LeadingAge Magazine · May/June 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 03

Social Media 101: Learn the Basics

May 09, 2016 | by Amanda Marr, Tessa Atkinson-Adams and Charles Visconage

No marketing or public communications plan is complete without a social media strategy. Here is a basic roadmap for getting started in creating one for your organization.

Welcome to Social Media 101! We, the LeadingAge Communications Team, will start you on your journey to social media success. In this article we will discuss the different commonly used platforms, how other LeadingAge members are thriving with social media, and general tips to get you started or help you improve.

According to the Pew Research Center, 65% of adults use social media on a regular basis, up from 7% just 10 years ago. Using social media benefits people in many ways such as connecting with friends and families and staying informed.

However, social media can be daunting. What platform works for my organization? How often should we post? Developing a social media strategy for your organization might feel like too much to take on. But it doesn’t have to be. With a little bit of research and a good plan in place, social media can benefit you and your organization.

What is the value of social media and why should you consider it for your organization?

1. It’s (almost) free. Downloading and using a social media application requires an internet connection and your time, but no additional costs beyond that. And there are no rules about how much time you need to spend interacting online. In fact, start slow and build your comfort and confidence level before you expand your reach.

2. It makes connections easy. If you use social media personally, Facebook for instance, you know that it is a great tool for reconnecting with friends you haven’t seen since high school or meeting someone new that shares a similar interest.

The same applies if you are using social media for your organization. Connecting with residents’ family members or engaging prospective clients is easily accomplished using social media. Post interesting and compelling information about what you do and who you serve to appeal to a variety of people who might be interested in your organization on a variety of levels.

3. It helps establish your organization’s brand. Bring your organization to life online through social media by telling the story about who you are and what you do. Include your logo, photos, and a consistent message so people recognize who you are and what you stand for.

4. It helps you reach different audiences.
Using other types of communication vehicles can restrict the audience you reach. But through social media, you can reach residents, family members, staff, and community members at the same time with consistent messaging.
5. It attracts active followers. People who “like” or “follow” you on a social media platform are purposely choosing to pay attention to your posts. Unlike sending emails, for example, which may go unopened, social media gives you an opportunity to cultivate interested, active participants in an online discussion. Incorporate questions into your posts to get people talking.

According to Elise LaPrade, social media consultant at Caught in the Web Consulting, “Social media can be a powerful way to deepen existing supporters’ engagement as well as identify and recruit new supporters. In order to strengthen engagement with your target audience and positively impact your mission, nonprofit organizations must proactively use social media to build relationships.”

While there is a plethora of social media platforms, we will walk you through 4 of the most popular and most applicable to not-for-profit organizations.

  • Facebook: a platform that is based on a network of online “friends” who you approve (or don’t) to be part of your Facebook presence. Increasingly, older adults (65+) are joining Facebook.
  • Instagram: a platform where users share photos from their smartphones or tablets. Great for organizations that have a strong visual story to tell about their mission, products, or services. (Note: this platform does not have built-in analytics.)
  • Twitter: a platform where brevity matters: each tweet you post can only include up to 140 characters.
  • LinkedIn: a platform for more business-focused updates that allows individuals to post their job qualifications and companies to make updates. Great for posts that are very business-oriented.

LeadingAge members are abundant and active on social media, many on multiple platforms. They post content including: resident stories and pictures, press hits and advice articles, and they re-share content from other organizations. These posts get reactions, likes and additional shares from residents, community members, peer organizations and more. Using social media can attract new residents, engage family members from afar and connect with the broader community.

Here are a few member examples of successful social media use:

  • United Methodist Homes, Shelton, CT, successfully uses Twitter as a platform to disseminate original content that drives followers to their website.
  • Elmcroft Senior Living, Louisville, KY, is a great example of using a consistent posting plan on Facebook that keeps followers engaged with resident stories.
  • Bonus: Last year, Parker (Francis E. Parker Memorial Home), Piscataway, NJ, had a post go viral on Facebook. The post got over 183,000 likes, 188,500 shares and 11,000 comments. While viral posts are unpredictable, there is always the chance that your post will spread well beyond your community and build public awareness of your organization.


Before you get started, decide internally on what you want to achieve: brand awareness, news updates, selling a product, driving traffic to your website, marketing or some other goal. From there, start with a single platform as your home base and populate your profile with as much information as possible. That includes your website, high quality photos, and your organization’s mission, among other things.

You’ll also need to develop a posting calendar with a plan for how frequently your chosen platform will be updated. A few times per week is a good start; then slowly increase from there to hold the attention of your followers. It’s also important to vary the content of your postings and use images as much as possible.

For step-by-step instructions to create your content calendar, read Sproutsocial’s convenient how-to guide.

After you’ve launched your posting calendar, it’s important to measure your efforts. You can do so easily by using the built-in analytics of each social media platform, or third-party tools. Here are a few third-party products that might be worth considering:

  • Sproutsocial: Analyzes a wide variety of social media platforms with a high level of detail for a monthly fee. A 30-day trial is available.
  • Buffer: Offers a free plan to measure high-level progress on social media platforms.
  • Google Analytics: Although the primary use of this free tool is to measure website traffic, you can track which social media platforms are leading people to your website.
  • Keyhole: Does your organization use hashtags? Track them in real time on Twitter or Instagram with Keyhole.

We could write an entire article on analytics, but the short take is that, while it’s not a silver bullet for performance measurement, it will give you an idea of:

  • Who is visiting
  • When they are doing so
  • How they are interacting with the particular page
  • What time of day you should post for maximum exposure

Monthly checkups are a good starting point for regular evaluation, then from there you can compare new data with your own past performance and refine your approach as needed.

In conclusion, social media is a great tool for not-for-profits, but you must invest a little time to make a plan for posting and evaluation. If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to the LeadingAge Communications team (TAtkinson-Adams@leadingage.org).

Additional social media platforms of note:

Social media benchmarking: