Photo by Karolina Grabowska
October 11, 2023

What’s your next move on social media?

Julia Campbell

What’s your next move on social media? Farra Trompeter is joined by Julia Campbell, author, speaker, and host of the Nonprofit Nation Podcast, who shares four pillars of social media management as well as three insightful questions to help your nonprofit effectively leverage digital storytelling.


Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and worker-owner at Big Duck. Today we’re going to ask the question, what’s your next move on social media? And I’m delighted to be joined by Julia Campbell. I first met Julia a few years ago through NTEN‘s Nonprofit Technology Conference, and we have been friends ever since. Julia Campbell, who uses she/her pronouns, is a nonprofit digital consultant, speaker, and author on a mission to make the digital world a better place. She’s been named as a top thought leader and one to follow by Forbes and LinkedIn for Nonprofits. Julia is also the host of the acclaimed Nonprofit Nation Podcast, which I’ve had the pleasure of being a guest on. And she’s written two books for nonprofits on social media and storytelling. Her online courses, webinars, and talks have helped hundreds of nonprofits make the shift to digital thinking. Julia, welcome to the show.

Julia Campbell: Oh, such a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, well it is a pleasure to have you. So I’d love to just start off and have our listeners learn a little bit more about you. Can you share about your journey, how you got into helping nonprofits use social media and really leverage digital storytelling?

Julia Campbell: Well, I’ve always loved storytelling through a journalist lens, and that’s what I studied in college and I’ve always been an activist and really interested in advocating for social causes. And combining the two just seemed sort of natural to me. And then when I started my journey in nonprofits, I had just gotten back from the Peace Corps. I served in the Peace Corps in Senegal in 2000–2002. And digital tools were sort of just taking off at that time. So there was really no social media back then, but email, websites, blogging, and nonprofits were really trying to figure out how to leverage these tools to, you know, raise money and grow their audience. And then when I started my consulting business and coaching business in 2010, that was the number one question I got, “How can we use Facebook?” “How can we use LinkedIn?” “How can we use Twitter to grow our audience to, you know, maximize our impact and to showcase what we’re doing?” So those are the questions that I answer for my clients today.

Farra Trompeter: So as you said, you’ve been doing this work for almost 15 years. Nonprofits have been using social media for that time and longer.

Julia Campbell: Hard to believe.

Farra Trompeter: It is hard to believe, right? So I recently did a podcast with Tania Bhattacharyya all about how nonprofit staff can maximize LinkedIn, which has been around for 20 years, even longer. And over all these years. I’m just curious for you, what is the most asked question you usually get from nonprofits about social media? And what’s your answer besides a specific channel? Is there anything else you get asked?

Julia Campbell: I get asked every question from “The best time of day to post?”, “Where should we be?” “What is the latest thing we should do?” But probably the number one question is “How can we get people to follow us and to engage with us?” And there are all sorts of versions of this question. There are all sorts of answers. I don’t believe in one cookie-cutter approach. I certainly don’t believe in one size fits all. And what I usually say is you really have to turn everything you think about social media marketing on its head. Because what we were sold in the beginning was set up a Facebook page, set up a LinkedIn account, set up a Twitter profile, Instagram, whatever it might be, and just start pushing out promotions or pushing out your agenda. And somehow we were trained to use it as a billboard and to use it to just push out advertising.

Julia Campbell: And we weren’t using it to really build community and to generate goodwill and to get people to know, like us, and trust us. We weren’t thinking about the people on the other end of the post. So the best way to get engagement is to just be laser-focused on your audience and their needs, their wants, their motivations, their desires, and what interests them, and sort of what makes you unique in their mind, and what is the problem that you’re solving that is really interesting to your particular audience. It’s not just, “Oh, we have an event this week”, or “Oh, we have a press release”, or “Oh, we have a new program”, “We have a new report”. It can’t just always be about you and your organization and your agenda. It has to be about your audience’s agenda and the person that’s at the sort of other end of the screen.

Farra Trompeter: 100%. Yeah. And I know we talked on your podcast all about audiences and engagement, so again, we’ll definitely link to that. People can listen to both. And really hopefully that point will fully come home. Be all about your audiences.

