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The Nonprofit Communicator’s Guide to Paid Social Distribution

By Ory Rinat


  • Organizations create vast amounts of content, but often put far less effort into distributing that content. Paid social media promotion is a smart and effective way of helping your content reach its intended audience.
  • LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook each present unique benefits that are particular to the situation your organization finds itself in with a given piece of content. Whether it’s driving a conversation, reaching influentials, or providing traffic, each channel can help you in a different way.

So you wrote a blog post, kicked off an advocacy campaign, or launched a new report. Now, you need to ensure that your target audiences actually engage with your content.

Foundations and nonprofits invest significant effort in creating content. We invest in research, analyze program effectiveness, convene experts, and publish reports. But all too often, distribution is only an afterthought. To ensure our work makes an impact, distribution needs to be top of mind. Paid social promotion is one of the most targeted and effective ways to be sure your content reaches its intended audience.

But how do you decide which social platforms to use, and how to allocate your budget? This article is a a bit of a “cheat sheet” to help you get started. Read on to find out some of the best ways to use paid social and discover some hacks to help you make the biggest impact.


When to use it: LinkedIn is best for when you need to reach a highly-targeted influential audience. When targeting the right people is more important than mass reach, and when your content is professional or industry-focused in nature, it is the ideal channel.

Why it’s great: Its targeting specificity is unmatched. You only pay for clicks when selecting the CPC (cost-per-click) option while social actions (likes and shares) are free added value. Sponsored updates preview more of your content than Tweets, so by the time the audience clicks they are already more engaged and primed to take action.

The trick: LinkedIn’s CPC ads work on the auction model. To make the most of your budget, try first bidding at the bottom of LinkedIn’s recommended range, especially when you don’t have to spend a set budget within a short time period. Hone in on a very specific audience if a small set of people (such as Congressional staff) are a top priority for you, and adjust your bid upward slowly to capture more engagement from your niche targets.


When to use it: Twitter reigns when your goal is to drive the conversation (especially when reporters are among your target audiences). It’s also ideal when targeting the followers of other organizations in your space or influencer that can help you reach the right people, and when job title and seniority is less critical than interest area.

Why it’s great: It reaches a more influential audience than Facebook, display ad networks, or discovery platforms, but at a lower cost than LinkedIn. Like other platforms, it offers CPC placements, ensuring you only pay when someone clicks on your content. As a side benefit, interesting campaigns often boost followers for your Twitter account, building longer-term engagement.

The trick: Twitter cards are a great way to build leads and capture user information with a single click. You build them through the advertising dashboard on Twitter, but they are actually free to create and can be promoted organically.


When to use it: Facebook’s biggest advantage is providing significant traffic quickly and cheaply. It’s especially helpful when you have better-than-average content – you can use the CPM model on the site and get a better effective cost-per-click than most competitors because your content will be more popular. It’s also useful when you want to promote video, but driving traffic back to your site is not a critical goal.

Why it’s great: Simply put, reach and scale. Facebook is capable of driving more engagement per dollar than most other traffic drivers. It allows advertisers to target across numerous criteria, though the levers it offers may not always perfectly match your goals.

The trick: Invest $20 to A/B test your headlines or other content elements. Create two separate campaigns using the Facebook Power Editor tool (rather than two posts within the same campaign). Set the same budget and target audience, and set a $10 spend to run for an hour on each campaign. Launch at the same time on a CPM basis, and within a few hours you will have the results of your A/B test. Pro tip: target mobile (traffic that many publishers can’t monetize and is thus cheaper) to get a larger sample size for the same cost.

Whether you are driving users to your articles, videos, or other resources, these tactics will help you maximize your media budget and drive the greatest impact for your organization.

Ory Rinat is Director of Digital Strategy at The Heritage Foundation. He previously served as Director of Digital Strategy and Partnerships at Atlantic Media Strategies.


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