by Shanley Knox

If there is a single key to mastering the art of social media, it lies in building relationships. Whether you are looking to drive donations, draw volunteers, or promote awareness of a social issue, it's critical that your followers and fans feel personally involved in your organizational success.

The secret to beginning this process? Effective, personal engagement with people in your online network.  Here are five steps to guide you in your efforts:

1. Start By Getting Personal

In sales, it is often said that if someone feels that they can relate to you, they are much more likely to purchase. The same is true of causes. Does a follower share a similar love of your favorite book? Are they tweeting about a movie you just saw? Reach out to let them know how you felt about it. Take it a step further... if they tweet about their passion for a cause that relatees to your organization, reach out with a comment about why you care. It may seem like a small gesture to you, but facilitating this personal connection lets your followers (and potential followers) know you’re listening, and will ultimately help to create buy-in.

2. Cultivate a Relationship

Now that you've initiated contact, refrain from immediately selling your cause. Instead, let them know you value their perspective. If they are posting relevant content, retweet it. Answer their questions. Like their photos. Ask about their day. There’s no need to rush. They’ll be more likely to buy or donate once they feel that they can trust you.

Meanwhile, take some time to learn about who you're engaging with. If done properly, this process will produce valuable research for your organization...
     - What type of people follow you and/or respond to your outreach? 
     - What events or hobbies are they interested in?
     - Where do they live? 
     - How old are they?
     - What drives them to speak up? 

3. Address Their Pain Points

When it comes time to directly pitch your organization, think back to your research. Is there some way they personally relate to your cause? Use it to spark the conversation. Are they looking for ways to get involved, but have limited time to give? Present them with volunteer opportunities that require minimal commitment. Do they wonder where donations dollars go? Show them with pictures and stories. Knowing these pain points helps you to send them relevant information (in 140 characters, no less). It will make all the difference.

4. Close the Deal

When it comes time to close the deal, don’t be shy. Many donors or potential volunteers are interested in causes, but forget to follow through, or procrastinate until later (don’t we all?). Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Sending a friendly reminder such as, “Did you get the link I sent?” or “I’d love to have an offline conversation about our organization, if you’re interested!” will help to put pressure on them to respond, without pushing them to an uncomfortable point.

5. Follow Up

Didn’t get them the first time? Don’t be frustrated. Studies have shown that making a sale can take seven to eleven points of contact. By following up, you can help prospective donors to recognize their value to your organization. By asking for something specific, e.g. “Five minutes of your time?” or, “Think you can join us in volunteering on Saturday?”, you provide them with the opportunity to deliver. 

Beyond all else, be sure to continue using your social channels to engage with your prospects. Show them you care beyond their potential as a donor. It's all about building trust through authentic means of engagement. 

Have tips to add? Tell us in the comments below, or contact us via Facebook, Twitter or Email

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