Farra Trompeter: Well, I often hear about how overwhelmed staff are, speaking of audiences that listen to this podcast, primarily nonprofit staff. I know that they’re feeling overwhelmed generally, but particularly when it comes to social media and digital tools with new channels and applications popping up all the time. As we’re recording this in late July 2023, everyone’s trying to figure out how to use Threads or if they should use Chat GPT. And I’m just curious, how can staff decide when and where to invest when the options just seem endless?

Julia Campbell: The options are endless and they will always be endless. Like the only constant is change. And I get overwhelmed thinking about all the places that I should be or things I should be learning about or things I should be an expert in. So definitely, it’s not just nonprofit staff, but I know that they are just not trained in marketing or digital communications often, it’s a lot of people are trained in social work or program management or you know, youth education and they’re just not trained in how to really evaluate these platforms. So I think a simple framework to use is to ask yourself really three questions.

Julia Campbell: One: “Whatever tool this is, is your audience using it or can it benefit your audience in some way?” So for instance, with Threads, I think a lot of people had the tendency to kind of just jump on there, which I think is great. If you have the bandwidth, jump on and experiment. If you are overwhelmed and you don’t have the bandwidth, ask yourself, Is my audience there? Is this something I can kind of take a pause on, right? Or can I just see what other people are doing for a little while? Can I just kind of stop and listen and observe and really figure out if the people you’re trying to communicate with and the people you’re trying to attract are actually using and adapting this platform? And you’re probably not going to find that out on the first day.

Julia Campbell: And then the second question is, “What is your capacity and your bandwidth?” And “Is this going to fit into your capacity and your bandwidth?” Because if you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else. The tendency we have is to say, okay, this is a social media manager, just add another platform on there. Well, you really can’t because we’re already so time-strapped and resource-strapped. And adding a platform requires creating an entire strategy around how to use the platform. So be very honest with yourself, especially if you’re looking at a really intensive video-driven platform like TikTok. Do you have the bandwidth and capacity right now to create the kind of content that is going to work on this platform?

Julia Campbell: And then the third is, “How are you going to measure success?” Like how will you know success on this platform if you decide to adopt it? What are some metrics you’re going to measure? Or what are some things that you’re going to look at and analyze to help you improve? And to help you know that you’re really pushing the needle on some of the goals that you have. So to me, I just try to focus on audience bandwidth and capacity. And then really looking at what does success mean to you? And I know it’s a struggle because what happens is your board members will say, oh, everyone’s talking about Threads. Everyone’s talking about Chat GPT, everyone’s talking about this and that. Everyone’s talking about TikTok. We should do it, we should do it because everyone’s there. But you have to be very strategic and kind of pull it back and really be able to answer those three questions for every platform that you adopt. And that way you’re not really going to just be kind of spinning your wheels. And I don’t want to discourage experimentation, but the question is about overwhelmed staff and overworked staff. So having this framework where you can feel free to say maybe just not now, maybe we’ll take a pause because it’s a really busy season right now. Maybe we’ll take a pause from Twitter and explore Threads. I mean, there has to be trade-offs. And I think we just really have to be honest about that.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah. I also appreciate though, like you might experiment personally. You’re going to join it. You’re going to see what it’s like as a user. You’re going to follow some other organizations that you care about. See what that experience is like. What is it? The ones that you’re gravitating toward? Get a flavor of that success before you even commit your organization or say to that board member, “Okay, we’re going to try this for a month. We’re going to put this much time into it, but we’re not ready to fully commit,cause we ran through these questions, and here’s what it told us.”

Julia Campbell: Right. If I could share one example. So, I just had their director of digital, Kate Meyers Emery on my podcast. They did a three-month experiment with TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts. And what she did was she said, I want to experiment with short-term video. She was very specific. And she said, I want to post a video every day for three months, and I want to use these three channels. And the metrics of success. She wanted to grow her following or grow Candid’s following, Candid’s engagement. And then she also wanted to evaluate staff time and like the implications, like, would this be sustainable for us to do this in the long term after three months? And I love the idea of just doing it as an experiment. ‘Cause I think if you go to your board or your director and say, we’re just going to do this for three months, and this is how much time we think it’s going to take, these are the specific things we’re doing. And then you can be very clear on what you’ve accomplished and if it was a success. And for them it was, it wasn’t like a resounding success. You know, they didn’t go viral or anything like that. And they actually found that it took a lot of staff time, more than they could probably sustain in the future. But at least they did it. So then they could say, okay, we might focus more on YouTube Shorts than Instagram Reels. So if you don’t have those parameters and you’re just kind of posting wildly all over the place, it’s very hard to justify the time that it takes.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah. What I love, ’cause I remember seeing Kate share this on LinkedIn, they also blogged about it. They experimented and they shared their lesson. So we’ll link to the blog post, it’s called “TikTok Reels and Shorts, Candid’s Big Swing at Short Form Video“. And we’ll also be sure to go into our transcript and link to your podcast conversation with Kate ’cause it sounds really interesting. I can’t wait to listen.

