As a guy who doesn’t even use a cellphone, I’m not exactly what many would consider a technology wizard. Still, I make sure to maintain an updated and functioning website and a viable and active social media presence for the charity that I direct. This has helped us not only when it comes to receiving referrals, but also in building a community feel for our programming and growing our volunteer base.
Here are a few guidelines that may help you establish a solid social media presence for your counseling nonprofit.
Make your name matter: This is a time to keep things simple and clear. Try to avoid acronyms unless you have a widely known one. Many folks may be familiar with HRC (Human Rights Campaign), WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and NPR (National Public Radio), but chances are good that your program isn’t a household name. Our main program is a therapeutic farm that many call the “WIP” for short, but on social media we spell out the name (Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm) so that folks can find it easily.
Having a social media page name that is known and understood only by an inside few is not going to help things grow. Having a clear and concise name can help you pick up random followers and those who are legitimately looking for you without having to possess any inside knowledge of nicknames or the like.
You can also choose to name a specific program that your nonprofit runs as opposed to featuring the main company. We elected not to have much social media coverage of our parent company because it seemed much more limited than our community-based therapeutic farm. We do, however, make it clear that the farm is one of our programs.
Moderate your page and membership: A small percentage of people may want to get into your social media page for all the wrong reasons. Some may want to sell things such as cheap sunglasses, whereas others may want to use it as a platform to go on a political, religious or hate-filled rant. This can kill or greatly reduce your program’s reach and reputation.
Thankfully, it is typically rather simple to keep most of this stuff out by moderating your page. First, set up your page to require permission to join, and then screen these members to make sure they are real. Take a minute to go over their personal pages to ensure they are not spammers. Look for pictures of the person and the types of posts they generally make to help you determine a spammer. In addition, have moderators for your social media page who help ensure that people are staying within established bounds. If things do go beyond what is allowable, be sure to react swiftly and politely.
Establish clear and simple rules: No one wants to belong to a page with a ton of boilerplate rules that need to be read, signed off on and followed to the letter. Instead, pick a few clear and simple rules that help establish group norms. For our program we have three main rules:
- No religion
- No politics
- No negativity or personal attacks
“No religion” does not mean that churches or other spiritually based programs are forbidden from posting. It simply means that no one is allowed to belittle beliefs that differ from their own. In fact, we actively have people on our site who offer to pray for someone going through tough issues, and folks do indeed post events that are being held at local churches, synagogues, etc.
Our “no politics” rule is set up much the same way. Folks can encourage others to vote or register to vote, but they cannot promote a given candidate or party because that is beyond our scope. The “no negativity or personal attacks” rule can be a bit more confusing for some folks because they are allowed to speak about things that are troubling them. However, they are not allowed to personally attack someone or be overly rude when discussing something that is troubling them.
Lead by example: Moderators help set the tone and pace of a page. Ask folks to serve as moderators who are active, positive and have an ability to get and keep people interested. Moderators should make posts consistently without giving page members the sense they are being flooded. For instance, moderators might consider holding back a few of their planned posts if the page has been particularly active.
Encourage communication among members: Encourage your members to post openly and often. Maintain a safe posting environment that leads people to feel that their voice is important and valuable. You will be surprised at the great ideas often posted by the general membership. Your social media page shouldn’t be meant as a place where only a select few people post.
Provide a solid description: A solid description can help folks get a better understanding of your program and the goals of the group. Be clear and help people get to know the program better by offering a few short paragraphs. If your program name is hard for some to pronounce, offer a pronunciation key. Also include the types of services you offer, a word about the setting and whatever else you feel sets your program apart from others. Here is an example:
“Pillwillop (pronounced: pill will up) Therapeutic Farm is a program of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org; www.pillwillop.org). We provide high-quality, affordable holistic mental health services to the greater central Connecticut area.
“Nature supports healing of all kinds. Within this picturesque setting we offer outpatient therapy, art therapy, therapeutic gardening, hiking, passive recreation and other programs to support mental health and wellness. Nurture in Nature.
“We are a working community in which all members contribute in their own unique ways to the best of their abilities. By taking an active role in the work and the life of a community, people can gain or recapture a sense of self-esteem, self-identity and a sense of purpose that can often become lost in today’s fast-paced, electronic age. By connecting with each other in a natural setting, each member learns more about themselves and the ways they interconnect with the world.”
To advertise or not, that is the question: Some folks set up social media pages and let them grow organically through word-of-mouth, whereas others aim for fast growth through paid advertising. There really is no right or wrong way. However, paid advertising can create some issues with quality control and monitoring. This is where moderators can really come in handy.
If you do advertise, be realistic in the scope, cost and reach of the advertising plan. If you are a local program with limited reach, a national ad campaign will likely be a waste. Some social media sites offer targeted advertising that can reach particular towns or even certain sections of towns. Think and choose wisely.
Be aware of HIPAA and confidentiality issues: It’s important to remember that while you may be doing your best to build an online community, HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and other confidentiality issues are still in play. Be careful not to ever put any information on the site that is protected or that will identify anyone as a client. Do not ever identify page members as clients, even if they identify themselves as such. You owe it to your clients to maintain their privacy.
Pictures can be posted, but it is best to focus on the program itself and not the people unless 1) the pictures are of a public event that you held, 2) the pictures do not identify anyone as a client AND 3) you have full permission to post the pictures.
Social media can be an effective and free way to help promote your nonprofit program. If you are not currently using it, you really should give it a second thought.
“Doc Warren” Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, and clinical and executive director of Community Counseling Centers of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.