MEMBERSHIP in a professional nursing organization offers nurses multiple benefits, including continuing education credits, discounts on certifications, networking and leadership opportunities, and a chance to influence local and federal policy.1-3 However, nursing organizations often face barriers to recruitment and member engagement in a financially challenging and volatile healthcare environment. Offering an affordable and meaningful membership may be harder for smaller organizations and local chapters than well-known national organizations. This article details one regional organization's efforts to overcome these problems through effective social media outreach.
Simple and affordable
Social media has emerged as a simple way for organization members to engage with the organization and each other. Social media sites are web-based communities that facilitate online communication in order to share information, ideas, messages, and content.4 Some examples are Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
For organizations with a limited budget, social media is an affordable option for communicating with members. The only cost to use social media is the time involved, in contrast to traditional marketing and communication methods that involve costly printing and mailing.
Organizations now need to quantify engagement in the form of connections and relationships, in addition to traditional metrics of success such as membership. Engaged members participate in organizational activities, helping to advance the goals and sustainability of the organization. This engagement is now easier to quantify with social media analytics; engagement can include commenting on or sharing posts and participating in online discussions. Individual organizations must identify the type of participation or engagement that's important to them, and this becomes the metric.5
The Virginia Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (VaCNS) is one example of a small organization (fewer than 100 members) that can struggle to maintain membership. The VaCNS has been an affiliate of the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists since 2010. The goals of the VaCNS are to offer education, networking opportunities, and legislative advocacy for clinical nurse specialists (CNS) in Virginia.
This organization has begun using social media to reach potential and existing members. Although many resources and publications address the effective use of social media and many healthcare organizations use social media to share information, little specific guidance for nursing organizations wishing to exploit social media is available. So two members of the VaCNS set out to answer the question: How can social media increase membership and member engagement for smaller nursing organizations?
Learning from the literature
Much of the nursing literature related to social media advises nurses to avoid pitfalls that could be damaging to their career, such as posting unprofessional comments online. Information from the marketing and business sectors actually provides better direction for professional nursing organizations seeking to use social media.
Social media can be used as part of a strategic marketing plan to increase organizational awareness and website traffic, and to attract new members. Most sites are free to join, making them attractive options for organizations without a marketing budget.
Several sources offer advice on social media best practices. Make use of all the interactive features these sites have to offer; posting photographs, rich media such as videos, blogs, updates about members, and links to other social media platforms help engage members and increase revenue or brand awareness.6,7 One knowledgeable physician and video blogger recommends using the same photo or logo across platforms for branding purposes.8
Social media sites are most valuable if content is current and updated frequently. Posting photographs from events, tagging members, and “liking” other organizations' pages can increase followers and engagement. Linking from social media sites can drive visitors to the organization's website and vice versa.9 Using each site's “call to action” function in a specific way, such as providing direct links to event registrations or e-mail contacts, helps members participate more fully in organizational efforts.10
Nurses use social media to network with other nurses throughout the world to share ideas and information, and the same goes for connecting organizations and nurses.11 The first step in using social media to attract new members is to identify which site is most heavily used by the organization's target members. Social media sites also allow the creation of groups, circles, or communities, which target individuals with similar interests who may be potential members. A consistently branded, cross-promoted group site on multiple outlets increases an organization's “reach,” or the number of unique people who view any content from a Facebook page.12 (See Definition of terms.)
Implementing a Facebook strategy
The VaCNS has had a Facebook page since the inception of the organization; however, it was used sporadically before December 2014, when a new administrator was appointed. The new administrator and webmaster collaborated to formulate a social media plan specific to VaCNS.
Strategies for Facebook included liking relevant group pages, highlighting member achievements and presentations, and posting information frequently. The “contact us” and “membership” buttons on the Facebook page were linked back to the VaCNS website. E-commerce was added to the website in March 2015, giving us the ability to process credit card payments for membership and conference registration.
The organization sponsored conferences in April and September, providing topics to advertise and discuss on both the VaCNS website and Facebook. The VaCNS also organized several activities related to CNS Recognition Week in September, including receiving proclamations from the governor and several localities in Virginia; all of these activities were publicized on the VaCNS website and the Facebook page.
What we learned
From March 5 to September 15, 2015, the administrator and webmaster collected data regarding unique visitors and page views for the VaCNS website, as well as Facebook page likes, post reach, and post engagement. They also tracked changes in membership during this time frame.
Before December 2014, we had very little activity/post reach on Facebook. Since the new administrator began in December 2014, and with the implementation of the new strategies, we've seen a sustained increase in reach. We saw a drop in engagement when our Facebook administrator went on vacation.
Unique website visitors and page views increased near the conference dates and CNS Recognition Week. More Facebook posts were made surrounding those dates, suggesting an association between the Facebook posts and visits to the website. The increase in unique visitors to the website was greater near the September conference, most likely because the conference had a pharmacology focus, which is a topic of interest for our members. VaCNS membership also rose near the conference dates. Conference attendees were given the opportunity to simultaneously join the organization and register for the conference at the member rate.
Activity on the Facebook page resulted in increased reach. The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists noticed and engaged on the VaCNS Facebook page as well. We generated a before-and-after chart that displayed the positive effect of the social media interventions throughout the year. Despite the increase in reach, no specific type of post was associated with more engagement on the Facebook page; however, it was obvious that posting frequently was the best way to maintain engagement.
VaCNS membership increased 131% following the social media outreach, from 26 members to 60 members. Thirty-nine additional members joined after we advertised conferences on Facebook and the website.
Suggestions for nursing organizations
Before implementing any strategy, small nursing organizations should consider which social media platform works best for their membership, what platform(s) the administrators are comfortable using, and how they will obtain needed metrics and data. For example, Facebook provides “Insights,” or data analytics, for each account in the past 2 years. This page provides information about page likes, post reach, and engagement; the gender, age, and location of users interacting with the page; the time of day that the page is viewed; and the part of the page that's viewed the most, to name a few.
We suggest not only developing a tailored social media strategy for your organization, but also designating a person to manage the strategy. Creating a calendar of what to post and when is also helpful. Facebook posts can be prescheduled so multiple posts can be written in advance.
Even small nursing organizations can reach potential members through strategic use of social media. Social media is an effective and relatively inexpensive way to increase involvement, engagement, and membership in professional nursing organizations.