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Farra Trompeter: Whether it’s Candid or another organization out there. I’m curious what it looks like when an organization has a strong digital strategy in place. They’ve answered those questions, they’re spending their time in the right places, their audiences are engaging, whatever that might be. Can you share an example or anything that comes to mind for you when you’ve seen organizations really get it, or ways you can actually tell if an organization’s kind of rocking it when it comes to how it uses social media?

Julia Campbell: That’s just such a great question. So yes, Candid, I think definitely does rock it on social media. And the reason I use Candid as an example, and I can use other examples, but I like to use them because they don’t have animals or puppies, they don’t have landscapes. They don’t really even have staff members that they can really pull from. They are knowledge-based and they’re sharing information and how they make information kind of interesting and fun and educational while at the same time entertaining, I think they do a fantastic job.

Julia Campbell: Another organization, and I’m interviewing their digital director on my podcast, the Malala Fund, where obviously the Malala Fund, they’re dealing with girls’ education. They’re dealing with cultural issues around providing girls with education and equality and equity internationally. They get a lot of pushback. They get a lot of negative comments. They have a lot of haters and trolls on their page. But I think they do a great job making this kind of heavy issue accessible to younger generations, and interesting. They do a fantastic job storytelling as well and sharing stories across different platforms.

Julia Campbell: And then, I think, a smaller organization that’s doing a fantastic job, Rosie’s Place in Boston. They are under $10 million. They don’t receive any federal or government funding. So they pretty much can do what they want, but they’re just so open and transparent about the struggles that the staff deal with, the volunteers deal with, things that are going on in their shelter every single day in their programs, every single day. And I think they do a great job with ethical storytelling that’s not exploitative. And really showcasing the hard parts of experiencing homeless or experiencing substance abuse and misuse and experiencing all of the difficulties that the women in their programs go through. So without being tokenizing and exploitative. And I think that is a fine line a lot of nonprofits have to walk and it’s very challenging, but I think they do a great job.

Farra Trompeter: That’s great. Yeah, and we’ve blogged about ethical storytelling, particularly with images and other content. We’ll link to that in the show notes too. It’s definitely something we talk and think about at Big Duck a lot as well. Well, what if an organization, they’re thinking, they’re doing a good job, maybe they’re rocking it and they’re ready to level up. What would an organization look for? Or how can they know if they’re ready to really take it to the next level and make their next big move on social media?

Julia Campbell: So, I teach something that I call the Four Pillars of Social Media Management. And when you’re doing all four things effectively, and they’re kind of, like you said, rocking and rolling on one platform, that’s when I really think you can like move on to other platforms. So the first pillar is research and listening. “What are other organizations doing?” Following the trends, understanding the algorithm, knowing what in particular is working on this platform. The second pillar is content creation. You know, being able to create content that is engaging and getting a lot of reach, getting a lot of comments, maybe shares, really growing your engagement post over post. The third pillar is community management. Being able to answer questions, being able to answer all those DMs, being able to kind of control conversations that are kind of maybe going haywire a little bit in the comments. And then also following other people. So being a real person, being able to follow other accounts and interact with those other accounts. And the fourth pillar is measurement and analysis. Like how are you tracking these metrics? How are you looking at what you’re doing strategically and how are you improving and iterating? If you’re not doing all four things on a platform, then you shouldn’t be moving onto another platform. Like those are the keys that you need to have success on any one platform. And I think the tendency is we do maybe one thing on one platform and one thing on another platform, and we don’t really take the time to learn and excel. So what I always recommend is, if you’re looking to level up your presence on a platform where you’re kind of getting traction, are you doing everything that you can right now?

