Here’s help to make sure that your social strategy can hold up to inevitable change.
This article is part of a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here.
While many professionals conceptually understand that audiences and behaviors on specific social media platforms shift over time, there seems to be a disproportionate concern among organizations about how to react to these types of changes. This concern may indicate a need for a broader, more integrated online strategy to best communicate your unique brand attributes to your audiences.
There seems to be a general sense of worry among organizations about Facebook’s evolving demographics in particular (younger audiences may be spending less time on Facebook in favor of other networks) and what this means for an organization’s engagement strategy. Facebook, with over 1.23 billion active monthly users as of January 2014, remains the most utilized social media platform – and, yet, somewhat shockingly, I’ve overheard leaders at multiple organizations frustratingly say things along the lines of, “This whole shift means we need to really reassess our strategy and reconsider if we should be on Facebook.”
Really?! Did organizations think that all audience segments were only on one platform and would forever only be on one platform? Organizations should be prepared for both changes in the number of platforms that audiences use, and shifts in the ways that audiences actually use them.
Here’s how smart organizations approach these (and other inevitable) demographic shifts and social media evolution that we are sure to see in the very near future:
1) Make change a constant in your digital communications strategy and adjust accordingly (and accept that this approach may contrast a more traditional, slow-moving nonprofit mentality)
Shifts in platform usage are entirely expected, and if your organization finds itself surprised by evolving usage patterns, then that surprise – in and of itself – is cause for concern. Organizations should anticipate changes in who is using specific social media sites and how they are using them.
Social media platforms are constantly changing (which are utilized and how). This understanding is a cornerstone of an effective social strategy. The rapidity of social media evolution is the genesis of many organizational tensions, including: difficulties in measuring true key performance indicators related to social media; ever-increasing staff needs related to digital engagement; and the perils of “writing in stone” an engagement plan that becomes functionally irrelevant weeks after its publication. Digital engagement simply doesn’t work this way. To be effective, tactics must evolve to best meet audience needs while serving your organization’s broader strategies.
If your organization is paralyzed by the concept of shifting demographics and the evolving uses of specific social media networks, then it may indicate that your organization’s social media strategy is too focused on tactics and not sufficiently thoughtful of overarching marketing goals and strategies. For instance, a strategy may be to utilize content to improve your reputational equities as an expert on mission-related topics with a goal of increasing financial support. Posting a specific status on Facebook that is related to your mission (but also relevant to your audience on that platform) is a tactic. If you need to change that specific status to best serve a different audience than that which may have been on Facebook a year ago, then that specific tactic has evolved. When considered this way, can you see how extreme preoccupation (rather than acceptance) of the need to evolve tactics may be indicative of a lacking or unclear overarching strategy?
In short, updating your strategy may be difficult but updating your tactics should be expected. If it’s too hard to update your tactics, then you may have tactics standing in for your strategy…and that’s no strategy at all.
2) Keep tabs on where your market and supporters are/are going as social media networks evolve (and they will). Be present at those parties.
Remember: you need your community of supporters more than they need you. Act accordingly by making it easy and by providing compelling reasons for your audiences to connect and engage with you…or they won’t.
Stick with me here (because I love bad metaphors): Let’s say that your potential supporters hang out at a reoccurring, weekly party. Things are going great! You totally hit it off with the early adopters drinking a microbrew on the lawn, you spend time talking long-term goals with the preppy, high-achievers on the porch, and you also make time to bond with folks who are already your good friends in the kitchen. You’re building and maintaining relationships. This party seriously rocks!
…Until the early adopters decide to start spending time at another party…and the preppy folks from the porch attend a different party yet. You’re torn (and, because you’re a nonprofit, your resources are limited, which makes this even more frustrating). Suddenly, your potential reach has lessend because you are no longer building relationships with key market segments who may profile as important influencers and supporters.
Because the market is the arbiter of your organization’s success, it’s generally best for you to keep on top of where your audience is and what they are doing and go to them. As we head into the madness of March, at IMPACTS we offer a quick tip familiar to any basketball junkie: “Beat the market to the spot.” In basketball and business alike, it’s the difference between shooting free throws and fouling out of the game.
Go with your key stakeholder or target audiences to the new parties and, once you’ve determined which parties are worth your energy (more on this to follow), then be ready to greet “old friends” as they arrive.
3) Understand that digital platforms are not mutually exclusive and multiple (thoughtful) presences often allow for more effective influence as platforms evolve
If your organization can only be in one place at one time, then consider expanding your resources because you may be missing or mishandling too many “touch points” to be effective. There may not be a single “magic pill” social media site that allows for the most efficient or effective influence on all of your audiences.
Let’s go back to my earlier party metaphor: Thanks to the web, it’s possible for an organization to have a presence at more than one party (or, on more than one platform). That said, we still need to make a decision: Knowing that having a presence on additional platforms takes resources, being on which platforms will be the most efficient use of our resources? Nonprofits don’t need to be on every social media platform – especially if they cannot put proper energy into that platform. (If you go talk to those hip folks on the lawn, but you come off as a true outsider or barely make an effort to communicate, then you’ve done yourself more of a reputational disservice in being there then you would have been simply staying away.)
Decide which platforms are worth your time and energy based on where your market is most heavily influenced and you will have the most effective “touch-points.” But know that – increasingly – this is likely more than one platform (though 73% of adults focus on five social networks, sometimes certain platforms may be ripe for more targeted audiences). When demographics and uses change, respect the communities that you’ve already formed online. The quality of your fans is more important than simply pursuing reach, and be very cautious about abandoning one platform for another without careful consideration of how this will affect your current community. (Preempting the assumption: No! Many current users will not immediately follow you to another platform.)
The increasing fragmentation and micro-segmentation of audiences – such as young users spending less time on Facebook and more time on other platforms – may indicate that your organization should be prepared to be in more than one place at one time. In turn, this may necessitate re-allocating resources to maintain connections and foster engagement with your online audiences.
In sum: Yes – millennials (or others market segments) may leave Facebook or other platforms, but, NO – it shouldn’t be something that strategic marketers necessarily need to worry about. Right now, Facebook remains a primary engagement tool for a majority of the market that is active on social media. That could (and likely at some point will) change. If your organization 1) has a solid strategy and identified goals, 2) thoughtfully continues to consider the value of each platform while making execution decisions, and 3) understands the possible need to cultivate extra resources to engage audiences on multiple platforms, and then your organization will not only easily adapt to changes without a hitch, but it will thrive.
*Photo credit: ed Social Media
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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