Five Ways for Nonprofits to Use Photos on Facebook

If you’re a small to medium-sized nonprofit, chances are you are struggling to find the time to create compelling content for your Facebook page. Maybe a volunteer is doing it, or a staff member who has other responsibilities.

And with all of the changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm, you’re already fighting an uphill battle to get your content in front of your audience. The likelihood that even half of the fans of your page will see your post is pretty slim.

What’s an easy way to get more eyeballs on your content? Enter photos.

In a blog post on the pages posted in January, Facebook shows examples of how photos can create more engagement than a text or status update. When linking to a web url (whether it’s an article or blog post from your site), the preview image is now higher quality and larger than a few months ago. That’s because photos are more engaging (93 percent of most engaging content, according to Social Bakers) than any other type of content on Facebook.

Why is this? Think about what your mouse hovers over or what you like most often on your own feed. Is it a photo? Think about successful pages that are often shared: Humans of New York, I F*cking Love Science or even the Ellen DeGeneres selfie taken after the Oscars. Sure that was on Twitter first, but we all saw the photo at least three times the next morning on our news feed.

So how do you choose what photos to share, or what type of content to create around it? Here are few ideas, pulled from some of the best practices I’ve seen around Facebook from nonprofits.

1. Update your cover photo and change it at least every few months.

The act of updating your cover photo will trigger a notification in the news feed, which is an easy way to engage with your audience. Your profile picture will likely always stay your nonprofit’s logo, so the cover photo is the one place on your page where you can get creative.

For the Facebook page of the climbing organization (Mid Atlantic Climbers) I manage, I’ve changed the cover photo after every time we’ve had an event and taken a group shot. This photo has our banner in it (again establishing our logo/brand), shows the work that we do (trail cleanups), establishes a sense of place (fans may see the photo and recognize the place) and shows actual people. All of these things connect our work back to a people, place and idea, which gives more of a connection to the audience.

Here’s an example from the United Way of Central Maryland, which is using the space for more brand messaging:


And the folks at Baltimore Bike Party definitely know the power of a cover photo, because it illustrates how many people come to their monthly ride!

Baltimore Bike Party Facebook cover photo

2. Use a photo with a text overlay to promote an event or share an idea.

Creating a Facebook event for all of your events is a pretty much a requirement for good page management, but how about using a photo and adding a text overlay? This can help create buzz around an event, even if it’s a few months away.

Here’s another best practice from MAC. Note the number of shares on this photo:

MAC event promotion

The National Guard isn’t technically a nonprofit, but they use a ton of amazing photos on their page. Here’s an example of how they convey a simple message on an amazing photo:

National Guard photo

3. Uploading a poster, flyer or pamphlet that is meant to educate your audience on a specific issue. 

Any graphic design work that you do for mailings, flyers, etc. should be shared on your Facebook page. You likely pay someone to or work hard yourself to create a good design, so why not share it with your Facebook audience?  

A poster can be used to educate your audience or promote a cause, such as in the example from the Access Fund illustrating how long trash will last in the wilderness (again, not the number of shares):  

Access Fund poster

The American Red Cross shares a simple image posing a question to its audience, which is meant to spur action. Note the number of shares (again), the short link (providing the place for the audience to act) and the brief amount of text:

American Red Cross

4. Posting photos of your staff, volunteers or people connected to your organization doing your organization’s work.

Nothing is better on Facebook than seeing a great photo of a person tied with a story, which is why Humans of New York again is so successful. For many nonprofits, their staff, volunteers or the people they help are their biggest assets.

Here’s a great photo telling the story of a woman helped by Lutheran World Relief (headquartered in Baltimore):


Here’s a great photo of the folks at Leave No Trace on the road doing their training and meeting a famous person:

Leave No Trace showing people at work

The text with this photo explains all the important elements to tell the story: the staff at work (Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers), who they met (Secretary of the Interior and former REI President/CEO Sally Jewell) and where they were (Salt Lake City). Also note the tagging of the public figure, which  means the post will show up on her page as well, therefore increasing the post’s reach.

5. Create Facebook albums for any event that you host or participate in.

This is something I actually don’t see happen that often, with the exception of organizations that have a lot of social events. But if you’re a nonprofit who hosts a retirement party, a ribbon cutting or an open house, be sure to post photos.