Julia Campbell: Are you on Instagram? Say you’re getting a lot of engagement on Instagram. Are you using Instagram Live? Are you using Stories? Are you using the Instagram donate button? Are you using Instagram Reels? Are you fully maximizing and like squeezing every last drop of juice out of this platform? Are you connecting with influencers on this platform? That is a great way to level up and get in front of new audiences. Are you looking at who can you connect with that has the attention of an audience that you want to get in front of? Who would make sense for you to connect with? And do you have a strategy in place for influencer marketing? That’s probably the second step I would take. As long as you are able to effectively manage all of the different pieces that it takes to do effective social media marketing on a platform.

Farra Trompeter: And the idea that sometimes leveling up is using a current platform more deeply as opposed to spreading yourself thin. You know, less is more.

Julia Campbell: Exactly. I remember Beth Kanter used to teach “Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly“. So are you still crawling on 20 platforms? You should be looking to really do the “Crawl, Run, Walk, Fly” on one, and then kind of go to the next one. Rather than just scrambling on a bunch of them.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah. Well, in our branding work, we often think a lot about how you can bring your brand personality to life through digital channels. I’m curious, before we go, if you have any tips to share regarding branding and social media or even your approach to storytelling?

Julia Campbell: Social media is such an important part of your brand because it’s very top of funnel. It’s often the first taste that people will get of your organization. I know so many different nonprofits I’ve heard of from my friends mentioning them or volunteering for them, or raising money for them, working for them, and they’ve tagged them on social media and I’ve gone and looked at the profile and then you go and look at their website or you go and look at some of their other digital content and it doesn’t look at all the same. It doesn’t feel the same. So to me, I think you should treat your social media just as you would your website, as your blog, as your email. It all has to look and feel like you, it has to be in your brand voice. It has to have these unique elements. Whatever makes you, you. Whatever makes you unique, running through it. And it shouldn’t be just kind of disparate like pieces of real estate out in the digital landscape that don’t connect to each other.

strong>Julia Campbell: So in terms of social media storytelling, I think it’s often challenging, but you want to think about what do you want to be known for? What are those words that you want people to say or think about you when they hear about your organization? What is one sentence that you want everyone in the community to say, “Oh, I know about Beverly Bootstraps, they do X, Y, Z, or they make me feel this way”. Or “Oh, I know immediately who they serve and what they stand for”. So I really encourage you in your social media work to think of it really as an extension of your brand. It’s super important. But also to really think about how you want to be perceived because it is, we always say, you know, “top of funnel”. Like it’s people that want to know you, maybe they care about you, but they don’t really maybe like or trust you yet. How can you build that relationship with them and not confuse them in your branding?

Farra Trompeter: Right. To quote the old, I think it’s from the ‘70s, Head and Shoulders commercial, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.

Julia Campbell: Right! What a great tagline, by the way!

Farra Trompeter: That was such a great slogan. Yes, I know. I wish we came up with that one. I know. Well, I want to give a nod to Ryan Gerhardt, our copy director, wrote a blog post in May of 2020 called “Using brand personality to guide your presence on social media“. So if you’re intrigued by that topic, we will be sure to link to that as well. Well, Julia, it is time for us to go, sadly. If you’re out there and you’d like to learn more about Julia’s work, access her courses, or just listen to her podcast, Nonprofit Nation, be sure to head over to That’s “JC” for Julia Campbell You can also connect with Julia on Instagram and LinkedIn as well. Probably all the channels. We’ll link to those in the show notes.

Julia Campbell: I at least experiment with all of ’em.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah, yeah. Well, Julia, thank you for joining us today. Before we sign off, anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?

Julia Campbell: I just want to say, everyone listening, you’re doing fantastic work. Done is better than perfect and just get out there, do your best and tomorrow’s another day.

Farra Trompeter: That’s right.

Julia Campbell: So I really want to encourage you not to get overwhelmed, not to get stressed, and know that you’re doing fantastic work and changing lives, and thank you.

Farra Trompeter: I love it. Progress, not perfection. Everyone is rocking it. You are where you are. Start there. Alright. Well, thank you Julia and everyone out there, have a great rest of your day.

Julia Campbell: Thanks Farra.

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