Introduction Channels

This is where the hiking boot meets the dirt, where the text meets the tweet, and the e-news meets the inbox. While there are practical implications for each step we’ve taken so far on this journey, these next sections are particularly practical. You might feel off-trail and disoriented, but this experience is intended and important, and will eventually lead you over, around, and through the nitty gritty of where and how you’ll share online. In this section, we’re going to figure out where.

The number of media channels grows constantly. Beyond our individual websites, blogs, and newsletters, we also have platforms—Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Periscope, and the list goes on. Print is a channel that people actively use and sometimes especially appreciate, so are broadcast television and radio.

When channels first began to erupt, media producers thought that a “make once, push everywhere” content strategy would work, and work efficiently. But since then, we’ve learned that each channel has its own language. By language we mean the distinct behaviors of channel users, their demographics, and the kinds of content that work well. To make things more complicated, the internal workings of each channel often change. For example, Facebook frequently updates the algorithms that determine what postings you will see in your Facebook news feed.

It’s unnecessary and probably impossible to be active on all the channels available. You can explore different channels by choosing a few organizations or people to follow and observe what they do. It’s also possible to experiment with creating content for a new channel by embargoing your content for a few weeks or months before going live. When you do this kind of experimenting, you can begin to get a feel for whether or not a particular channel feels right to you and your organization, and potentially create content you can stockpile for future use, as well.

You’ll likely find that because of your organization’s rhythm and personality, one channel or another may feel more natural and easier to use than another does. Listen to this instinct as you experiment with ways to engage people online. If you begin using a channel and it doesn’t seem to fit, don’t worry about switching or trying something else. Document your learning and move on.

In this section we’ll share some practical information about the most widely used channels, kinds of content most frequently shared, and how channels function for users. We also share an interview with On Being about their work across multiple channels. We’ll give you ideas for creating a channel “watch list” to learn about how a channel works and how you might join in.

If you’re feeling fatigue, or the heat of a blister forming, take a break, but get right back to it. These next sections bring with them challenges that give you tools and skills to use and reuse now, and as the digital landscape changes, as it continues to evolve.

15 minutes to skim
1 hour exercise
1 hour reflection
30 minutes to explore links
15 minutes to read again
3 hours total

Interviews Practitioners on Experimentation and Adaptation

Likes are nice, but they’re just an indicator of people paying attention.

We spoke with Digital Editor Mariah Helgeson and Co-Founder, Chief Content Officer, and Executive Editor Trent Gilliss to learn about the ways On Being attentively engages audiences across a range of social media channels.

Read the Interview

Exercise Create a Watch List

Pick a channel you’re considering experimenting with for your organization. If you don’t already have an account, create one. Start following people for inspiration and lessons in what to do and what not to do.

Step one: Explore #Hashtags

If the channel you selected uses #hashtags (Wikipedia), pick some to explore. You can find them through clicking through the posts of people you already follow, or through a hashtag explorer like Hashtags.orgHashtagify, or Keyhole (and TagDef is a good place to find out what a specific hashtag means).

Step two: Explore Organizations

Consider businesses, services, non-profits, educational resources, news sources, and competitors. Follow liberally understanding that you can as easily unfollow during the week or soon after.

Step three: Explore Individuals

Look for people that are retweeted and favorited by others. Follow recommendations from the platform if it recommends users to follow. Consider following people who work in social media, members of your audience and community, and micro or major celebrities.

Step four: Explore Bots

Don’t forget the bots (Wikipedia)! Not all channels have bots due to the APIs they share (for a refresher, visit the Strengths section), but for the channels that do, don’t forget to follow them, too. This may help you imagine how your assets could be shared automatically without a lot of burden on staff (or yourself).

Step five: Follow Closely for One Week

If you do not already have a habit of visiting the channel you selected, schedule time every day to pay attention to it. It’s important to not single it out (via a list or separate account) because this will allow you to notice how some posts rise above the chatter and noise of the channel. Make notes as you go about what you saw, shared, remembered, or that you quickly passed over.

Feel free to interact through commenting, chatting, liking, favoriting, re-posting the content you find interesting.

Step six: Reflect and Repeat

After one week, answer the following questions:

  1. Who inspired you? Why? What was it about their posts? What would you need in terms of time, resources, and technology to do something comparable for your organization? Would it serve a need your community already has?
  2. Who can’t you wait to unfollow? Why? Paying attention to who you don’t want to be like can be as important as finding someone to emulate.

Reflection Team Time

Step one: Get to know the most used channels

In thinking about which channels are right for your organization, you will want to consider things like how frequently you want to engage, the audience you most want to connect with, and how much of your content is likely to be words, photography and images, video, or links. Part of figuring out which channels are right for you will also be about how it feels to make certain kinds of content. When it feels natural and comfortable, you are more likely to be active consistently and authentically and more people are likely to engage with you.

