The universal story-telling principles for social media that every not-for-profit needs to know.

When it comes to social media, there’s no one-size-fits all piece of content that works across all channels. That’s because each channel has its own audience and algorithm matched to how audiences prefer to engage on that channel. 

For example on LinkedIn, audiences like to engage with thought-leadership and written content. 

While on Instagram, it’s all about Reels and videos that are fast-paced. 

On TikTok, a long-form audio and video trend is really building momentum with the average TikTok being 3 minutes in length.

And Facebook? The younger demographic is barely using it. 

But due to lack of time, budget, resources and strategy, many not-for-profits post the same piece of content across all channels. And then wonder why social media engagement is so low. 

But no matter the content format (video, static, TikToks, Reels, Stories, long-form, carousel etc) there are universal story-telling principles that apply.

And we’ve found, when you stick to these you drive higher engagement with your audiences - no matter the channel, format and length of your content.

1. Keep it concise & purposeful 

Each piece of social content should have only one main idea or call to action. If it’s too complicated, it’ll get lost in the feed.

An example of Dementia UK’s twitter content that is clear and simple in its focus.  

2. Excellent use of copy

Keep your copy interesting and in strong alignment with your brand voice and personality - to inspire, delight, move, connect. This is one of the first things that not-for-profits get lazy with, but never forget how important your copy is.  Even if you’re posting a video your headline copy and closed captions must be used strategically as the majority of people on social media watch videos with the sound off. 

An example of Channel 4’s strategic use of copy on Facebook video content.

3. An early creative hook

Especially when creating video, many not-for-profits create it as you would for a TVC - where the narrative builds and climaxes at the end. However on social it’s critical to start off with the bang! Flip the narrative, to interrupt audiences scrolling. We recommend playing with the visuals, narrative and story arc to bring forward the action (or even just a teaser) to get engagement. 

An example of dynamic, emotive video content on Instagram that interrupts the feed from World Vision.

4. Thumb-stopping design, especially for your thumbnails

Your thumbnail is the first thing that people see when they’re scrolling through their feed, and is the make or break image that entices them to click through.  So make the most of your visual space to capture attention - bright colours, beautiful illustrations, interesting copy etc. Your creative should disrupt the feed and evoke emotion.

Example of an eye-catching thumbnail from UNICEF.

5. TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read)

Embrace the TL;DR and make your content snackable and bite-sized. The best examples are when not-for-profits break down complex issues, summarise a news article or blog or provide step-by-step guidance for an event/fundraiser.

An example of an Instagram carousel from Guardian that makes an article snackable.

Once you’ve applied these universal story-telling principles, remember to always consider the channel it’s going out on and who your audience is. 

But with a mixture or all of these tips applied to your social media content, you should begin to see deeper engagement amongst your audiences. 



Want to learn more about how to tell your NFP’s story on social media? Register for our FREE upcoming webinar with our social media expert, as she shares practical tips for each social media channel,  best-in-class case studies and insights that will help your NFP craft compelling social-first stories to build, engage and motivate communities online.