(Or, 5 Things You Need To Know When Developing and Carrying Out a Social Media Strategy)
Adopting social strategies- such as taking on innovative social media initiatives requires institutions to change how they think about communications. Creating this change requires removing four, distinct barriers: buy-in, radical trust, uncertainty, and resource issues. I have discussed buy-in and why social media is critical for institutions, and most recently, I gave an example of radical trust in action in the ZAM (zoo, aquarium, museum) community. Today’s post is on uncertainty- the biggest beast of the bunch. Also, the cartoons here are by the wonderful Tom Fishburne.
Uncertainty regarding “proper” use of social media and social network integration is a logical reason to be hesistant about taking on social strategies. There are hundreds of social media platforms and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. To make things even more interesting, I’d guess that most people are conversant on less than half of these top fifteen most popular social networking sites. This doesn’t mean social networking sites aren’t extremely important. It does mean that there’s a lot of chatter going on in regard to social media, and it is critical to delve into social media with a clear understanding of what you hope to gain. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in the “noise” surrounding online engagement. Whether you want social media to inspire audience connections to get folks to buy an on-site ticket or make a donation, or you want to educate potential visitors, start a revolution, or just raise awareness of your brand, a clear goal for each initiative- and your overall strategy- is absolutely imperative. For instance, if your goal is to drive ticket sales but link paths do not end up on the ticketing website, then there’s a huge missed opportunity to meet your goal.
Managing and developing social media strategies on behalf of an organization is not for the easily distracted, but it is a job for the open-minded and curious. Knowing (roughly) what’s happening in the social media world is important because it allows you to explore new opportunities, but it’s also important to keep your eye on the ball. The best folks I have found are those who say, “Holy cow! This random, new social networking site is sweet!” and then step back and ask themselves if it helps meet their organization’s stated goals in a creative and engaging way. If the answer is no (or it’s not worth the resources), they simply sigh and register for shelfari personally. In fact, this is a good transition to my first point below.
5 things that you need to know when developing and carrying out a social media strategy:
1. There’s power in your people. Some professional social networking sites for museos allow individuals to connect, in turn strengthening their organizations. Social media lives in a world where the personal and the professional mix together. And like most incredible things, this is both a risk and a terrific opportunity for reward for organizations. Employees can share links with their own personal/professional networks, which has high word-of-mouth value. Help them do that by creating a social media policy. ..Ugh. I hate the word “policy” in the name for this common document because it implies a rule, and a rule implies that you don’t really trust your people. It’s important to trust your people…but a good social media policy empowers people simply because it states clearly and openly what is allowed and what is not. In my experiences with organizations, this has been especially important with young people, including teens and interns. I love Gen Y (holler to my people), but it’s true: the youngest of us are sometimes lacking a filter online. A good social media policy inspires these natural, online connectors and creators to work their magic and share their stories. Next generation engagement for your ZAM? Your young people will do it naturally. Empower them. Have a clear social media policy that allows them (and others) to do their thing and even mix personal and professional. Let them be real, but also let them know any boundaries. Your legal department also thanks you in advance.
2. For social media non-users, help them understand.. especially if they are a gatekeeper for compelling organizational content. It’s obvious: if nobody on your PR team knows much about creative engagement online, then there’s no key champion for developing and carrying out social strategies. If nobody on any of your teams knows much about social technology (I stand by it: good social media doesn’t belong solely to the communications folks), then it’s even harder. To make matters worse in zoos and aquariums, unknowing husbandry staff can be the biggest bottlenecks for signing off on messaging and creating transparent videos and photos that build online connections.This makes sense when it comes to precious animals with low survival rates. Some zoos and aquariums have rocking caretakers with a social presence, but for other organizations, clearing up uncertainty around social media and getting everyone on board and comfortable with it is no small task. It’s still critical. Baby-step this relationship because it’s important. These folks are sometimes treasure-troves of valuable, connection-inspiring anecdotes for online engagement. Let ‘em know!