Oftentimes nonprofits will waste time trying to pre-promote this event to the press so a photographer can come out and take photos. But these days journalists at ribbon cuttings are a rare find, so it’s better to take your own  photos, post it as an album, and then share the link with the press. If the content is good and complete, it’ll likely get picked up and shared in some form.

At Mid Atlantic Climbers, we do this for every adopt-a-crag we host. It helps illustrate to prospective volunteers what the work looks like, how many people show up and how much fun people are having:

Adopt-a-Crag photo album

Volunteers can also tag themselves (and I tag all of the people I know in the album), which increases the visibility of the post.

Again the folks at Baltimore Bike Party are great examples of this, as they have a professional photographer who does a photo booth at every event. What better way to promote your brand than an image like this:

Photo album image from Baltimore Bike Party

Do you have any other great examples of brands or nonprofits using photos to engage with their audience on Facebook? I’d love to see them!

What’s Up with Upworthy?

This is the homepage of Upworthy. Who ever goes there?

This is the homepage of Upworthy. Who ever goes there?

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine in the past year, you’ve been bombarded with Upworthy headlines:

“The most inspiring story you’ll read ever!”

“You won’t believe what this person did to confront some racist/horrible deed.”

“This latest corporate greed act will make you so angry.”

Those are not actual Upworthy headlines, but they are basically the same formula you see in the stories that populate in your feed.

What’s impressive about the site is its rapid growth (thanks to traffic from Facebook) in such a short period of time. At the end of last year, its traffic was up there with Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post.

Why is this content so popular? And more importantly, how did it get so popular on Facebook?

1. Staff write up to 25 headlines per story (Source: Kiss Metrics and Business Insider) and may release two versions and then change the headline based on which one gets better pageviews early on. With that amount of user testing on a headline, you’re bound to gain a ton of traffic.

2. They curate from social media, not from existing websites (Source: Business Insider), which means they are pulling from conversations and stories that are already what people are talking about.

3. The photo that goes with the article matters (Source: Kiss Metrics). We all see memes in our feed, amazing photos from friends, etc. and we all ‘like’ our friends photos more often than we like their posts. The better the photo with that crazy headline, the more people are going to share it.

So now that we’ve established that Upworthy is putting a lot of effort (probably more than most traditional news sites out there) into making sure you click on that content, here’s a primer on what’s been happening since they cracked the Facebook sharing code.

Spoiler alert: Everyone copied them, their traffic dropped and Facebook changed its news feed algorithm.

Towards the end of last year, traffic started dropped for brand pages across Facebook. When I was still working for Patch at the end of last year, we saw the same thing, as did other brands in AOL.

The same thing happened to Upworthy, with the unique visitor number to the site dropping by almost half from November to January (reports from Newsy and Business Insider).

According to a release from Facebook, the changes to the algorithm are meant to show more “high quality content” in the news feed, which again according to Facebook is:

“-is the content genuinely interesting to you or is trying to game the news feed distribution?”

“-would you complain about seeing this content in your news feed?”

Those are just some of the points emphasized in Facebook’s criteria, but when you look at those reasons, you could easily apply that to Upworthy.

As an aside it’s important to note that Business Insider shares some data showing that sites similar to Upworthy (complete clones like Distractify or Buzzfeed) did not see as precipitous of a drop in their traffic.

So what do news sites take away from this rise and fall of traffic, all at the mercy of Facebook?

Anyone who publishes on the web that traffic from links shared on Facebook is a huge boon to pageviews  (referral traffic to media sites from Facebook grew 170 percent year to year). At Patch, we saw a ton of traffic from posts shared on the Faceook pages for each local site.

But depending on what type of content is being shared on Facebook in the same time, how it’s being presented and who is clicking on it are all factors that determine how many clicks a story will get.

It’s a game that’s constantly changing, and as the Atlantic said, Upworthy is playing the same clickbait game as other news media outlets (namely the Huffington Post) have been playing for years.

So if you’re sick of seeing Upworthy  headlines in your news feed, take heart that they may be diminishing, but be wary of the next upstart who figures out the algorithm and then tries to beat it.

One final link for you, from the New Yorker, with the title: “The Six Things that Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate You.”

What a clever headline.