Your People Are Talking. Are You Listening?

LIstening pooch

Houston, we have a tweet.

There’s a good chance that some of your supporters are actively talking about your campaigns on social media. Some of them probably have a pretty sizable following.

The question is: Are you listening to them?

Social listening is a relatively new marketing tactic, especially for nonprofits. Looking at the big picture, it was only 2012 when Dell launched their first social media control room, which took 70 staff to monitor conversations! At the time, the ability to respond to the latest news and trends on social that were relevant to their audience was totally remarkable. Today, it’s not only expected, but essential to push campaigns forward.

For nonprofits, what is exciting about advances in social listening is how affordable it has become to process data. Organizations can now use a proven strategy once reserved for the largest commercial brands at a price that leaves plenty of budget for the great work they do.

Social Media Listening Defined

Social listening is the process of monitoring digital media channels to understand the conversations around relevant topics so you can better engage those people driving the discussion.

In other words, it allows you to track relevant search terms on your people, so when they say “I love your campaign!” you say “We love your support, and here’s how you can help today.”

As communicators, it’s critical that we understand how, and if, our base is talking about our key issues and hashtags. It’s not only interesting to see the nature of the conversation, but it informs our content strategy and offers powerful opportunities to reply in real time through personalized, multi-channel engagement.

By listening to what a supporter, donor, or partner is saying on social media, your organization can understand which issues resonate and why. You can literally see how people are talking about your work!

Social Listening Increases Engagement Through Personalization

When we talk about personalization in the context of engagement, it’s about knowing your audience better so they can be sent the most relevant content when it’s top of mind. Modern personalization combines social media insights, social listening, and information you already have in your CRM to allow for precise segmentation that delivers the right messages on the right channels.

Here’s how social listening drives conversions:

Using a powerful combination of social listening and marketing automation, American Rivers had a staggering 24% petition completion rate for a recent campaign. Each time a supporter mentioned “Grand Canyon” on Twitter or Facebook, that person was placed into a segmented email group and received an automated email asking them to sign their petition within 24 hours of the mention.

By sending automated emails when our supporters mentioned “Grand Canyon,” American Rivers gained 2,500 new petition signers with an impressive 24% petition signature conversion rate.

Given that M+R’s 2015 Benchmarks Report found that the average advocacy email response rate to be 2.9%, this is a pretty impressive response!

Your People Are Talking About Your Campaigns

A few days after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker nonprofit organization which promotes an end to discrimination, noticed a significant shift in focus on social media to the hashtag #Ferguson.

They could quickly see that terms such as “police” started trending, not just nationally, but in their own database. In order to see which supporters were talking about Ferguson, AFSC created a saved search to see exactly who was talking about Ferguson on Facebook and Twitter. They then invited those supporters to a Google Hangout to hear AFSC’s response to the events as they unfolded.

The result was a record high Google Hangout turnout and 74 donations.

More importantly, AFSC seized the opportunity to talk about solutions around discrimination as the Movement for Black Lives gained momentum.

The takeaway from AFSC and American Rivers is that timing is everything—if there is a swell in the conversations about the work you do, seize the moment and send out an action alert or donation appeal while the issue is top of mind, not in next month’s newsletter.

Engage Your “Everyday” Influencers

Sample tweet: "10 great American hikes for beginners."

Perhaps one of the most practical uses of social listening is to find your “everyday” influencers or ambassadors talking about your search terms on social media. For example, if you’re a wilderness protection organization, your key search terms may be “public lands,” “wilderness,” or “conservation.” The best terms give you the chance to reply with a call to action like a petition, donation, infographic, video, blog, etc.

Here we can see that Deanie has a moderate Klout score of 39, which means she’s active on social media and has around 500 followers. What’s important here is that she’s actively posting about wilderness issues on Twitter. That’s huge, and here’s why.

The majority of your social media influencers will fall into this category. They have moderate Klout scores (40-60) and up to a few thousand social connections. While they won’t have the reach of a super VIP influencer, when combined in a group, they can extend your network reach by thousands. This is particularly true if their followers are frequently engaging with their content.

We recommend using social listening on your current email list (or CRM), since you’ve already recruited these folks to your cause. These are folks that would be the most thrilled if you asked them share your content to their networks on a regular basis (think Brand Ambassadors). According to Ogilvy, 36% of people globally share content to promote a cause, including influencers, so the chances of them sharing a personalized appeal are pretty good.

Respond to Trending Hashtags With Social Listening

hashtag stats

Often you may suspect a hashtag is trending with your base but can’t back it up with real data. Social listening is like running a daily poll on your supporters so you have a real-time pulse of your people.

The screenshot above came from a small wilderness protection group, where #cop21 was mentioned 601 times by their supporters in one day. Even though they don’t have a formal climate program, the continued protection of wilderness is obviously critical for climate change and was a great indicator that this is important to people on their email list. As long as you can make a reasonable connection, think about using trending hashtags in the same way organizations with “official programs” do, like the World Wildlife Fund below.

Ride The Wave: Create a trending hashtag meme

WWF hashtag meme example

Timing is of the essence, since many terms are only hot for a few days or weeks. If the term is trending in your CRM—which a tool like will show you—it means it’s time to engage everyone who used the term, especially your influencers.

Ask Your Influencers to Share Content

Nonprofits have an enormous opportunity to recruit passionate followers online who will extend the reach of content and help secure future supporters. The idea here is to tap into other people’s networks who will share your content to their own followers. It’s one of the smartest ways to grow your base and move the needle on engagement.

Once you’ve identified your influencers, sort by Klout score and your trending hashtag. Social listening allows you to evaluate what your top influencers are talking about on social media so you aren’t pitching them out of the blue. Read our How to Approach Your Social Media Influencers for more tips.

Social Listening at NTC—Be there!

Join our panel at the NTC and hear from American Friends Service Committee, ONE Campaign, and Check out our workshop session here.


Jeanette Russell
Jeanette is a nonprofit marketer at Blackbaud who is dedicated to scaling #socialgood through nonprofit technology. During her 20 years in nonprofit sector, she’s worked with thousands of nonprofits and brings a deep understanding of organizing, fundraising and modern engagement. Passionate about social change, Jeanette writes and speaks nationally about how technology empowers everyday advocates to take greater roles in helping cause deliver their mission. As a digital pioneer living in Missoula, Montana, she’s spent nearly a decade evangelizing one of first online engagement platforms, Salsa Labs, then joined as the Marketing Director which was acquired by Blackbaud in 2016. Jeanette has served on the advisory board of JustGive, Board Director of the New Leaders Council (MT) and co-founded the National Forest Protection Alliance.