Thanks to Eric Woodhams, Director of Digital Content and Engagement at Carnegie Hall, for sharing his “channels” toolkit with us as a way to guide your thinking about where you want to be active. If you aren’t already familiar with the most popular channels, review his tip sheets for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Tumblr, and blogs.

Step two: Schedule reflection time at your next team meeting

You’ll need 15-30 minutes at your next two team meetings to do this activity. You’ll be spending time reflecting individually and as a group on how to have a reflective conversation about ways you can share your work and engage with people online. Does your organization’s work lend itself naturally to photography and visual images? Do you communicate mainly in words? What about video?

For the first meeting, as a team, spend a couple minutes picking three recent activities or ideas that you could have shared on social media during the past week.

Step three: Individual reflection

For the next seven minutes, work alone. Think about how it would be easiest and most natural for you to share these three things if it were up to you personally. Would you use a picture, a few words, a link, a video? Think also about who would you want to share it with. (Older audiences are less likely to use Snapchat, for example.)

Step four: Gather again as a team

Share your individual perspectives. Talk about which approaches seem to fit the rhythm and personality of your organization. On which channel(s) will it come most naturally to post and interact? Why do you think so?

Step five: Test your ideas

Enlist all or some of your team members in building a week’s worth of embargoed content for the channel(s) you choose. For this exercise, limit the content to one posting per day (whether created as drafts of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other posts). Note: These posts are exercises, not things you will actually share.

Share and discuss the draft postings at your next team meeting. Does the content “feel like us”? How hard or easy was it to create? What would we do differently next time?

Feel free to do this frequently at team meetings, coming up with new ideas of things to share.

Go Further Keeping Up w/ Changing Channels

Channels are constantly changing so it’s important to stay abreast of their development. You may need to adjust your offerings to fit the new schemes of social media platforms and to make sure that your community can find you (and vice versa). Here are some reliable sources of information about different channels, how to use them, and how they’re evolving.

# 1 – The Most Popular Social Networking Sites

This website is updated monthly with information on the top sites, including rankings, numbers of users and demographic information. You can learn about new platforms to explore and watch the rankings change over time.

# 2 – HootSuite’s Social Media Glossary

This website was last updated in 2015 and defines 207 essential terms in social media. If you come across a term you don’t know, like “abandon rate” or “net promoter score” you can look it up in this glossary.

# 3 – NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network

Read NTEN’s blog or follow them on social media to benefit from their research and user-friendly information about all things nonprofit tech. NTEN sponsors an annual conference which you can attend or follow on Twitter. Past conference information is also shared online, including speakers’ presentations. NTEN convenes on-line trainings and webinars about nonprofit tech.

# 4 – Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media

Beth Kanter is an independent consultant whose work focuses on nonprofits and technology. The author of multiple books on the subject, she has a friendly, no-nonsense approach that make her one of the most widely followed experts in nonprofit tech.

# 5 – Tech Crunch or Fast Company

Tech Crunch is a media news outlet where tech is covered with urgency and attitude. If Tech Crunch is too techie for you, try Fast Company. Fast Company is directed toward “the new breed of innovative and creative thought leaders” and often includes examples in the for- and not-for- profit cultural sector.

Tech Crunch and Fast Company have different personalities, but they both provide in-depth news for the tech industry including developments taking place within various social media platforms, and news about new entrants.

Think Deeper Know What You're Getting Into

How can you treat the attention you receive responsibly?

Digital engagement brings with it opportunities to deepen relationships with your audiences, expose your organization’s offerings to new people, and do the work of your mission more broadly. But it also brings with it ethical questions, and fosters habits for life interruption. Social networks and digital technology easily become such a regular and constant part of our lives that even frequent distraction and disconnection feel normal.

As an organization contributing to this landscape of opportunities for distraction, it is important to view one’s own work through a critical lens. How does your organization contribute to a culture of distraction? How might you use digital platforms for meaningful or fulfilling engagement rather than distraction? How can you tell the difference? How could your online work foster experiences or connections that unfold off-line?

How do you explore without scattering your energy?

New platforms and the array of well-established channels offer enticing options to spread out and experiment. This can be an important part of finding avenues that fit your organizational voice and connecting with existing and potential audiences where they are already invested. That said, there is a fine line between spreading out and getting spread too thin. A quick fix might seem to be to simply copy and paste the same post to multiple channels, but each channel has its own rhythm, norms, and character. Copy and paste might be fast, but it doesn’t serve your audiences or your organization well. How will you find a balance between trying new channels and taking the time to connect with audiences and build a following in each channel? How might postings for different channels be streamlined and incorporated into work flows? How will you make room for the commitment of a new channel? How will you decide to leave a channel?

Next Story


Story by admin

Read this Story


This course was created to encourage small and under-resourced non-profit professionals to navigate the changing landscapes of digital engagement with a spirit of possibility, experimentation, and thoughtfulness.

Read more about what inspired the course and learn about its makers.

Wanderway was commissioned by the Wyncote Foundation

Shortcuts to Sections