I spoke with Lynn Trombetta of Aid for Friends on Thursday, August 3, 2017. I talked with Lynn about Aid for Friends' social media strategy, what social media platforms Aid for Friends is on, what is working for them, and what they would like to see improved.
Ms. Trombetta explained that the person who used to handle the Facebook page for Aid for Friends (https://www.facebook.com/AidForFriends/) had retired, and that at present, the person who handles most of the Facebook posting is the new president of Aid for Friends, Steve Schiavone, Esq, who is the son of the late Rita Schiavone, founder and former director of Aid for Friends. She explained that since Rita had recently passed in March 2017, Steve was both grieving his mother's passing and also managing the operations of Aid for Friends (“AFF”), producing the newsletter, writing grants, and managing social media, among other responsibilities. But trying to keep up with all of this is a challenge when you're feeding so many people every year on a tight budget, reduced staff, and volunteers.
Popular Social Media Platforms
I asked about a Twitter page that I had viewed that had the AFF name in Philadelphia, PA (https://twitter.com/AFFPhilly), but had not tweeted since 2014, and Ms. Trombetta confirmed that Twitter was another platform that fell into disuse after the last person retired and the overall staff had been reduced due to budget cuts. Then it became too much work to post to Facebook and to Twitter, so posting to Facebook became the priority, but no one really knew how to use it to get their message out to a wide enough audience. I mentioned that it is possible to connect Facebook and Twitter so that every time you post to Facebook, it automatically posts to Twitter as well, which is like advertising for free. She asked if I would be willing to show AFF how to set this up, or to set it up for them, as they wanted to use more platforms but were unable to.
I then asked about the social media video platform YouTube.com and if it would be possible to record interviews with clients in their homes talking about the impact that AFF has had on their lives —putting a human face on AFF's services. Ms. Trombetta said yes, definitely, some clients would be happy to give interviews on camera, and again she asked if I would be willing to do that for AFF: do video recordings for them. I replied that this is possible for anyone who has a phone that records video, but yes, I would be willing to help with this also. I explained that you can record a video and upload it to YouTube, and you can create your own playlist or channel that is searchable by AFF's name or a “search engine optimization” (SEO) search tool called hashtags. I will cover the use of hashtags shortly.
Then came the question of Pinterest and SnapChat. They want to use SnapChat (it's actually Instagram, which is like SnapChat, but for teens and adults), but don't know how to. AFF is not familiar with Pinterest. I replied that my daughter can help them with SnapChat (which is designed for the teenage generation), while Instagram and Pinterest are especially popular among adults ages 18-50. Pinterest is a social media platform that is good for crafts, recipes, memes, events, and DIY boards that can be shared and “re-pinned” onto your own feed, and grouped by topics and interests. Teachers, moms, artists, writers, cooks, volunteers, activists, all kinds of people love Pinterest for the ease of sharing and getting ideas and do-it-yourself (DIY) tips and information quickly.
How to Use Hashtags
All social media makes diligent use of hashtags, which AFF apparently has not heard of — so I explained how hashtagging works. A hashtag, or a #hashtag, uses the “#” symbol with a group of words that symbolize a message, an article, or an idea that you want to spread and link back to. Adding the “#” at the beginning turns it into a clickable link, so that each time someone clicks or taps on that hashtag, the social media platform will bring up all posts with that hashtag in the posts. So if AFF uses an #AFF hashtag on Facebook, every time someone clicks or taps #AFF on Facebook, Facebook will bring up all posts (whether related or not) with an #AFF hashtag in the post. It's free advertising and takes less than 30 seconds to add to the post. Each time the post is shared, the hashtag travels with it – more free advertising. That's the power and leverage of social media. I explained this to Ms. Trombetta and she asked me if I'd be willing to teach and show Mr. Schiavone and/or her and AFF staff how to use social media, hashtags, and/or get them set up with the platforms. She asked for my contact information so that Mr. Schiavone could follow up with me, or have Ms. Trombetta follow up with me, and I thanked her for her time and assistance with my research.
