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Six Ways to Connect People to Your Cause Through Social Media

February 16, 2017

Social-media-300x200A lot has changed since the National Park Foundation shared its first Facebook post in 2008.

Before then, landing an interview on a national news program or with a daily newspaper was enough to reach the masses.

Now, traditional media shares the spotlight with social media and other innovative forms of communication. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and the like have opened up a new world of possibilities for the sharing of content. And while NPF continues to use traditional advertising, public relations, content marketing, and events to engage current supporters and reach new audiences, social media plays an increasingly important role in our marketing and communications mix.

Here are some of the social media tactics we use to reach people of different ages and backgrounds and inspire them to care about our cause:

1. Create a movement with a call to action that inspires social sharing. In anticipation of the National Park Service Centennial celebration in 2016, we launched Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque in 2015, a bilingual public engagement campaign designed to reach millennial audiences through traditional and new media platforms. The groundswell created by the campaign inspired a movement, with more than one in three millennials becoming familiar with #FindYourPark and #EncuentraTuParque through our strategic communications efforts, including print and Web media, public service announcements, live events, and donated advertising. But the campaign really took off on social media, as supporters of the national park system responded in huge numbers to our call to share their memories and tips for exploring these incredible places with those who had never experienced them. Indeed, over the course of the campaign, we registered more than 5.9 million engagements through our social media channels.

2. Partner with influencers, including celebrities. There's no doubt that the right celebrity ambassador can bring star power to your cause and get new eyeballs on your work. Our Find Your Park/Encuentra Tu Parque ambassadors have been fantastic partners in doing just that. From Mary Lambert performing a Facebook Live pop-up concert in front of Stonewall National Monument to Bill Nye hosting a modern-day telethon via Mashable's Facebook page in support of #GivingTuesday, our message is reaching more people in new and innovative ways. But don't discount the impact and importance of everyday influencers. Participants in our Find Your Park Expedition, for example, are social media personalities and bloggers who "bring" people along with them when they explore a national park by sharing their experiences online. We know that people are compelled to act by genuine, authentic narratives. While the channels through which we deliver those narratives may vary, curiosity about what our national parks represent and the urge to help preserve them for future generations transcends demographics and cultural differences.

3. Create and share relevant content. Develop an editorial calendar that includes cultural touchstones as generic as Halloween and as niche-y as Mountain Crush Mondays and then create content that connects your cause or mission to that holiday or event. For example, we published a blog post featuring park rangers reading from a ghost story collection we created in partnership with Joseph Gordon Levitt's hitRECord, and we're constantly looking for ways – whether it's a thoughtful listicle or a personal reflection piece – to show people that national parks are more than just beautiful landscapes.

4. Be social with your community. An enduring truth of social media is that it's just that – social. Beyond a comment, like, or share, you need to engage with members of your community and let them know you're paying attention. Thank them when they share your content. Thank them when they donate. Thank them when they name-check you in a post or on Facebook or Twitter. And think about ways you can amplify your voice in the broader community. Invite partner organizations to participate in Q&As on your blog and encourage them to share the finished piece via their social media channels as well.

5. Invest in custom content that supports your cause in creative (and even funny) ways. Last year, we teamed up with Funny Or Die to produce a hilarious spoof of "dating" apps that people could use to find the park of their dreams. More recently, we worked with a creative team to produce a series of fifteen-second clips that use money and origami to illustrate what your contributions do for our national parks. Short videos are great content for social media and are an excellent way to grab someone's attention as he or she is scrolling through a feed.

6. Leverage social movements such as #GivingTuesday. By proactively participating in the conversation around high-profile giving days and events, you make it easier for your followers on social media to support your organization. By investing in Facebook ads tied to #GivingTuesday, for example, we were able to connect with a millennial demographic that is keenly interested in supporting causes they believe in. In fact, people age 34 and under were nearly three times more responsive to our Facebook ads on #GivingTuesday than they were during the rest of December.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Park Foundation and the 101st year of the National Park Service, we've been energized by the social media successes we've seen to date. But as millennials continue to reshape the economy and the way nonprofits operate, we know we must evolve to remain relevant. That means taking risks, testing new approaches, and adapting our storytelling to the needs of emerging channels. By creating engaging, fun content that resonates with diverse audiences, our social platforms enable us to clearly demonstrate how the National Park Foundation and the funds we raise directly benefit the National Park Service.

Headshot_Angela HearnAngela Hearn is senior vice president of marketing and communications at the National Park Foundation.

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Can't stress the importance of step number three enough - relevant content is key to engagement, I even started my own blog (www.renatonegrin.com) just to keep a stream of relevant content that I link to all my social channels.

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