Lessons from Pioneers in Justice: Social Media Integration is Key to Maximizing Nonprofits’ Reach

Lessons from Pioneers in Justice: Social Media Integration is Key to Maximizing Nonprofits’ Reach

Lessons Learned from the Pioneers in Justice Initiative

This post is the first in a series being published in support of our work with the Pioneers in Justice initiative of the Levi Strauss Foundation. This multi-year initiative is working with next-generation leaders of social justice organizations to enable peer learning and equip them with new tools, strategies and ways of working to create change. Read more about our work with the initiative.

By Sherbeam Wright

Social justice organizations have proven their ability to advocate, educate and organize like no other. Through social media, their power has been magnified exponentially. That said, bridging the connections from the community on the ground to the community in the cloud is not without its challenges—there are a multitude of roadblocks to be faced.

In 2010, ZeroDivide began working with the Levi Strauss Foundation to partner with five San Francisco-based social justice organizations on the five-year Pioneers in Justice initiative. The goal of our work together was to provide these organizations with technology and social media resources to build and scale their social media practices—supporting their growth and elevating their voices.

From early on, we identified that among the key challenges faced by the Pioneers was the need to find new, efficient ways to utilize expertise across their organizations to build robust social media presences within the constraints of both limited resources and human capital. Though ubiquitous among many nonprofits, these challenges are particularly difficult within civil rights organizations grappling with complex social issues that can be challenging to communicate.


Operating with these constraints, we identified two primary social media integration efforts that are not only helping the Pioneers to streamline communications, but also move from a sole communications staff member to “a staff that communicates” by promoting cross-organizational collaboration and ownership. These are: 1) Incorporating social media during the planning of external communications and marketing, and 2) Supporting internal staff adoption of social media.

In short, the Pioneers, true to their name, were able to navigate to successful organizational outcomes with limited resources. What follows are three best practices adopted and implemented by the pioneering organizations to support their social media integration efforts.

Best Practice 1: Have a Goal

Sounds simple enough, but many campaigns lack strategy and are developed without purpose and identified goals (i.e., an educational campaign employing Facebook to increase “Likes” or a Twitter strategy to increase retweets). Upon completion, organizers have difficulty judging their impact and using the resulting data to hone their future activities.

Instead, communications and social media activity should be viewed through the lens of overall organizational goals. While any social media-infused communications plan will have its own specific goals and objectives, a well-thought-out plan will mirror the organization’s larger goals and objectives. Integrating goal-based social media into overall communications planning will not only result in more consistent and cohesive communications activity, but also:

  • Support the development and execution of a more robust and effective campaign; and
  • Result in more insightful 360° reporting at the close of the campaign.

Best Practice 2: Gain Buy-In

The nature of social media is that it connects and leverages people, organizations and ideas. It is imperative to gain buy-in of key non-communications staff. Building capacity and reach by harnessing the expertise and voices of others becomes crucial to success.

However, getting attorneys, program staff and executive staff to post to Facebook, tweet regularly or take other actions through an online channel can be a big ask. Getting their buy-in means making social media matter. Empower your team to understand the value of their work, voices and expertise in supporting organizational goals and reaching all audiences. And then give them the tools, training and guidance needed to act effectively toward reaching these goals and the target audiences.

Best Practice 3: Think Extension, Not Addition.

One issue some organizations face when using social media for communications and marketing is viewing it as an add-on or additional function. Psychologically and emotionally, thinking of social media as additional work can make the cost appear to outweigh the benefit, and the challenge is even greater for non-communications staff. This notion can result in social media being an afterthought, and opportunities to leverage photos, videos, quotes and other content to meet organizational goals are lost.

For each communications activity, start by taking a moment to think about:

  1. Where does your audience reside? Does your audience use Facebook? Are they active on Twitter ?
  2. How might you best leverage your choice networks and channels? Should you have an Instagram-based photo contest that is tied to an educational campaign?
  3. How migh you best leverage subject matter experts on your staff? Should you host a Twitter chat with staff or guest thought leaders to answer questions about new or changing legislation?

By integrating these three best practices we gleaned from the experiences of the Pioneers in Justice, you can not only elevate your organization’s communications activity, but make the integration of social media into your overall planning and activity seamless.

Our next post in this series will build on these best practices for social media integration, dive a bit deeper into some of the other strategies implemented by the Pioneers, and offer specific examples of successful campaigns and tactics. Stay tuned!

Sherbeam Wright is a social media and communications expert currently working under contract with ZeroDivide.

edemocracy, Pioneers in Justice