Social Media Strategy: Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

Post by Frank Barry - 6.24.2010 - Follow me on Twitter

Our social media strategy for nonprofits series continues by taking a look at how the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network ( uses social media to enhance their online efforts. This organization is dedicated to advancing research, supporting patients and creating hope for those affected by pancreatic cancer. As you can imagine, building a great online presence that creates a community of support and connects people with each other plays a key role in carrying out their mission.

Social Media Strategy by the Pancreatic Cancer Action NetworkAllison Nassour spent some time with us recently to help us see how social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube) is playing a part in helping the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network accomplish their goals. She’s been with the organization for almost a year and assumes the role of being the “heart-beat” behind all social media efforts (or you could use her real title - Manager of Online Fundraising & Social Networking).

Let’s get to it …


How did you come up with your social media strategy?

The primary goal for us was and still is, to create a social media “eco-system,” that puts our volunteer affiliates across the country at the heart of everything we do.

When I joined the team, there were existing accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc but none of them were regularly used. When I began visualizing the social media strategy and eco-system that was required to jump-start these accounts (and possibly new ones), I considered a handful of factors.

  • Where are the majority of our constituents online? Facebook? MySpace? Twitter? Some combination? I needed to determine which channels made the most sense and put us in front of the largest number of our supporters so I could use my time effectively.
  • What has been accomplished thus far on the existing social media accounts? Is it working? If yes, I wanted to take it to the next level and if not, I wanted figure out why it wasn’t working so I could take the appropriate steps to gain traction. 
  • What information are our constituents looking for online?
  • Which nonprofits are successfully using social media? I wanted to take a look at best practices and what other nonprofits were accomplishing and see if it was appropriate to adapt to our social media strategy. In fact, I had several discussions with other disease nonprofit organizations about their social network strategy that proved extremely helpful to both parties.


How does Pancreatic Cancer Action Network staff their SM efforts?

In July 2009, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network hired me (party of one) as the Manager of Online Fundraising and Social Networking. This was a new position for the organization, but so far it’s proven to be a valuable one. The position was created for a number of reasons.

  • First, the organization was encouraged by the amount of interest that began on MySpace in 2008. They were seeing a lot of our volunteers as well as others be impacted by the MySpace pages that were created to honor those who passed while also raising awareness about the disease.

  • Second, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network got involved with SocialVibe which lead to us testing the waters with Facebook. The high level of interest we received from our supporters kept us learning and growing. Once that happened we were well on our way to exploring the possibilities of what could be done with social media.

  • Third, we knew that awareness was key to fighting pancreatic cancer. Once we witnessed, in real-time, the power that social media had to build awareness around a cause we couldn’t help but increase our efforts. 

All that lead to the hiring of a full time Manager of Online Fundraising and Social Networking.


How much time do you spend supporting your social media efforts?

During the workday, I spend about five to six hours supporting our online efforts. This includes training volunteers one-on-one, reading about social media news and trends, researching new social media tools, interacting with constituents and organizing our master publishing calendar.

Additionally, I like to interact with our constituents online and be tuned in to the conversations that are happening on the web, so I spend a bit of time on the weekends managing our social media efforts as well.


Where is Pancreatic Cancer Action Network actively using social media?

The organization is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Our main focus is Facebook and Twitter but we are active on the other accounts regularly. Here’s a bit more information about how we use our two primary accounts:



Facebook is the strongest channel for us! When I started at the organization a year ago, our Facebook page had roughly 6,000 fans or people that “like” us (I still like to call them “fans”). Now our Facebook page is closing in on 25,000 fans. What’s most encouraging is that the page receives more traffic and engagement than any of our other social presences. Moreover, it drives more traffic to our website than any other social media site. Twitter is a close second. The Twitter is account connected to the page via Involver so that it has its own tab. I find that having Twitter connected to Facebook is an effective way of letting new and current Facebook fans know that we’re active on Twitter. Our YouTube channel is linked to our Facebook page as well. By bringing in Twitter and YouTube information we’ve created a hub of sorts that keeps our growing Facebook fan base engaged.



