Finding the secrets to community engagement on Facebook

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is a nationwide federation of state and territorial affiliate organizations, with nearly six million members and supporters across the country. Formed with the idea of uniting sportsmen and all outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts behind the common goal of conservation, they act as unified voice for wildlife. They are fiercely dedicated to protecting habitats and inspiring the next generation of conservationists.

Recently, we had the honor to sit down with Dani Tinker, NWF’s Community Manager. An amazing inspiration to environmental social media managers everywhere, we got to discuss strategy, community, and how to educate and move supporters to action.

How long have you managed social media communications and where did you get your start?

My background is a strange combination of outdoor education and digital communications. When I was teaching back in Oregon, I remember a good friend of mine, Danielle Brigida, lured me into the world of social media by saying, “Imagine you get to lead a classroom of thousands, instead of ten.”

How has your strategy / options about Facebook changed over time?

We’re always adjusting and testing to find the most effective ways to engage with our community. As an extremely visual person, I’m obsessed with finding photos that creatively communicate our message. This became a lot more fun (and time-consuming) when Facebook changed the layout for multiple images appearing in a single post. Two of my favorite examples of using multiple image posts were the monarch life cycle and a fox diving into the snow. This is just one of the many changes over time I’ve personally enjoyed adapting alongside.

What’s something you wished you learned sooner in terms of social media?

Play. I get a lot of questions about what is the best time to post or the best practices of what to post. And the truth is that while there are a lot of great suggestions, each community is completely unique. One of the best ways to keep an audience engaged, time and time again, is to get creative and try new things. This scared me at first. Feedback is immediate and public on social media—positive and negative. I had to change my mindset. If you know your community and make decisions with them in mind, that is a success. Some things may not resonate, and you have to take that feedback, learn from it and move on to the next idea.

Tell us a bit about your Facebook Page (What’s the audience like, what kind of content do they enjoy, how often do you post?)

Our Facebook community is inspiring. We’re a community filled with gardeners, biologists, teachers, sportsmen and animal lovers. Our connective tissue is wildlife. And let me say, I’ve learned (from experience) how sharp our community is. There were a few times when I first began where I’d post a photo, and a few moments later would be corrected on the species. I loved it! They push me to be my best, and for our organization to be its best.

Our community enjoys content that teaches them something new, challenges them or gives them the opportunity to take action for wildlife. They appreciate it when it’s relevant to current events, as well. For example, a suggestion to recycle your pumpkins for wildlife in the spirit of Autumn and Halloween helps them associate their daily activities with wildlife. The Superb Owl during the Super Bowl took them to a blog post that helped them learn more about owls and gave them the opportunity to help protect them. And the most popular day of the year on Facebook is by far Squirrel Appreciation Day, which reminds people to live together with wildlife.

Another thing that our Facebook community enjoys are community photo albums. This is when we provide a prompt, people post photos, and we add them into an album. It’s a fantastic way to build a sense of community.

What organizational goals do your Facebook efforts support?

We want to spread the message of wildlife conservation in a way that includes as many Americans as possible. When we remind people why they care about wildlife regularly, and then ask them to take specific actions to support it, we are cultivating lifelong conservationists to help us care for the wildlife around them. Our Facebook efforts support specific strategic campaigns that direct people to specific actions, including signing up for events and activities, and donating to our priority campaigns.

What kind of social calls to action do you use?

here are a variety of different calls to action we use on social media. We have traditional “take action” posts, asking folks to sign a petition, send a message or tweet their decision-makers. With our educational posts, we want people to pass along and spread the knowledge. Specifically with our Facebook community, we’ll occasionally ask them to share photos and upload them to a community album. We recently had a great response for our Bald Eagle Watch Month community album. And we’ll mix in a few fun or unique calls to action as well, like our engagement quizzes.

Tell us about a recent successful social campaign or series of posts.

One of our big goals right now is raising awareness about the rapid decline of the monarch butterfly. Building a social media strategy revolved around content. We thought through all of the types of content we could provide, including:

  • News: An article from our magazine explaining the decline.
  • Engagement: Quiz – Can You Tell Monarchs From Their Look-Alikes?
  • How-to: Find and Choose Native Milkweeds for Monarchs
  • Education: Visual Journey Through the Life Cycle of a Monarch
  • Political Action: Send a message to protect native grasslands for monarchs
  • Individual Action: Take the pledge to plant a garden for monarchs by becoming a Butterfly Hero

We worked alongside the USFWS, contributing to their #savethemonarch conversation on Twitter. Partnerships and building relationships like this allow exposure to a new community. We can share their content, and they can share ours from time to time. We also launched our own campaign supporting the White House’s call for action on pollinators, Butterfly Heroes, to engage kids and families to get involved in helping monarchs in a fun and easy way.

What did you learn from this success more broadly? / Is there anything you do differently now?

Quality content and strong visuals are critical to success. We developed content that is relevant and useful. We also found strong visuals to inspire folks to protect the monarch butterfly. As a result, our posts were shared far and wide.

We also learned our audience wants to be informed, learn something new and act. If we can provide resources that empower them to do all three, we’ll be a powerful force for wildlife.

How did you measure this success? What metrics do you focus on?

