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Using social media

You’re online – and so are the people you want to communicate with

November 2015

Social media are any web-based tools that allow people to create, share or exchange information, ideas, and pictures or videos in online communities and networks. These tools include Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and lots more.

According to a recent Ofcom report, over four-fifths of all adults now go online. Two-thirds of them say they have a current social networking profile, almost all of them on Facebook. Three in ten social networkers also have a Twitter profile, and one in five a YouTube profile. And two-thirds of users visit sites more than once a day.

So social media are a great way to build your support base, connect with people you might not otherwise get a chance to talk to, and show a wide audience what you are doing.

Starting out

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For information on some of the basics, please see our how-to guides:

Other helpful online resources include Locality’s social media toolkit and the Charity Commission's guide to social media for charities.


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Before you launch your social media activity you need to know who your audience is and the most effective way to reach them. There will be two groups – your current audience, the people who already communicate with you - and your potential audience, the new people you are trying to reach, such as:

  • local businesses
  • people who attend the local church or mosque
  • parents of young children
  • other community groups
  • local volunteers
  • people who shop on the high street
  • people who use the library.

Once you know who you want to talk to, think about things from their perspective. What are their interests? How do they spend time online? What could you offer them? You can share the same content across different groups, but if you target your messages, what you say is more likely to reach and appeal to your intended audience.

What are you trying to achieve?

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You need to be clear about the purpose of your communications and how they tie in with your other activities.

For example, you might want to build a network to connect local groups or businesses in the area. You might want to share photos from your allotment project to show off what’s growing and encourage others to get involved and join in your shared Sunday picnics. You might want to provide a place to let people know about all of the opportunities, activities or fun things that are happening locally. Or you might want to share updates on Big Local activities so that people know what’s going on and how they can get involved. Thinking about your purpose will help you decide what you want people to do when they engage with your content.

But bear in mind that a message on social media should be a conversation, not a broadcast - it's about talking with other people, not at them. You should aim to 'broadcast' about 20% of the time, and have conversations for the rest of the time.If you broadcast then you transmit your message widely to people who may or may not be interested. If you have a conversation then you exchange news and ideas between two or more people.

Using social media to support your activities

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Using social media is a way to support and extend what you are doing. So find out what activities and conversations your partnership has planned over the next year. Mark these in a calendar and think about how you can use social media to support them.

Here is one example. You may want to increase the number of younger supporters, and you may also be working with a local primary school on a growing project, for which pupils plant their own sunflowers at home. So why not launch a competition on Facebook for the pupils to upload pictures of their sunflowers? 

If you have a video of a gardening expert explaining how to look after sunflowers, upload it to YouTube and link it to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Start using a relevant hashtag like #sunflowercomp, and ask followers to use it in their sightings of the sunflowers growing in gardens around the area - and watch the ripples spread!

Make sure you read through your posts and updates before you publish them – think about the language you’ve used, and the tone and whether they could be misunderstood.


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Responding to people’s comments is part of making information public and having open conversations. Whether the comment or message is encouraging or not, it’s best to be positive in return. If you include a little detail or a question in your response, this shows you’ve read the message and helps to build a relationship. Here are some tips:

Be accurate

Double-check your facts to be confident about your posts and responses. Be as factual as possible and give examples where you can.

Be transparent

Be honest. If you make a mistake, admit to it and explain how you will put it right. What is most important is that you are seen as open, responsive and listening. If you aren't open or seem to be trying to hide things, people may jump to conclusions.

Be timely

Think carefully about your response before posting, but don't leave it too long. The longer you take to respond, the more you risk appearing unresponsive. If you can’t respond fully straight away, post an acknowledgement to say that you will look into it and come back to the writer.

Avoid arguments

It is important not to get into an online discussion or argument. If someone posts something argumentative, steer the conversation offline - post a positive response and ask them to send you a personal message or email if they want more information.

Dealing with negative comments

You will have to use your judgment and agree an approach on how to respond to negative or inflammatory comments. You don’t have to respond to every negative one. A good guideline is to respond when somebody has asked a question, made a strong statement, pointed out a mistake you have made, or made a request.

If you get a negative comment, or someone repeatedly posts negative comments or content, you have several options depending on the background and nature of the comments. You can:

  • Respond – you may be able to resolve an issue
  • Ignore it – if you believe that the person posting is simply looking for an argument.
  • Post positive content – this can balance a negative post. It's particularly appropriate if someone is posting negative comments or content on social media that isn’t yours.
  • Block it – if the comment is rude or offensive you might decide to block the user from commenting on your Facebook page or your Twitter account. Their own help pages tell you how to do this.
  • Report it to the police – you should report intimidating behaviour straight away. This includes, but is not limited to, harassment, malicious communications, stalking, threatening violence and incitement.

Monitor how you are doing

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Invest a little time on a regular basis to look at how your social media activity has been received, and use the information to decide on what’s working well for you and what you could change. Facebook Insights and Twitter monitoring sites will let you see which of your posts have reached the most people, which have received the most shares and comments, and how your likes or followers are increasing over time.

Once you know what’s working well for you, try to produce content along similar lines. If you’re getting lots of action from one social media platform site but not from another, it will help you to decide where it’s more worthwhile spending your time. 

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