Insights from NTC '16: Unlocking the Key to Social Listening

When it comes to the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), most first-timers and seasoned veterans alike would agree – the energy and passion associated with the NTC lasts long after the final session.

It’s been a week since the last session closed, and the #16NTC hashtag is still getting love on Twitter. With 100+ educational sessions, ignite talks, birds of a feather lunches, and small but powerful chats between sessions, it’s no wonder the conference buzz keeps us thinking and engaging.

Speaking of buzz and hashtags, it was no surprise that many of this year’s NTC sessions included key points on integrating social media into nonprofit digital strategies. What was surprising is that only a handful of sessions were fully dedicated to social media. One social-focused session was, “Your People Are Talking, Are You Listening? Increase Conversions through Social Listening”. And if you’re at all interested in social listening and optimizing conversion (who isn’t, right?), then you’ll want to take a look at the highlights from this session.

First, let’s start with a baseline definition of social listening…

Social listening generally refers to activities such as monitoring brand mentions and keywords related to an organization’s mission and programs. It also includes identifying influencers and advocates, and responding to questions and feedback on social.

Here’s a succinct definition captured during the session:

social listening 1

Here’s what you should listen for…

Listen for key terms

Begin by brainstorming as many key terms as possible that are associated with your organization’s campaigns and programs. Take time to create and refine this list, and keep updating it as new campaigns and programs roll out. Also, keep these words of wisdom in mind:

  • Find terms that are broad enough to capture a volume of mentions, but specific enough to reflect your intent.
  • Be careful about using “wonky” terms. Acronyms and industry vernacular may be commonplace for organization insiders, but those terms will often sound foreign to supporters.

social listening 2

Listen for weekly trends

Throughout the year, your supporters will be talking about a wide range of campaigns and issues. The goal is to keep your finger on the pulse of the core conversations and trending hashtags so your engagement remains relevant on a weekly and daily basis.

You’ll also notice that many trending hashtags among your audience base may not be directly related to your organization’s campaigns and issues. In these cases, look for creative and relevant ways to join the conversation. For instance, in a post by Jon Haydon on nonprofit “newsjacking”, he presented five examples of organizations creatively weaving their stories into Oscar night, including this example from Habitat for Humanity:

social listening 3

Connect social and email to personalize engagement and increase conversions

After you’re set up to listen for key terms and trends, the next step is to use those insights to deliver timely, targeted and highly relevant calls to action. A powerful way to do this is to integrate the strengths of social listening and social data with the direct response efficacy email.

Essentially, with the right tools, nonprofits can connect email and social media to better understand:

  • The social networks your on-file supporters prefer
  • Who on your email lists follows you on Twitter
  • Which topics your on-file supporters are most engaged with on social
  • Insights into your influencers, including influencers on your email file

By connecting social with email, you can send more personalized CTAs that optimize conversion

So, when someone on your file talks about a campaign or program-related term on social, you can send a triggered email with a call-to-action (CTA) that’s directly related to that key term. The CTA could be a donation request, a petition, event invitation, Twitter storm or other highly relevant CTA.

In a case study by, American Rivers monitored key mission and program-related search terms on social, such as “grand canyon” and “national parks.” When on-file constituents mentioned these terms on social, they would receive a highly targeted automated email within 24 hours of the mention. The email asked supporters to sign or share a relevant petition.

social listening 4

In this case study, using social insights to power personalized email resulted in a 24% conversion rate and 2400 new sign ups.

Identifying and activating social influencers

Did you know that your nonprofit likely has influencers hiding out in your CRM? And the potential for expanding your mission’s reach via those influencers can be vast. In fact, reported during the session that they found: “the top 5% of supporters in our clients’ CRM comprise 85% of their network reach.

social listening 5

As a starting point for identifying and activating influencers, it’s important to acknowledge that there are different types of influencers. And the activation approach needs to be customized accordingly. Session presenters identified three types of influencers:

  • VIPS: These influencers have high Klout scores of around 80 of greater, and an extensive following. They make up about 1% of your base and may include high-profile musicians, actors, athletes, movement leaders, etc.
  • Professional Influencers: These individuals have Klout scores around 68, and have around 12,000 connections. They are highly engaged on social, and most of their engagement is professional in nature.
  • Everyday Influencers: These supporters have a Klout score of 40+ and have 500+ connections. These influencers are motivated by passion. They are by far the largest group on your file and are the most accessible.

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When preparing to engage influencers, keep their influencer type and their motivations in mind. Get to know your influencers before reaching out with an ask. You can do this by following them and getting on their radar by interacting and asking questions. After establishing the relationship, you’re ready to reach out with an ask. Ensure your CTA also matches the influencer type and their preferences for engagement. For instance, some of your influencers may be more likely to share content. Meanwhile, other influencers may have the desire and the readiness to co-create content around an issue or as part of a campaign.

What are your experiences with social listening? Share your wins and your insights in the comment section below. Or keep the NTC fire burning and jump onto the session hashtag #16NTClisten with your thoughts.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Anita Jackson

    As one of the presenters for this panel, I want to thank you for covering it! At MomsRising, we’ve found a number of strategies for social listening that have increased our impact in a targeted, growth-oriented way. It was great to talk with folks about those strategies, and to hear what works for others.

  • Donna Arriaga

    Hi Anita, thanks for your comment. Your session at NTC was incredibly informative and engaging! It was a pleasure to cover some of the highlights here on our blog.

  • Amy Sample Ward

    Thank you so much for being part of the 16NTC and sharing your highlights and experience with the community in this way. 🙂

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