3. Your breakthrough will happen when you realize that it’s not about you. Here’s another one where it looks like Captain Obvious took over my blog, but this is a really hard lesson- especially for some of our best and brightest traditionally-trained marketing folks. It’s just a different way of inspiring connection with a brand, and it’s critical online. Transparency and trust are key to an effective social strategy. Inspiring engagement means inviting folks inside of your organization and creating a relationship in which they have the ongoing opportunity to peek behind the scenes. This requires not “selling,” but “sharing” your product/mission. Talk to your online audiences like you would talk to a friend. Be human. Putting up sturdy walls to protect the organization will backfire. In fact, the more you trust your audience and make it about them and their relationship with you, the more they will likely trust you in return. For a great example carried out by the Shedd Aquarium, visit my last post on radical trust. A sure way to break trust online and alienate online evangelists? Break news in print or on other sites before it’s released to your online audience (though breaking it at the same time is fine). You can think of your online community as special, online “members.” They are involved. They are special. They want to talk to a person, not an overly-professional, opaque, robot-like professional entity. (Grabbing my computer back from Captain Obvious and moving on…)
4. Test it. Fix it. Repeat. It’s not usually going to be an immediate success. I know that’s not cool. Your strategy will be a success over time, however, if you take the opportunity to listen to your audience, ask for feedback, are open about the initiative, and don’t get too attached to how you originally began doing things. You must do what best meets your organization’s goals. One of the best examples of this is when the Brooklyn Museum famously discontinued Twitter and Facebook accounts for their 1st Fans program. They wrote about it on their blog and shared their experience. In the end, they moved their strategy to meetup.com. In sum, they assessed how each platform was working for them in regard to reaching their goals, shared findings and were transparent with audiences, didn’t give up on social media but picked a platform that worked best for them and most of all, they weren’t apologetic about ditching platforms (even the most popular ones) that didn’t help them meet their goal of using social media to facilitate on-site engagement. Giving up 1st Fans on Facebook? Ballsy, some might argue. But it’s working for them.
5. Own it. It’s an active platform, not a passive one. That means you cannot just hop on Twitter and expect for it to make any amount of difference at all. If you’re going to put your organization on any social media platform, it is important that you keep it up-to-date and active or you should close the account. Even if your staff isn’t logging on every day to check out your Twitter feed, other people are seeing it. If it’s forgotten, your brand looks messy and you organization looks out of date and disorganized. That’s not a good way to look, especially if you are a museum fighting the old reputation that these institutions are stagnant,increasingly-irrelevant places (lies…). There’s more to it than just being active on social media if you have an account. You need to treat each platform differently. The tones and uses of even Twitter and Facebook are very different, so directly Tweeting Facebook statuses is a marked “fail” most of the time.
6. Social media and social strategies are evolving. So have confidence and be innovative. Only risks and new initiatives can push the envelope and help all of us to discover the incredible potential of social media and social networks. Individuals are spending an increasing amount of time on social networks. There’s an opportunity for exploration in this realm. By the same token, social media still takes an bit of experimentation to see results. It is not just the future. It is most certainly now.
And, because it never hurts to be overly-explicit, here are some things you probably already know, but you can take them for the road:
- Pick measurable goals. Pick some that you can manage, such as responding to every inquiry on social media within two hours or aim to have two-point people for each initiative.
- Buy-in from upper level management is critical, especially if you have the ability to take some risks and do some learning.
- Don’t try to take on everything at once. It likely won’t be as effective if you don’t have a grasp on each part. Do what you can, well.
- If you’re first starting, devise a strategy that you are sure you can sustain, but shoot for some creative initiatives.
- Get pumped and let your personality (the organization’s personality) shine through. Also, if you don’t believe in what you’re doing and saying online, nobody else will believe it either. Nothing’s worse than a droopy social media presence.
About the author
MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore