Nonprofit Spotlight: How Soles 4 Souls Uses Images to Engage


Photo Courtesy Soles 4 Souls

Editor’s Note: We’ve got Ken Mueller guest posting again! If you missed his previous two posts, check out “A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words” and “How Businesses Can Benefit from Nonprofit Partnerships.”

Soles4Souls has one primary mission: to put shoes on the feet of the 300 million children around the world who have none. This isn’t just a matter of fashion or vanity. It’s a very real need as they seek to eradicate disease and other issues caused by lack of footwear. Getting shoes improves the children’s health, improves their chances of getting an education and a job, and improves their chances of breaking the cycle of poverty.

In order to do this, the organization has created a strong online presence, with social media managed by Rebecca Cicione, and within the past year has shown how using visuals can help a nonprofit experience great growth online.

Visuals are at the forefront of how Soles4Souls is using social platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube. But it’s not just a matter of slapping up the occasional picture or video. It is all part of a well-planned strategy that is intentional, not incidental. Here’s a look at some of their strategy and specific tactics:

1. Nearly every update on Facebook has an image.

It’s rare to see them just post a status update. S4S recognizes that images drive a greater level of engagement, and they are tapping into that. Studies have shown that updates with images get the greatest amount of engagement, and in looking at their insights (to which I was given access), this bears out for Soles4Souls.

2. Multiple posts each day.

It doesn’t always happen, but with about four posts per day, all of which include images, they are hitting people at different times of the day. This maximizes their ability to be seen, and the times of the postings are adjusted based on what they see in their insights.

3. Go with the research.

While Cicione posts often, the first post of the day is rather interesting. Rather than focusing solely on the work that they do, she noticed that one of the things that seems to have legs on Facebook are those image memes that focus on fun or inspirational quotes or sayings. So that first post of the day is one of those, and the results have been great. Those morning posts not only get high view counts, but also tend to get the most likes and shares, as people spread them around Facebook.

Even more interesting is the fact that the organization has directly linked those posts (and the sharing of them) to an increase in “likes” on the page. Last September the page had about 20,000 likes, and now, less than a year later, they are rapidly approaching 40,000. They are averaging about 60+ new likes every day, most of them coming in the morning, and as a result of that first post.

4. Vary your images.

In addition to those types of images, the rest of the pictures deal more specifically with the work of the organization, either of volunteers involved in shoe collection events, or on the ground at a distribution point, whether it’s close to home or around the world. These are the images that tell the story of the work that Soles4Souls is doing on daily basis.

5. Think of the entire visual experience.

Facebook’s Timeline offers nonprofits a great chance to show off who they are in a very visually appealing way. Soles4Souls is again very intentional in the way it uses the cover photo of the Timeline. The image at the top is usually tied to a specific campaign, such as encouraging people to sign up for one of their distribution trips, or this particular image to promote their green initiative during earth month:

These cover images get rotated in and out rather frequently.

6. Video.

Soles4Souls has a branded YouTube channel which it uses as its hub for posting videos on their blog and Facebook. They can bring their story to life through videos. One great example is this short video for one of their micro-giving campaigns, which, in under two minutes, explains what they do and why they do it:

7. Crowdsourcing.

Not all photos have to be taken by your photographers. Soles4Souls is active around the world and can’t afford to have photographers everywhere. For that reason, volunteers are encouraged to take their own photos of their own events, and then submit them via the Facebook page. People love participating, and seeing their pictures online, and they illustrate how active the organization is all over the world.

Here’s a photo of a 5-year old boy who decided to help out as part of his birthday. You can read his story (and see more images) on the Soles4Souls blog.

8. Other image platforms.

Soles4Souls also is doing some rather interesting things with both Instagram and Pinterest. On their Instagram account they share a lot of interesting photos with their nearly 2,000 followers, and those images get a great deal of engagement. In addition to “typical” photos on Instagram, they often feature some of the many thank you notes they have received:

They are relatively new on Pinterest, but are creating boards for each of their donation trips, as well as for a variety of their initiatives.

Spend some time checking out what Soles4Souls is doing online, particularly on Facebook and their blog, and see if you can learn something about creating compelling visual content that tells a story and promotes engagement. They have done an incredible job of raising their profile this way, as well as increasing their supporter base.

How are you using visuals as part of your digital marketing efforts?

  • Very practical and informative. Thanks for these ideas, and it’s cool to see how pictures really can help people understand what a ministry/company/organization are doing and display their vision over and over. It really seems true that pictures connect more deeply with people than simple text, especially in a highly dense text filled environment.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Adam, and for the comment. I think we’re just starting to really understand the power of visuals when it comes to our online experience. And with tools like Instagram and platforms like Pinterest, there are so many new opportunities for us to take advantage of that. As for text, I know that I rarely read every word in a post. I skim a lot, but pictures will grab me more easily.u00a0

  • Kristin Ebanks,

    This makes a difference indeed to both the reader and the beneficiary. If the Soles 4 the souls extends their hands to Malawi hope many children can benefit allot.

  • Herebi Dzilekwa

    This makes a difference indeed to both the reader and the beneficiary. If the Soles 4 the souls extends their hands to Malawi hope many children can benefit allot. This has been sent by me and not Kristin. This is a correction for the error.

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