Content Marketing Strategy for a Non-Profit: A Case Study

questions about content marketingContent marketing success stories get loudly trumpeted, and rightly so, yet many (most?) marketers have something of a love-hate relationship with content marketing. The evolution of content marketing appears to be an ongoing struggle for online marketers, especially on these two fronts:

  1. identifying and producing content that will engage prospective customers and,
  2. measuring the effectiveness of your content strategy.

Marketers for non-profit organizations are no exception. A recent survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute demonstrates the difficulties that non-profit marketers are experiencing with content marketing.

With the hope of assisting other marketers in developing their own content strategy, here is a case study of a content marketing strategy executed for a non-profit organization.

This case study will focus on these two key aspects:

  1. the kinds of content produced, and
  2. measurable results from the content.

The Backstory

The organization was a federally-funded career center that offered services to job seekers, assisting them in regaining employment. The services were free of charge, but had eligibility requirements, so an application form was required to determine eligibility for the services.

The two most important services offered to job seekers were:

  1. the Job Search Boot Camp, a five-day series of workshops on job search preparation, resume writing, using LinkedIn, and job interviewing.
  2. Occupational Training Grants to help job seekers attain new skills or professional certifications.

In addition to services for job seekers, the organization offered some services for local employers and businesses. The most popular of these was a free job posting service, through which jobs from area employers were posted free of charge to a job board maintained on the organization’s website.

As the economic recovery progressed and the unemployment rate continued to go down, fewer and fewer job seekers were applying for the organization’s services.

Additionally, there was absolutely no budget for marketing or advertising. Any marketing would need to be free and/or produced in-house with available resources and technology.

The organization had a minimal social media presence. They had set up a Twitter account, but with no clear purpose or strategy for its use, and the Twitter feed had fallen into disuse. They had used no other social media platforms.
Regarding owned media on their website, there was basic information about the organization and the services offered, and very little else.

Content Strategy

An online content strategy was implemented with the goal of engaging potential “customers” at three key points in their customer journey: awareness, discovery and consideration.

For generating awareness, expansion of social media marketing was a priority. The potential for viral spread, combined with the fact that use of the platforms is free of charge, made social media a no-brainer.

For awareness and discovery, a blog was considered, but rejected for two reasons:

  1. The information that would have been published on the blog, i.e., job search advice, would directly compete with the workshops being offered.
  2. By the time the content strategy was being put into place, there were already a plethora of blogs and online publications that not only offered very similar sorts of information, but also had a longer lead time to establish their authority and audience. To try to compete against such established blogs would have been extremely difficult, at best, and therefore not likely to be worth the “investment”.

Therefore, it was necessary to expand the amount and types of content offered through the organization’s website. The content would need to expose people to the services offered, to engage them, and get them to examine their own need for the services.

Additionally, the onsite content would need to expand the number of paths leading to conversion pages, from which people would download and complete the application form.

Actions Taken

Social Media

The overall social media campaign was intended to generate awareness of the organization and it’s services, with the hope of generating content that would be shared virally/organically.

One key consideration was the limited amount of time that could be dedicated every week to social media marketing activities, so it was crucial to devise a strategy that was sustainable while still obtaining desired goals through posting a variety of effective content.

Twitter: The organization’s social “portfolio” was immediately diversified. The existing Twitter account was revived with a fresh strategy, and two additional accounts were established, yielding these three Twitter feeds for the organization:

  • Twitter feed for Job Seekers: This featured a mix of job search content curated from others sources, news about services and events at the career center, as well as links to content on the organization’s website. The frequency of tweets was 3-5 times daily, Monday through Friday, occasionally on weekends.
  • Twitter feed for Businesses: Similarly, the main content for this feed was articles curated from various authoritative sources on the web. This included news pertaining to various key industries, as well as broad economic news. The feed was lightly peppered with links to pages on the organization’s website detailing services for employers. The feed was also used to “shout out” to employers who appeared as a Top 20 employer on the career center’s Job Search Dashboard. The frequency of tweets was 3-8 times daily, Monday through Friday, occasionally on weekends.
  • Twitter Jobs feed: This was an extension of the job posting service for employers, and was comprised solely of tweets that linked to each individual job that had been posted on the organization’s website. Tweet frequency depended on the number of jobs posted, with each individual job tweeted 3 times within 5 days, at different times of day.

Facebook: Two Facebook pages were established, one aiming at adult job seekers, and one aiming at youth and young adults ages 17 to 21. The primary reason for the separate pages is that the adult program and the youth program had separate funding streams, and marketing for the two programs may follow different “sales cycles.”

