Cartridge With BuckshotJust about every nonprofit marketing consultant I know, yours truly included, ridicules the idea of “spray and pray” marketing, where you throw out as much stuff as you can at “the general public” and hope that some of it hits the right people.  Nonprofits can’t afford to be that wasteful of their time and money.

Instead, we tell you, be more refined and focused in your approach. Decide who is most important for you to reach, and tailor your messaging to reach those people.

I’m sticking with that philosophy and strongly suggest you do too. However, you need to be aware that others are giving up on it, and promoting “spray and pray” as the better alternative, especially in social media. I tell you this so when some board member or intern produces a blog post like the one Jay Baer recently wrote, you’ll be ready.

Jay published a post called Why It Might Be Time to Completely Change Your Social Media Strategy. In it, he bemoans the loss of “reliable reach” — that small (and getting smaller) percentage of your social media fans and followers who actually see your posts without you having to pay to promote them.  We are ALL bemoaning it. We all feel played by Facebook in particular with their bait and switch tactics. Jay believes it’s just the beginning of “pay to play” in all of social media, and he may be right.

His advice is to move away from producing high-quality content tailored to each specific social network and building your lists of fans (what he calls the rifle approach) to what he calls “the shotgun approach” excerpted here:

  • You need to be sending more messages in more places.
  • The total potential size of a social network is far less relevant than the number of people you ACTUALLY reach there.
  • Because such a small percentage of your total audience will see any one message you send in any particular venue, you can adopt an editorial calendar that works across-the-board, with changes in execution to fit each network’s norms.

In the shotgun approach, you don’t worry as much about building a big audience in any particular network, but instead building a touchpoint corral around each of your customers and fans. The holy grail isn’t one million Facebook fans, but being connected to each of your fans in as many places as possible. The more places you are connected to your customers and fans, the more places you have permission to contact them, the greater the chances that you will actually be able to contact them somehow, somewhere.

Now, we’ve always recommended that the more places you can reach people, the better. In the ideal world, you can direct mail and email supporters, and they are following you on several different social media channels. So I don’t disagree with Jay on that concept (although I despise the metaphor of putting people in corrals where you can blast them with your content shotgun).

But I do believe that the shotgun-style approach to communications is a big step backwards, especially for nonprofits. You need to build rapport, to build relationships, so people help you change the world.

You can’t do that very well with a traditional advertising model, which is basically what the shotgun approach amounts to. You are dropping the “social” out of “social media,” and just seeing it as another advertising medium. When you do that, you are really losing out on all the benefits that social media can bring — all that rapport building. Maddie Grant  sums this up well in her reply to Jay’s post: It’s Official – Marketing Will Destroy Everything Good about Social Media.

I’m not as pessimistic as Maddie. I think there will eventually be some kind of next-gen social media that allows people to better manage how they see “brand” content, which includes messaging from your nonprofit. I don’t know what it is yet, but I believe it’s coming. Maybe it’s paying a fee for your social media account which gives you better control over what you see in your newsfeeds, instead of relying on the algorithms. Who knows.

In the meantime, stay the course.  Connect with your supporters in as many channels as you can, and give them high-quality content. Publish content that positions you as “friend and family” and not as an advertiser. And budget for some post promotion so you can “play” with this current generation of social media.