Using Social Media Effectively to Improve Cause Awareness

Social media can sometimes feel like a game of luck. You put out your best content together and share the most interesting things you can find but in the end you still have no clue what made some posts succeed and others fail.

It may not always feel this way but nonprofit organizations are perfectly positioned to succeed on social media. The NY Times conducted an in depth study on why people share and what they found was that 84% of people share on social media to support a cause. I want to share with you a technique that uses persuasion with people’s willingness to share their support for a cause. It can be done for free too!


The main concept behind this technique is simple but powerful. In fact, it’s so powerful that it is one of Robert Cialdini’s 6 principles in his famous book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The principle is reciprocity.

Reciprocity generally refers to an exchange, in most cases it’s mutually beneficial. In our case, we will be relying on people to return the favor or reciprocate our gesture. The best part is, it’s already been proven to work. When the sociologist Phillip Kunz sent Christmas cards to 600 complete strangers, he received more than 200 back with friendly, familiar messages such as “we received your holiday greeting with much joy and enthusiasm”. Not only did complete strangers send him cards, they all acted as if they knew him!

So how could this be used in your marketing efforts? Every organization is jostling and elbowing each other for a bigger audience and more awareness. After all, when it comes to nonprofit organizations, awareness can be the key to success (more donations, more volunteer participation, more engagement).

Instead of competing with other organizations for attention, why not use reciprocity with these organizations? With the power of reciprocity, your audience becomes a powerful tool you can use to gain more awareness for your cause by giving your audience’s attention to another organization. If you share the attention of your audience, you can usually get a person or organization to reciprocate by sharing their audience with you. So how do we you do this? 

How Social Media Can Augment Your Marketing Efforts

Step 1 – Find your Targets
Your first step is to find a target organization (or a few target organizations) with active social followings who you can target. You want to make sure if someone shares your content or your cause, they’re sharing it to someone.  Also, the most active thier profiles are, the more likely they are to share your content.

Step 2 – Share your Audience
In order to use reciprocity, you need to give before you get. Similar to the sociologist in the Christmas card case, you need to share something with your audience first. Preferably, this would include a mention or two of your target(s). This is easiest when you have a blog on your site or a way to create content that is easily shared.

Step 3 – Notify Your Targets
Finally, send a message to your targets telling them that you mentioned them and point them to the specific mention. It’s normally not enough to throw out a mention of a person or an organization and simply hope that they see it, you need to tell them.

This message doesn’t need to be anything special. In fact, I rarely ask for the return share. What’s most important is that they are notified that they were “featured”. I normally write something along the lines of “Hey, I just wanted to let you know we featured you in our article here: [insert link to article]. I hope you like it! Have a good day!”

Repeat this process and you can watch your audience grow for little more than a handful of social shares.

Additional Notes

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away. This doesn’t work every time. I personally receive about a 60% to 70% rate of sharing in my experiences. Don’t quote me though as those numbers are purely anecdotal and not statistical in any way. Additionally, every organization is going to experience different share levels. So if you keep on trying I guarantee you will see some success.

Almost more importantly, don’t abuse this process. Your audience’s attention is what makes this possible and they probably follow you for a reason. If you start filling your social feed with completely unrelated mentions of targets and poor content, you could lose the followers that make your organization successful.

That’s it! This is a simple to follow process on how you can leverage your audience to tap into other audiences. And in the end it costs you nothing more than giving something that was already free, a share or a link.