Social media allows an organization to build a community that it can then leverage to accomplish its goals. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer new ways to directly engage with your target audience. The million dollar question, however, is how to efficiently leverage them. Everyone has a Facebook Page and a Twitter account. Depending on the organization they often have many “followers” and “likes”. They may actively solicit this as well. If you are on LinkedIn you have probably seen posts saying “follow me on Twitter” or “like my organization’s Facebook Page.”
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But beyond bragging rights these numbers in and of themselves mean diddly-squat. What matters is your rate of engagement. How often do followers “retweet” or respond to your posts? Similarly how often do you get replies or “likes” to your Facebook posts? Also important to both is the percentage of your followers and “likes” who are engaging. For example, If you have 2,000 “likes” but the same 10 people are the only ones engaging then your actual community is much smaller than your may think. In order to effectively utilize social media in your organization you must actively work on building your community and then maintaining it. 

Every organization must have a clearly articulated social media strategy in order to effectively utilize Facebook and Twitter. For small organizations this seems like a daunting task. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to afford a separate social media strategist, indeed, often they don’t even have a communications officer. But this is actually all the more reason for a clear strategy. The initial strategy is the lynchpin to successful subsequent social media use. The goal of the strategy, moreover, is to make sure that your social media use is as efficient as possible. Whether you are starting up a social media campaign or already have a Facebook Page and/or Twitter account it will be worth your time to spend times going through the following steps:

First you will need to create a community-building strategy: 

  • Niche: What will you offer? Why should people engage in your site?
    • Specialized news? Connections? 
  • Goal: Why do you want to build this community? 
    • Branding? Outreach? Event attendance? Fundraising? Activism? 
  • Target Audience: Who do you want to attract?
    • Women? Alumni? Americans? Minorities? 20-somethings?

Second, you will need to articulate a community maintenance strategy. Remember- there is a reason that someone decided to “like” your page or “follow” you. You have piqued their interest for some reason. But in our fast-paced world this interest is going to ebb unless you begin to engage them. This is something that the 2012 Obama campaign did very well. When an individual said that he or she would be interested in getting involved, the campaign made it a point to reach out to them within 72 hours. Obviously their goal was to reach people individually. But this is not feasible for most organizations. A way to make use of this principle, however, is to make sure that you are constantly engaging with your community by giving them something to DO.

  • Post something they will want to share
    • photo, quote, video, news story
  • Ask a question or write a thought-provoking post that is worded to facilitate dialogue 
  • Create events in which they can participate
    • online: live-tweets, live-blogging, storify, live-stream
    • offline: encourage invitation
  • For an activist community, create daily missions or “operations”

 So at this point I bet you are feeling a bit overwhelmed–“I thought you said a small organization could so this without a social media strategist!” is probably going through your mind. Yes I did and it’s true. Here’s how you take this strategy and turn it into action:

Get your hands dirty- EXPERIMENT! Once you know what you want to accomplish begin to post on that topic and see which types generate engagement and which do not.  Reach out to groups and individuals with similar interests by “liking” their pages and “following” on Twitter. Often this will generate reciprocity which will increase your overall reach. Track your progress using some of the free analytics tools to hone in on a concrete strategy. For some overall inspiration on what to post, check out Beth Kantor’s excellent blog and specifically her article: Content Strategy, Creation, Organization, and Measurement. She also discusses the way you can add a blog into your social media strategy mix.

Facebook Page Insights: Once you hit 30 “likes” on your page, Facebook begins to provide you with an analytics tool to help you figure out who is seeing your page and sharing your posts. It is not the best tool out there by far- BUT it’s free and will give you some helpful feedback as you experiment with posts. A year ago, Social Media guru Brittany Botti posted a great article talking about some of the updates Facebook made in their analytics. I like this because it gives you a sense of how powerful this tool can be.

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For Twitter analytics, my personal go-to tools are Tweet Stats and Twitter Reach. Tweet Stats allows you to look at the performance of your Twitter account for the past year. This is useful if you have had your account for awhile and are looking to increase its effectiveness because it will generate a baseline against which you can then compare.

Twitter Reach is a very powerful tool for assessing your engagement week to week. The picture below is the report for my personal Twitter account. The number is compiled based on who retweets you and how many times. This reflects the fact that a retweet from a person who has 30 followers is less significant than one from someone with 3,000 followers. 

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You can also search the reach of a particular hashtag or even tweet. This is very useful if you are liveTweeting an event and want to see how successful you were.

To conclude, utilizing social media in your organization has tremendous potential and if done with a clear strategy will generate a net benefit. However, all of this is contingent on your willingness to engage in community maintenance each day. If you are unable to do this then I believe you should delete your social media presence all together. This may sound harsh but an outdated account with your organization’s name on it may actually hurt you (think about your own reaction when you see a website that has an out of date event calendar).

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Your Twitter feed should have (5-10 tweets) throughout the day. You can make use of a Twitter Scheduler application. I’m a big advocate of spending a least a few points in the day retweeting so that you make sure to engage with other users. You should plan on posting something on your Facebook Page one to two times a day. I would mix it up a bit between multimedia and personal commentary. Consider sharing links to your page as well- this is a way to reach out to similar organizations or individuals and potentially generate some reciprocity which expands your reach.

Anyone can create a great social media strategy for their organization. The fundamental hurdle is setting aside the time to do so. I challenge you to set aside a weekend or two to really get into the basics of social media and to explore ways that it would help your organization accomplish its goal. You won’t regret it.

photo credits: williamedia via photopin cc
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