  • Adult Facebook Page: Content for the adult Facebook page consisted primarily of original graphic and pictorial content, supplemented by curated content from other job search authorities, as well as posts about workshops and other events taking place in the career center. Post frequency was typically one post a day, 3-5 days a week, Monday through Friday.
  • Youth Facebook Page: Content for the youth Facebook page also consisted of custom made graphics, as well as info about the organization’s youth programs, and info about entry-level job openings in the area.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn updates consisted primarily of links to jobs posted on the organization website, as well as some curated content, and info about career center event and workshops.

Google+: Posts on the Google+ page likewise consisted of lists of jobs posted, curated content, and career center events and workshops. The graphics and pictures posted on Facebook were also posted on Google+.

Instagram: The Instagram account was something of an experiment, and admittedly not altogether successful. Posts consisted mostly of pictures taken at various events and workshops, plus custom graphics highlighting top area employers every week.

New Website Content

Fifty-one pages of new content were created for the website, designed to function primarily at the discovery and awareness phases of the customer journey.

Content for Awareness / Discovery

  • Job Search Dashboard: A unique and popular piece of content that displays statistics about job and employers s in DuPage County, as well as info about career center workshops and jobs posted on the career center website, with links to appropriate pages on the website.
  • How to Dress for Interview: Infographic posted as an on-site resource, but also used as shareable content posted on social media. The on-site page contains a CTA which clicks through to the Job Search Readiness Quiz (see below).
  • Words to Use on Resume: Infographic posted on-site as a resource, but also used as shareable content for social; leads to a CTA which clicks through to the Job Search Readiness Quiz (see below).
  • Understanding the Hiring Funnel: Provides statistics highlighting the competitive nature of the job search and process, leading to a call to action to learn more about job search workshops.
  • Job Seeker Scams: A compendium of known recent job search scams.
  • Picture Yourself in Manufacturing: Pages aimed at youth (ages 18 to 21), to increase awareness of the career possibilities that exist in manufacturing, ultimately leading to a page about the organization’s youth manufacturing careers program.

Content for Discovery

  • Frequently Asked Questions: Comprehensive FAQ, peppered with links to other appropriate pages on the website.
  • Careers in Manufacturing: Several pages promoting a special program focusing on careers in manufacturing. All pages contained a CTA leading to the online ATIM application form.
  • Layoff Recovery Resources: A page aimed exclusively at people who have been laid off, it provides tips and resources for navigating your layoff, as well as CTAs for workshop and training grants conversion pages.

Content for Discovery / Consideration

  • Job Search Readiness Quiz: A quick “interactive” quiz, intending to impel job seekers to question their own readiness to conduct a successful job search. Quiz results pages have CTAs clicking through to "conversion pages" for the the job search workshops and the occupational training grants (see below).
  • DuPage Skills & Certifications: Lists the top skills and certifications seen in jobs posted by DuPage employers over the last month. Leads to a CTA that clicks through to the occupational training grant conversion page.
  • Facts About IT Certifications: Lists various statistics about the importance of certifications in I.T. Leads to a CTA that clicks through to the occupational training grant conversion page.

Content for Consideration

  • Reasons to Consider Occupational Training: A brief list of the top reasons why job seekers should think about obtaining new skills or certifications, leading to a CTA which clicks through to the conversion page for the occupational training grants.
  • Online Career & Training Expo: Many pages highlighting in-demand occupations, as well as available training programs for those industries and occupations. All pages end with a CTA clicking through to the training grants conversion page.

Conversion Pages

  • WIA Occupational Training Grants: Provided further details about the WIA training grants, with a strong CTA to download the PDF application form.
  • Job Search Boot Camp: Provided details about the Boot Camp workshops, with a strong CTA to download the PDF application form.

Results

Measuring the results of content still vexes many marketers. The general approach taken here is that of measuring engagement, but in as meaningful a way as possible.

