people will appreciate it? Is it an important issue so they want to inform others about it?

To find images like these, check out Pages doing great work on Facebook. For example: OurTime.org and the Snow Leopard Trust. You can use the Inspire tool or our standalone free Page Analyzer to surface the best of the best from these Pages. When reusing others’ work, be sure to properly attribute.

2. Take Note of the Emotional Content of Photos

Are the people truly smiling with their eyes? Do their emotions match what you are trying to share in the photo? Do they fit with your organization’s voice and audience? How will people feel looking at them?

Upworthy describes a shareable post as being “awesome, meaningful, and visual”. What might those qualities look like and feel like for your organization and for your supporters?

3. Be Timely

See if you can have a photo ready to go when there is breaking news in your world.

4. Use Text to Give Images Context, or a Twist

This can include adding text to the photo itself, and/or describing the image in the header. Often images can’t stand completely by themselves. However, you should be careful to not cover up what makes the image attractive in the first place. (There are free tools that add text to images.)

If you are planning on boosting the post with a Facebook ad, keep in mind that the text can’t take up more than 20% of the image. You can check the percentage of text in an image by using this handy tool.

5. Consider the Specs on Facebook

If you are uploading an image to Facebook, it should be 472×394 pixels. If you are picking a photo to illustrate a link, the optimal size is 1200×628 pixels. You can resize images using various image editing software.

6. Pay Attention to the Visual Elements of Your Photo

Images should be attractive and of high quality to encourage people to share them. Images should also have vibrant colors and bold contrast, which you can also adjust for using a photo editing tool.

Make sure the image is simple and not crowded—it will help draw the eye and stand out in a cluttered News Feed. And finally, try original-looking imagery as much as possible. If it looks like a stock photo from a catalog, you’ll want to keep looking!

7. Be Mobile-Friendly

Remember that 78% of US Facebook users are mobile, and that percentage is still rising. You should pick images that will look good on both mobile and a desktop. This tool can help you see how your image will look on mobile if you need to check. Just put the link to your Facebook post into “Website to Emulate” to see how it will look.

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8. Image or Infographic?

Decide if you can capture what you want to share in an image or an infographic. If you are trying to get a simple idea across, a photo is probably enough and you can add some overlaid text to hit it home.

If you have a whole series of data that tells a more complex story, an infographic is a good way to do that.

9. Find Your Community

To find imagery that will perform well on your page, like Facebook pages of organizations who do a good job in your field, explore the Page Analyzer or use Crowdtangle lists.

These tools will show you what types of images are performing well that you could reshare or pull inspiration from. If you have an in-house photographer and/or designer, this could be a good use of their talents.

10. Be Experimental

Try different things and use Facebook Insights and the Page Analyzer to see what succeeds by tracking likes, comments and shares. This will help you see who is really engaging with your content.

When posting, use the 80/20 Rule. 80% of images should be proven to be engaging. Repost your own best material, craft images that look similar to other ones that have done well with your audience, or simply reshare posts that have done well for other pages with similar audiences. The last 20% of images you should try something new.

Now That You Know the Best Practices, Should You Share or Upload the Image?

If you are just trying to get Facebook traffic (likes, comments and shares), sharing others’ posts is a great option. Facebook likes it when people share and so will reward you.

Consider uploading your own photo when you are trying to drive traffic to your own link, or if you have a different spin on the image. Make sure you credit the source of the page by tagging them.

Your Key Takeaways:

  1. Share worthy images that typically have some of these elements: bold, vibrant, simple, contrasting colors, relevant/ timely, and uplifting or emotionally evocative.
  2. Adding text to images can be a great way to underscore a point and really makes it more meaningful to your supporters.
  3. Share other people’s content, find photos elsewhere online, or create your images, and it’s good to do a mix of all three.
  4. Consider your goals and optimize the post accordingly: are you trying to create engagement for your Facebook Page, or do you want to drive traffic somewhere else such as a website or petition?
  5. Share images that your audience will want to share with their friends (because they provide humor or important information, make your audience look caring or intelligent, etc.). And if you aren’t sure what your audience wants to share, experiment until you find a pattern of success.

Have fun, experiment with different images, and listen to your audience. The rest will fall into place!

[WEBINAR] Best Practices for Fundraising on Facebook

Webinar Recording

Notes and Resources

  1. To run donation appeals through ActionSprout you’ll need a Stripe account. If you don’t have one already you can sign up for free.
  2. While you’re at it, Stripe currently has a deal for nonprofits! No fees on your first $15,000 or first year and a reduced rate after that.
  3. Once you’re ready, here’s how to connect your Stripe and ActionSprout accounts.
  4. Some donation best practices to bookmark.
  5. We are currently running a 6 month, getting ready for #GivingTuesday, campaign! Each month we release a new blog post outlining the one thing you need to do that month to be ready for November. You can find the June post here and the July post here.

[WEBINAR] Facebook Posting Tips and Tricks

July 19, 2016: A collection of quick tips you can use to get more out of your Nonprofit Facebook page.

This webinar was presented by Josh Bennett on July 19th, 2016.

Notes and Resources:

  1. For the best organic reach and engagement you’ll want to shoot for 3 to 4 posts a day on Facebook.
  2. Always use a native Facebook video when you can. Never up load to YouTube first when you can simply up load directly to Facebook. This is give your video higher reach and engagement, and allow it to auto play in your supporter’s feeds.
  3. Focus on engagement rate over page likes. Page likes tend to be a vanity metric.
  4. Measure your work and effort.
  5. Focus on what content and stories your fans enjoy for greater engagement.

[FACEBOOK LIVE] ActionSprout Experts Q&A Panel

July 18th, 2016: Facebook live Q&A with Shawn Kemp, Briana Milligan, and Josh Bennet.

[WEBINAR] Facebook Crash-Course for Nonprofits

Big thanks to everyone who was able to join us live!

Live Recording:

Presented by Briana Milligan on July 12th, 2016.

Notes and Resources:

  1. Clean up your profile(s) and page(s) to be in Facebook’s terms of use and fully take advantage of the tools available to you. How to merge two pages and how to convert a profile to a page.
  2. Direct link to our free page reporting tool.
  3. The news feed algorithm according to Facebook and how it relates to nonprofit pages.
  4. A case study on how effective posting more often, practicing content curation and posting at the right times, can greatly boost your organic reach and engagement.
  5. The available Facebook page roles and how to manage these for your team.
  6. You can find the core ActionSprout app here. This covers the content curation tools and posting time tools we discussed during the webinar.