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Why using Facebook for social good matters in Zimbabwe
Masimba Biriwasha
January 21, 2013

Social media is the big talk today but before you jump onto the bandwagon as a non profit institution or manager in Zimbabwe you have to be aware of some basic guidelines. Otherwise you'll find yourself sucked into a digital vacuum with little to show for your efforts and time. As you develop your Facebook strategy, you have to make sure that you are not wasting time doing things that give you very little return.

Firstly, social media usage is growing exponentially in Zimbabwe in tandem with growth in mobile telephony and increased penetration of internet access. Facebook is by far the largest internet-based social platform in Zimbabwe with an estimated one million plus people connected onto it.

With the number of people on Facebook growing on a daily basis, non profit institutions in the country can only ignore it at their own peril. The benefits of getting involved with social networking including gaining visibility, mobilization and advocacy far outweigh non-involvement.

Some local corporate institutions, for example Econet and Telecel, are already taking the lead with their pages as big as 100 000 fans. That's quite a significant reach. If they can convert 10 per cent of that fan base for real business, that-s quite significant. Of course, they are big brands but nowhere is it written that non profit institutions cannot achieve the same.

Having said that, part of the role of non-profit institutions is to spread messages: social media provides a low cost and fast method to reach out to thousands of people. Because non-profit messaging tends to be drab and boring, there is a need to give content posted onto Facebook a human face. Sharing humanised content makes your fan base feel connected to your message. People respond to that.

It's important to state that there is no one "right" way to do everything on Facebook. Making mistakes is part of the deal. These guidelines are aimed at providing you with a good place to start while you watch out what works best for you and develop your own rhythm.

Of course, the first step is to establish a Facebook page or community with signage that promotes your institutions. A Facebook group is closed and can only grow up to 5,000 people while a Facebook page is open and encourage wider reach of your brand. Defining your goals and objectives at the outset and having these as part of the communications mix is essential.

One of the key things to understand with Facebook is that you don't have to post all the time otherwise you'll soon bore your fans with spam-like posts. Most people in Zimbabwe engage with Facebook from approximately eight in the morning to eight in the evening: try and spread your posts within that period. Because most people access the Net at workplaces, the amount of Zimbos on Facebook dramatically dips during weekends. Suffice to state, an average of six to eight posts - properly spaced out - is enough not to be regarded as being intrusive. The key takeaway here is that do some research and learn when your audience is online, both the hours of the day and days of the week.

You need to post new and relevant content on Facebook to keep people interested. The average half-life of a Facebook post is about three hours. Because of this, it is a good practice to post more than once a day to get the most engagement out of your posts.

The key to success with social media is engagement but this does not mean spending copious amounts of time on Facebook: time that could be devoted to other jobs. Successful brands that use social media shy away from preaching or selling to their fan base. Rather, they strive to develop a mutually-beneficial conversation. They also make strategic posts that are not seen as being invasive in the virtual space.

You have to develop a strategy that you stick to; part of that strategy must involve posting something onto your profile every day. If you don-t have a strategy to post every day, your page can be easily lost as your fans concentrate on more engaging content outlets. Ask questions, post helpful tips, links to articles that your audience will Like and Share.

According to social media gurus, Hubpost.com in a publication titled, "How to Engage Fans on Facebook," "... when you make the posts about your audience and what they need rather than preaching, you will develop a richer and deeper relationship with your community."

Developing a richer and deeper relationship with your community is also a function of not only focusing on self in the social media strategy. A non-profit institution-s core message must be placed within other content that adds value to the target audience.

More nuggets from the Hupspot.com publication which are relevant for the Zimbabwean audience include setting aside time to follow up on posts and respond to questions on your Wall because responding to your fans is an easy way to increase engagement and create lasting relationships.

Another strategy that non profit institutions need to employ is to encourage target audiences to also share their own content, which can help to enhance the social value of Facebook pages.

A picture speaks a thousand words, states an old adage. And this still holds true in the virtual space. Incorporating visual content to share on Facebook can also enhance engagement. Pictures tend to produce a reaction. Non profit institutions can post pictures or videos of the work they are doing. They can also post pictures of beneficiaries.

According to Hubspot.com, Facebook-s research shows that photo albums, pictures, and videos increase engagement by 180 percent, 120 percent, and 100 percent, respectively, more than content without visuals.

Visual content can help in getting your followers to expand the reach of your institution especially if they like or share the content with their friends and followers. Keeping content dignified and positive is essential to enhance visual stimulation. Of importance though, it is important to relate some images to your key messaging.

Whatever you do, don't forget to make it fun. After all, Facebook is a social community. People are there to have fun.

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