It can happen in an instant, often without warning.
Your nonprofit’s cause is thrust into the online spotlight. It’s being talked about on Facebook and it’s trending on Twitter. It even has it’s own hashtag.
Maybe there’s controversy swirling your cause, maybe it’s a celebratory occasion. Maybe it’s a story related to what you do that has been picked up by the online masses.
Whatever the cause, it’s an important opportunity for your organization to capitalize on an influx of coverage and public interest on your mission. It could be a rare opportunity to mobilize your current supporters and enlist new ones.
The problem is, these type of events happen so quickly. Just as fast as they started, the public’s interest has moved on to something else entirely. You won’t have a day to plan a response. You’ve got to pounce.
Don’t panic. Here’s what you can do to be ready.
Have a Plan
The single most important thing you can do is have a plan. And I don’t mean a vague idea of what you’ll do that you’ve spent some time thinking about. I mean an actual written procedure and protocol that you’ve gone over with the members of your team before the event happens.
It’s like the emergency response PSA’s: the time to make an emergency plan to not during an emergency.
Here are the types of things your plan needs to cover:
Designate a leader - Who’s going to take the reigns when it all starts getting hectic?
Delegate tasks - Who will be in charge of what? Don’t forget to give extra hands to labor intensive tasks like responding to social media posts.
Official policies - What’s your organization’s stance on all possible issues that could come up related to your cause? Know where you stand beforehand.
Prepare materials - Have the media you need ready to launch, or at least templates to speed things along.
By having a written plan of action before a story goes viral, you can be ready to quickly pounce on the opportunity before the public loses interest (or another organization becomes the go-to expert).
Be the Expert in the Media
Once a story starts going viral, it will likely get picked up by media outlets. However, these likely aren’t the traditional media outlets you may already have PR relationships with. In fact, your local news stations and newspapers will likely be far too slow to respond to these kinds of stories to make a big impact (if they even cover it at all).
The types of publications that pick up quickly on these types of stories are the new media outlets like Buzzfeed, Mashable, or the Huffington Post. You’d be amazed how quickly these sites will pick up on stories like a trending hashtag.
The good news is, they’re often looking for expert quotes to give the story more context, and becoming that expert can put you in an excellent position to put a spotlight on your organization and send supporters your way.
Take the time to make a list of the types of organizations that typically cover online stories, as well as stories related to your cause. Find contact information for their writers and reporters, and keep it ready in a spreadsheet. That way, when a story breaks, you can quickly reach out and offer expert quotes for their stories.
When a topic, story, or phrase trends on Twitter, most people will click on the story on the trending list to learn more about it. This will take them to the “Top” tweets about this topic (tweets that have been shared, favorited, or responded to by lots of people), along with the top images related to that topic.
So when hundreds of thousands of people are checking out a hashtag or phrase, the first thing they see are the images receiving the most shares and interactions. That’s valuable real estate.
Using an image response will capture more eyes and interactions (tweets with images generate 41% more retweets) and put you at the center of the conversation.
In fact in the example above, you’ll see that one of the images is a graph depicting the pay-outs of the women’s World Cup winners vs. the men. An organization pounced on this opportunity to make a statement and engage with the public in a big way. Smart!
Give People a Path
When a story is going viral, particularly related to philanthropic causes, it often elicits strong emotions. The public might be angry about an injustice or inspired by a heroic story. These are the types of emotions that often move people to act.
That’s why it’s so vitally important to give people a smooth path to take action. Now, the type of action you choose can be tricky. You might want to funnel people towards making a small donation, and that can be very successful.
However, I’m a fan of giving people an easy, free way to become more engaged first. Just like when we’re shopping for an item, we’re not often ready to buy as soon as we find out about it. If you engage supporters in a different way, you can build your relationship with them, working towards future donations.
Consider funneling social media users to a landing page for a petition or pledge they can sign. This is a low-effort way they can become more engaged, and gives you an opportunity to reach out in the future and cultivate a relationship.
All those people tweeting about your cause? Like, favorite, retweet, and follow them! People want to feel their voice being heard, especially by an authority like your organization. They’re likely to reciprocate that action by following your org’s twitter account or at the very least investigating your cause and website. Once they’ve done that, you can build a relationship and turn them into ardent supporters.