This particular campaign had a goal of raising awareness. We focused on Page views for our content and shares. Shares carry a lot of weight for me, personally. If people find our content valuable enough to pass along to their friends and family, that is a success to me. Ultimately, for folks to be more informed about the issue and how to take part, we need them to see our content. For a campaign like Butterfly Heroes or an Action Alert, we measure the number of pledges or actions taken.

Fighting for Justice through Social Media

Formed in 2009, Believe Out Loud is an online community that empowers Christians to work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) equality. Reaching an average of 3–5 million people per month, they are the leading platform in Christian faith and LGBTQ advocacy.

Since the advent of the modern gay rights movement, many Christians have raised their voices for (LGBT) equality. Led by Jesus’ message to love thy neighbor, they are fighting hard against injustice of all who are discriminated against.

Timothy DuWhite, Program Associate of Believe Out Loud, is no different to those who came before him. As the primary social media manager, he is in the trenches day in and day out, working hard to maintain a safe place for people to talk about these sensitive and personal issues.

How long have you managed social media communications and where did you get your start?

I have been managing social media communications for about 5 years now. As a professional spoken word/teaching artist, a lot of my early experience stemmed from me creating an online presence for myself. Much of this personal work translated well into my position as the Program Coordinator at a nonprofit by the name of “Urban Word NYC”. At Urban Word, I was not only responsible for facilitating all programmatic responsibilities, but also for engaging with the youth we served via different social media platforms.

Today, as the social media manager for Believe Out Loud, all these previous experiences in navigating personal accounts, as well as relationships with youth, help to inform the way I approach this work now.

Tell us a bit about where you work. Why did you want to work with Believe Out Loud?

On the most basic and fundamental level, Believe Out Loud appealed to me simply because I am a queer man of faith who could use some affirming at times. On a more structural level, what I found fascinating about Believe Out Loud is how they used these various platforms to counter the non-affirming narratives that so many LGBTQ folks are forced to digest. A huge advantage of social media today is that it gives everyone an opportunity to have the sort of conversations that are important to them; Believe Out Loud exemplifies that.

How has your strategy / options about Facebook changed over time?

The most important key to successful online engagement is consistency. By remaining consistent, you are offering a sense of reliability to your audience members, which is imperative for maintaining them. With that said, strategies may vary given certain news updates or upcoming campaigns; however, things such as the time of day we post generally stay the same.

One of the changes that we have been instituting recently is how we choose to present “breaking news”. Some days, breaking news would look like a relevant picture with the news update in the caption along with a link to an article. Other days it might be a blog written by one of our audience members that expounds upon the personal narrative in relation to said news. It’s really contingent on the overall emotional/mental climate of our audience, and it is my job to pay close attention to that.

What’s something you wished you learned sooner in terms of social media?

The trick to being successful on social media is knowing your audience and knowing what it is they respond both well and not so well to. So in response to this question, the sooner you know this information, the easier your job is as a social media manager. Working with Believe Out Loud, I’ll say it took about three months before I was confident about the responses to the content I was sharing. On the flip side, it also took that amount of time for the audience to adjust to a new manager, whether they explicitly knew the work was handed over to me or not. So being able to expedite this process as quickly as possible would be most helpful.

What organizational goals do your Facebook efforts support?

Believe Out Loud was originally created as a response to the non-affirming messages being spread about the LGBTQ community and the Christian faith. The popular narrative one would often hear about with regard to these communities is that they cannot be one of the same—that being an LGBTQ-identified Christian is in some way an oxymoron. The paradigm BOL works within, is the belief that sharing stories and cultivating nuanced dialogue around such misrepresentations would help to incite action and change. Our Facebook efforts support this notion in that it gives us the opportunity to test out our theory. On Facebook we are able to ask questions, share experiences, and shape discussions in ways that deviate from this widely consumed narrative.

What kind of social calls to action do you use?

As of late, a lot of our work has been based around the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA). Our goal is to rally supporters in particular target states to lend their voices to ending legal discrimination on the basis of religious freedom. The majority of our excitement to begin using ActionSprout is to see how your tool could help us in propelling this campaign and movement.

What did you learn from this success more broadly? / Is there anything you do differently now?

The majority of the success from these posts comes from the relevancy of the information. RFRA is something that is currently affecting and has the potential to affect the lives of all LGBTQ folks across this nation. Getting people to engage with content such as this isn’t difficult. What I spend most of my work focusing on is tailoring the conversation. What we are interested in seeing is our audience thinking critically about this issue instead of the reactionary “this is horrible”—and that is it. So what I make sure to be cognizant of, from post to post, is how a particular caption on a news story framed the conversation that followed it. By paying close attention to this, I can toggle back and forth between the sort of dialogue I am trying to inspire.

How did you measure this success? What metrics do you focus on?

Personally, as the one primarily responsible for the cultivation of dialogue on our Page, I measure success in the richness of audience responses. If we can get audience members to write more than just an “Amen” or a “that’s horrible” on a piece of our content, then we are successful. Aside from that, regarding metrics, we focus less on how many “likes” a piece acquired and more so on the post’s reach. This number is what best helps us gauge how far a piece has spread.

Do you have any advice for other nonprofits based on your success?

I think some of the best advice I could give a nonprofit is to stay consistent. As I said before, consistency is how you remain reliable in the eyes of your audience. Also, a big key to success is knowing your audience—who they are, what they want, what they need—and then later finding out how to accommodate all of these things while also challenging your audience to think critically. Focusing on these few things would be the foundation to building success.