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Nonprofit Social Media: Audience Assessment

Diverse Lego Audience
Photo courtesy of dunechaser

Recently, I was talking to a few members of a nonprofit who were frustrated with their higher-ups who were pushing major projects on Facebook without having a clear understanding of what they were using Facebook for in the first place. Somewhat ironically, by posting the question to Aspiration’s Facebook Wall, we got some interesting responses including many that mentioned planning out a well thought-out strategy and examining your audience. Many organizations want to get involved with social media but don’t know how they want to take advantage of the tools. It’s important to look at some big questions to develop something of an organizational strategy around social media and I thought this would be a good chance to post some thoughts about assessing your audience online when beginning your social media ventures.

Who are we talking to?

Different organizations have different audiences. Shocking, I know. The National Puppy Lover’s Association of America and the People for the Proliferation of Puppy Loafers are not going to send out the same messages, content or have the same conversations with the same people. This is something that seems simple to the point where many organizations dismiss it as common sense. However, this is a mistake. On a surface level, yes, it is easy to understand, but diving in deeper brings up questions that an organization must come to a consensus about before using a new communications tool to connect with that audience:

Audience Vs. Constituency

Organizations need to make a distinction between their constituency and their audience. Ask “who are you advocating on behalf of?” and “who are you trying to reach?” as separate questions. Both of these groups will be connected to your organization but may want very different things from your communications. How will your organization address the needs of both? For example, if your organization advocates for better prison system public health programs, you may be advocating for prisoners who receive poor healthcare services but you may be trying to reach the general public who have no idea about these conditions who may be able to provide support. Are your social media tools giving a community to those you’re advocating for while informing people who you need to inform? In other words, how can your organization use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to provide continued value to followers as well as outreach to strangers?

Next, ask yourself what each group wants from you as an organization. Do the families of the prisoners that you advocate for want information on upcoming policy meetings? Would they rather a place that simply shows your organization’s progress with these issues? In general, what can you provide your audience if they choose to follow or fan you? Notification of events? Connections to similar organizations? Conversation? Related resources? Tagged photos? If you are asking your followers to do something (even if it is simply to follow you) then you need to give them value in return. Social media is a two way street of give and take. Make sure you’re at least balancing the two out if not providing more.

After asking these questions yourself, another useful thing to do is ask the followers themselves. If you have a few followers that have shown their support, ask them why they’re following you. Ask them what they want to see from you or how you can be more useful for them. Remember that social media is all about personal relationships, so talk to your followers as people. Don’t just drool over the increasing number of fans. These conversations are what social media is built for so take advantage and don’t feel as though you have to have all of the answers right away.


Realize that your online audience may vary drastically from your traditional offline audience and that audiences from online network to network also can vary. Traditionally Facebook and Twitter were known as social networks for the younger generation, but that is no longer true according to a recent study put out by Ignite Social Media with middle-aged adults comprising the largest percentage of both networks users (Facebook ages 45-55 and Twitter ages 35-45). Other tools like MySpace and LinkedIn are increasingly becoming niche networks. MySpace is increasingly focused on the music industry and its users tend to have lower incomes than the users of Facebook and Twitter. Members of LinkedIn, focused on business relationships, tend to be of higher incomes, higher education and a similar middle-aged spread to that of Facebook and Twitter (ages 35-55).

After talking through these questions and getting a better sense of who you want to be connecting to, you can start making more informed decisions about the tools that you use. Realize that most of these questions are organizational process questions. As an organization, there needs to be some consensus on who you are talking to, what they’re looking for from you and what you want out of them. Technology should come last.

What do you all think about assessing your social media audience as a nonprofit? What did I forget to include? Do you have any experience looking at these issues? How did you analyze the audience for your organization? Let me know in the comments!

And for more information about effective nonprofit social media strategy, check out Aspiration’s eAdvocacy Training Materials!


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