So you’ve just heard about a nonprofit for the first time, and you want to know more about it.
One way to do that: a Google search.
You find the nonprofit’s website, social media profiles, news articles that mention it, comments on forums. That’s all part of the organization’s digital footprint.
If you do communications or any outreach for a nonprofit, take note. Here’s what you need to know about digital footprints—and why your organization needs to take control of its own.
What’s a digital footprint?
Your organization’s digital footprint is the online trail it leaves behind. That online trail can pass through many different channels and formats, including:
- Your website
- Your social media profiles
- News articles that mention your organization
- Mentions on online forums
- Your digital ad campaigns
- Third-party posts about your organization on social media
- External blog posts
- Your email newsletters
- Reviews posted on sites like Google Reviews and Yelp
- Information about your organization posted by partners
As you can tell from this list, it’s a mix of content your organization owns (like your website) and content that’s externally owned (like mentions by other users on social media). These intentional and unintentional elements form your digital footprint.
What does this mean for nonprofits?
Your digital footprint matters because it plays a significant role in shaping your nonprofit’s online reputation, brand image, and public perception.
It’s how people interact with and form opinions about your nonprofit. A positive digital footprint enhances credibility, trust, and engagement.
And it has an outsized impact on your ability to raise awareness of your cause, attract new donors or volunteers, and build relationships with your supporters. For many people, your digital footprint may be the first impression someone has of your organization—and it can be a lasting impression.
So just to boil it down to key points, here are the benefits of having a strong digital footprint:
- Increased awareness: When people are searching for information about your cause online, they’re more likely to find your website or social media profiles if you have a strong digital footprint. This helps you advocate for your cause and influence public policy.
- More donors: When people see that your organization is active online and has a strong following, they’re more likely to trust you and donate to your cause.
- Stronger relationships: When you’re active online, you can stay connected with your supporters and keep them updated on your work. This can help you build stronger relationships and encourage them to continue supporting your organization.
- Managed reputation: If you’re tracking what people are saying about your organization online—in news articles, social media, blog posts—you can make informed decisions about your response that can improve your online reputation. This can help you mitigate any negative press or rumors that may be circulating about your organization.
How should nonprofits create a strong digital footprint?
There are many ways for nonprofits to create a strong digital footprint. Here are a few of them:
- Have a well-designed website. Your website is your online home, so it’s important to make sure it’s well-designed and easy to navigate. Your website should include information about your organization—your mission, your services, and how people can get involved.
- Be active on social media. Social media is a great way to connect with your supporters and raise awareness of your cause. Focus on the channels where your audience is most likely to be (as we’ve said before). And make sure you’re active. An inconsistent social media channel, for example, won’t contribute to a strong digital footprint.
- Be consistent. Make sure that through all your owned channels, you’re using consistent branding and voice and that you’re weaving your messaging throughout.
- Create great content. Share interesting and informative content on your website and social media profiles. This could include blog posts, infographics, videos, or anything else that will engage your audience.
- Respond to comments and questions. When people comment on your website or social media posts, be sure to respond promptly and thoughtfully. This shows that you’re engaged with your audience and that you care about their feedback.
- Track mentions. Subscribe to Google Alerts and follow hashtags on social media to monitor what people are saying about your organization online. This helps you stay up to date on your unintentional digital footprint. Then, you can optimize your search engine visibility, respond effectively to feedback, and proactively respond to misinformation.
Here’s some homework. Review your nonprofit’s current digital footprint. Take a look at your website, social media profiles, and mentions in news articles, online forums, and reviews. Give yourself 15 minutes to search and browse. What’s the general impression you get?
Don’t get caught up and not see the forest for the trees. It’s dangerously easy to focus on a few negative comments on social media and not the overall impression from your digital footprint. If the rest of your reputation is positive and those comments aren’t getting much attention? Then they can probably be safely ignored.
Creating and managing a strong digital footprint for your nonprofit takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. It can help you reach more people, raise more money, and achieve your mission. You may find that you need to hire an outside marketing and communications partner to manage one or more of the pieces of your digital footprint.
Our JR Communications team does just that. We can partner with you to grow a positive digital footprint for your nonprofit—and help you make sure you’re getting the quality and results you want.
By investing in a positive and purposeful digital footprint, one that aligns with your organization’s values, goals, and desired public image, your nonprofit can increase its impact and advance its mission.