Other NonProfits on Social Media
To find out what Aid For Friends is up against in the social media battle for exposure, I researched a few other well-known organizations in my five-county area of Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, and Chester Counties. Ms. Trombetta also had referred to PhilAbundance as being one of the nonprofits that people compared AFF to, saying that they've heard of PhilAbundance but never heard of AFF. There is a reason for that. PhilAbundance leverages massive social media advertising power, and apparently has someone dedicated just to social media strategy (AFF does not, nor is it in their budget, according to my interview with Ms. Trombetta). In December 2014, PhilAbundance had advertised for a Social Media Coordinator whose sole responsibility would be to monitor and manage all references, hashtags, and marketing online and on social media related to events, mentions, comments, shares, posts, and anything concerning Philabundance. (PHENND 2014) Even the job description itself was promoting the services of the nonprofit agency. PhilAbundance leverages some powerful brand positioning on social media as well: 34,000 likes on its Facebook page, and it hosts Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and WordPress. These are all major, inter-connected and popular platforms that get heavy traffic.
Meals On Wheels is another similar agency, boasting of 62.9 thousand likes on Facebook, and hosting on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Again, Meals On Wheels is leveraging free social media advertising on popular, inter-connected and heavily used platforms, and everyone knows about Meals On Wheels. MOW isn't even using as many platforms as PhilAbundance is and it has nearly twice as many followers on Facebook, probably because it's a national organization, whereas PhilAbundance is a subsidiary of the national nonprofit Feeding America.
Another local center, KleinLife, is a Jewish faith-based nonprofit (like AFF is a Catholic faith-based nonprofit), and has a smaller reach on Facebook of 1,000 likes, but also hosts on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, in addition to having the strong support and backing of the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia, the United Way, and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, all of which host on various social media platforms.
The Power of Social Media in Advertising
Another key ingredient to social media hosting is regular posting—having an account on social media is useless if a company or nonprofit does not post often and remain visible to users. Social media users look for activity that engages them—“shareable posts”—that they can share to their news feeds, share with friends, or share to groups. That's the whole point of social media.
The influence of social media has become so ingrained in our daily lives (for most of us) that we rarely think of traditional advertising as being the norm anymore. Print advertising is becoming almost gauche, and more people seem to turn to social media or various phone apps for the latest news than an actual newspaper now. As Ross Gerber wrote in Forbes (May, 2016), “Sometimes it takes a while for entrenched and fundamentally unproductive business practices to die, but it's safe to say that traditional advertising, with its focus on 'one way' communications to the consumer, emphasis on TV and radio, and reliance on fuzzy consumer data, is closer to death's door than ever. In its place, we're seeing a revolution in how the savviest brands are engaging and shaping consumer behaviors with a combination of community-driven live events that carry a strong prestige factor, social media-driven online communities and key individual 'influencers' who straddle both worlds and whose support for any brand can mark the difference between success and failure.”
Aid For Friends needs to embrace this 'revolution' with its nonprofit cohorts that have already been reaping the benefits of “free advertising,” learn how to connect social media platforms, engage its followers, and use hashtags strategically to reach more audiences. They don't need a huge advertising budget, billboards, colorful ad space in magazines or newspapers, air space or cable time. They need active social media accounts and a part-time Social Media Coordinator with a passion for their work. Or find a college kid to do an internship, host a crowdfund project, and then hire a Social Media Coordinator. Make it a priority to grow their mission and purpose as Rita originally intended.
I attempted to follow up with Aid for Friends by email and by phone during the week of August 14 but was not successful. I checked their social media sites on Facebook and on Twitter and both are the same as when I last spoke with Ms. Trombetta (no updates, no new followers).
Back in 1995, Clifford Stoll wrote in Newsweek that the internet was doomed: “Insisting the web was just a fad, the article wrote off the idea of 'cyberbusiness' altogether: 'We're promised instant catalog shopping – just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?'”
Fast-forward 22 years, and now we see the retail industry is struggling to remain alive in brick-and-mortar stores since Amazon.com has changed how America (or the world) shops. Even at the turn of the 21st century, bookstores (like my local Encore Books) had bemoaned their death-song of being 'dot-commed' out of business – their ode to internet sales that drove their physical stores out of business, with one of the former sales clerks telling me that they could not compete. (USAToday, 2001). Even the giant Barnes & Noble booksellers have been closing branches and trying to find ways to keep remaining stores open with cafes and kitschy attractions to bring customers in and get them shopping for items in addition to books. In today's economy, who can compete with Amazon's deals and Kindle's format compared to paper books? Social media thrives and grows businesses in the age of digital instant gratification. Consumers expect everything NOW. Social media delivers, when used correctly.
This is the power of the internet and social media – as Ryan Holmes wrote in Fortune magazine back in 2015, “Nine out of 10 U.S. companies, in fact, are already using social media. And they're already seeing concrete results: 90 % of businesses see increased exposure and more than half report improved sales from social media.” I believe this testimony from even two years ago speaks for itself.
...(download the rest of the essay above)