If there’s one thing I’ve learned about social media it’s this: It’s all about human connection. Virtually every social media platform was first created for and because of human connections. Facebook was started to connect friends in college and grew to connect families and friends. Twitter began as a way to connect with influencers. Social media gives us the opportunity to show up, be seen, and connect with other people.

However, the question remains, how does a nonprofit connect with real people on social media?

For the last several years, my team at International Justice Mission, a leading human rights agency trying to end slavery, human trafficking, and other forms of violence against the poor, has grown our social media followers from 0 to 500,000…on no budget. We lacked the dollar signs, but we didn’t lack connection. We deployed a strategy based around connecting with our social fans that we called “The 80/20 Rule.”

The 80/20 Rule states that 80% of our content must be “gifts” to our followers and 20% will be calls to action.

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This rule really is the basis of creating connections offline. As you build a healthy friendship, you’ll find 80% of your time/energy is centered on building each other up through sharing, laughing, and supporting to each other. Of course once in a while you will ask your friend for a favor, but in reality it shouldn’t be all the time. No one wants a friend who just takes and takes and takes without investing anything in return.

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This can be applied on social media to create meaningful connections and brand loyalty. 80% of your content should be “gifts” to your social fans—an inspiring graphic, an interesting video, or, in IJM’s case, breaking news (which is why IJM got on social media in the first place; to share breaking news of rescues happening around the world as they happen). This type of content fills your social fans’ buckets and help them feel more connected to you. As your fans share this content, interact with them on social by favoriting, liking, and commenting on their posts. They want to be seen and heard by you. It’s a relationship.

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As you fill your social fans relational buckets with “gifts,” it then allows you the relational collateral to ask them to an action once in a while. Before we implemented the 80/20 Rule, we were exhausting our social fans by asking them to donate, sign a petition, watch a video, share a piece of content. They were exhausted and engagement dipped.

Once we started living by the 80/20 Rule, we stopped asking our social fans to take action all the time and asked them to do one thing a week on Saturdays. This did two things:

  1. It gave our social fans one thing to do a week and because they felt invested in the relationship, they were more engaged and took action
  2. It forced us as an organization to organize our actions and come up with one priority a week.

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Of course, a good social media strategy will include beautiful, inspiring content and leverage the newest social media technology or app, but at the end of the day, those things are lost without human connection. My favorite author and TED Talk speaker (check out her TED Talks on vulnerability and shame), Brene Brown, says,

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

Considering Brene is active on Twitter (@BreneBrown), I know she’d agree her quote applies to social media too!

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Austin Graff is the Social Media Manager at Honest Tea. As social media manager at America’s leading organic bottled iced tea company, Austin Graff leads social media and influencer marketing. Honest Tea’s most recent social media campaign was named one of the top three social media campaigns in 2015 by Forbes.com. Prior to Honest Tea, Austin managed digital and social media marketing for International Justice Mission (IJM) where he built and led IJM’s social media presence of more than 500,000 fans across 7 platforms.

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