Twitter is gaining popularity for us. We had less than 1,000 followers when I started and now we’re over 2,000 and growing. Our supporters are warming up to Twitter as we continue to invest in that channel. We specifically have two Twitter accounts. The first (@PanCAN) is used for organization-wide news and updates and is cross published to our LinkedIn group so that we don’t have to spend as much time on LinkedIn. Our second Twitter account (@Advocate4PanCAN) is devoted to our grassroots advocacy efforts. We use it for advocacy outreach, updating online constituents with news relating to the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act (S. 3320 and HR 745) and activity occurring on Capitol Hill as it relates to pancreatic cancer.


How do you measure success?

One of the key metrics I track to determine if our social media efforts are being successful is growth. For example, if our Facebook page has an 8% increase in “fans” from February to March but a 12% increase from March to April, I know whatever I was doing from March to April provided a higher ROI because the amount of time I invested resulted in a higher growth in fan base. I apply this methodology to Twitter as well.

Another big part of our measurement strategy is tracking engagement. I pay close attention to the interaction and engagement that’s occurring on all of our social media outlets. I do this by placing a “heart beat” on our efforts.

I engage with our online constituents nearly every day by replying to comments and answering questions. Interestingly, I am not the only one engaging; a large number of our Facebook fans start conversations with each other. It’s incredible! The fans have really turned the page into an online community and opened their hearts to each other despite the fact that they’ve never met. Here are a couple examples to show you what I’m talking about:

One time, we had a supporter of ours post a comment expressing concern over a loved one’s recent diagnosis.  Another fan, from across the country, came across the comment about an hour or so later and replied to the original author with information directing them to our Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) department for support and pancreatic cancer information.

Another thing that happens frequently is fans, on the actual day of a loved one’s passing, come to the Facebook page and post a comment to honor their loved one while also seeking support from fellow community members.  Each and every time the community responds in a great way! It’s touching to see how fast people respond to those looking for support and answers. The community is truly there for one another.

As you can see, the engagement and community aspects of what we are doing truly are return on investment!


Can you give others some advice on how to get started?

ONE: You don’t have to be on every social media platform that exists to be successful. Pick one or two to start. Find the social media channels that help move your mission forward. To do that look out for the ones that fit you as an organization and allow you to communicate your message clearly. Then find the places where your constituents are active.

TWO: See what other nonprofits are doing. It helps stir creativity if you’re stuck in a creative road-block.

THREE: Engage, engage, engage! This is what keeps people coming back. Our supporters know that there’s a human heartbeat behind all of our online presences which makes it worth-while for them to keep coming back.

FOUR: Diversify your messaging to appeal to all constituents. Some are interested in event information only, others in advocacy, others in volunteerism, and some are interested in everything! Make it a point to schedule your messaging so that you aren’t promoting only events or only volunteer info day after day; stagger it. If you don’t stagger, then the messaging becomes predictable and boring.


Allison Nassour - Social Media Manager at the Pancreatic Cancer Action NetworkThanks a ton for spending some time with us Allison. It's great to see how social media and your efforts are making an impact in this world for those affected by Pancreatic Cancer.

Allison Nassour is the Manager of Online Fundraising & Social Networking for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network located in El Segundo California.



More from our Social Media Strategy for Nonprofits Series:


License and Registration, Please

Reach Out or Round Up: Which Social Networking Strategy Should Your Organization Pursue?

Social Media Strategy: Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

Is Facebook Right for your Nonprofit's Community?

5 Tips for Writing Effective Web Content

Content Inventory: Never Fun, Always Needed

Go Beyond the Typical To Reach Your Base

Continuing the Conversation with Custom Confirmations

A Guide to Facebook Social Plugins for Nonprofits

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Increasing Website Traffic with Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

7 Tips for Successful Online Fundraising

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