Social Media

Measuring engagement for the various social media properties was based on three criteria:

  1. Is the number of followers steadily increasing? Unfortunately, the number of followers on each social account was not tracked, and I strongly recommend that content marketers track this for each account, monthly, if not weekly. However, the number of connections/followers on each account has been increasing steadily, and the organization’s total social following currently stands at approx. 2,200, broken down as follows:
    •  Twitter (all 3 feeds) – 870
    •  Facebook (both pages) – 276
    •  LinkedIn – 1,016
    •  G+ – 53
    •  Instagram – 17
  2. Do posts regularly get Liked, Shared or Retweeted? This also was not tracked across all social platforms, but should have been. However, posts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter continue to get Liked, Shared or Retweeted daily. Posts on Facebook have achieved an organic/viral reach into the hundreds, and two particular posts achieved viral reaches ~2,500 and ~3,400. Analytics data from Facebook and Twitter are currently being downloaded and analyzed to determine engagement on those two platforms.
  3. Is the social media account generating referral traffic to the website? The number of sessions (i.e., unique visits to the website) generated from social media steadily increased from 2011 through 2014:
    •  2011 – 51,181 (1.6% of total sessions)
    •  2012 – 58,504 (2.1% of total sessions)
    •  2013 – 65,152 (2.3% of total sessions)
    •  2014 – 64,216 (2.6% of total sessions)
    Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all generated increasing website visits. Google+ was the sole exception, with an overall decline in generating website referrals.
    As for Instagram, the organization has garnered only a small following to date, and Instagram does not generate website referral traffic, since it does not allow clickable links in posts.
  • Additionally, engagement with the Jobs feed was tracked using a URL shortener, which allowed measurement of how many clicks each job received. The key metric for engagement that was used was the average clicks per job. This metric fluctuated depending on the kinds of jobs, as well as the time of year, but it did generally increase year-over-year:
    •  2012 – 2,761 clicks/job
    •  2013 – 5,637 clicks/job
    •  2014 – 7,127 clicks/job

For an in-depth analysis of the Facebook campaign, see my related blog post Analysis of Facebook Content Marketing for a Non-Profit.

Website Content

For the on-site content, the metrics use to evaluate customer/user engagement were:

  1. Unique Page Views (UPVs): This can generally be taken as an indication of unique, individual visitors to the page. UPVs for the new content pages ranged from 59 UPVs/week to 1.5 UPVs/week (not so hot).
    Paradoxically, some pages (e.g. How to Dress for a Job Interview) had low UPVs but high click-through/conversion rates, suggesting that those pages would benefit from more promotion on, e.g., the home page of the website and/or via social media.
    Overall, in 2013 the new content generated 11.0% of total site-wide UPVs.
  2. Bounce Rate: Bounce rate is an indication of the number of people who land on a page, then leave that without clicking anything. For this reason, bounce rate is really good indicator of customer engagement, and you want to strive for a low bounce rate, i.e., a low number of people who “bounce” away from a page without clicking any further into your site.
    Bounce rates for the new website content ranged from 27% (which is pretty good) to 71% (which is not so good). In some cases, e.g. the Job Search Dashboard, a high bounce rate was expected, since those pages lacked strong calls to action.
  3. Average Time on Page: Time on page is another excellent indicator of user engagement; very low values indicate that the content did not engage, so users quickly exited the page.
    Average times on page for the new content ranged from 0:37 to 3:15, with a median of 1:35. All pages with low values were those with less content to read, therefore these values have been interpreted as indicating a good level of user engagement.
  4. CTA Click-Throughs: CTA click-through rates for the various pages ranged from a lamentable 2.0% to a very respectable 58.7%. The median click-through rate was 15.5%, which is actually fairly high.
    There was a marked increase in UPVs to the 2 “conversion pages” for training grants and Boot Camp workshops as the amount of onsite content proliferated, driving potential “customers” toward conversion. For the first half of 2014, UPVs to the conversion pages totaled 628. UPVs nearly doubled in the second half of 2014, at 1,339.
    Further, conversions on these pages nearly tripled for the same period: in the first half of 2014 conversions numbered 57, in the second half they numbered: 169. As a reminder, conversion was defined as downloading the application PDF.

Next Steps

Based on insights obtained from the content analysis, these next steps were determined:

  1. Download analytics data from Twitter and Facebook to conduct an engagement analysis for those platforms.
  2. Given the popularity of the Job Search Dashboard, it will be redesigned to include more calls to action to other related pieces of content, to help drive users toward conversion.

Conclusions

Non-profit organizations may clearly benefit from an ongoing content marketing strategy, when executed in much the same manner as a business. Success will depend on:

  1. Successfully identifying the types of content that will engage your prospective customers,
  2. Clear expectations and goals for your content strategy, and
  3. Measuring the results on an ongoing basis, to determine what content does and does not work.

I would also recommend tempering your expectations, especially at the outset. The benefits of content and social media marketing tend to accrue over time. If you expect too much, too soon, you will be setting yourself up for disappointment. For more information on this point, you may wish to read my brief article Social Media for Small Business: A Pragmatic Approach.