April 18, 2012

It's not about you: Putting social media into perspective

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By now, your nonprofit or higher education organization has either wholly embraced social media, or has yet to even create a Twitter or Facebook account.

Some organizations believe that social media is now the primary way to build relationships, forgetting that it's just part of the media mix. Social media, design and traditional media all contribute to a healthy communications continuum for any nonprofit or grant making organization.

instagram-time-twitterThe objection I hear most about social media is "I don't have time." Understandable from the perspective of a busy executive director or communications officer, but it's unavoidable. Even if you're not going to be active with social media (and depending on your situation, we are referring to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn), you'll need to remember that even without any social media presence, it's not about your organization. It's about your audience – the donors, advocates, students and community you're seeking to attract, inspire, educate and engage; so that they are part of your narrative and not simply an observer of it.

This isn't a how-to, there are plenty of excellent writers and experts in social media who can help with that.  These are our thoughts on comments we consistently hear from the nonprofit and higher education community.

Simple tips to get you started with social media:

  • Don't Panic.  Everything will be alright, and the anxiety you feel about engaging with social media will pass.
  • Decide whether you're going to broadcast or participate. This is the first strategic step in social media.
  • Even if you're not going to use the accounts, create your Twitter account and create a first tweet. This will reserve your name and protect your trademark.
  • Create a LinkedIn company page for your organization. Recommend that all of the staff create LinkedIn accounts, and join the company page.
  • Decide whether Facebook and Google+ is appropriate for your organization and whether it will reach your audience. You need to share where others are listening, not on every social media network that exists. There are many places to hold a conversation, but your audience won't be in all those places.
  • Style your communications appropriately. Hashtags are meaningless on Facebook, but valid in other platforms. Resist the urge to post to Facebook solely from Twitter – it sends a subtle message that you're talking but not listening.

Why social media is not about your organization

  • Just like in any conversation, people get bored (or annoyed) if all you talk about is your organization. Share what others are saying.
  • Even if you don't have a twitter account, create hashtags for presentations, seminars and special events that allow your attendees to use to share their impressions and comments. Keep track of these tags, and use them to curate your content at a later time. This allows you to maintain control of the conversation, while allowing others to participate in it.
  • ROI: We're always asked about the return on investment of social media, and without metrics it's impossible to answer that question. That's why you need to use a social media management platform to measure your engagement and influence.

No time to Tweet?

  • With 30 minutes of planning on a Monday, or daily adding to a social media management platform – you can maintain a steady stream of posts that make it look like you're sitting at your computer all day.
  • We recommend one of the following management apps to help you plan and manage your social media, and lighten the load:

Three tools for managing social media

We recommend three online social media management platforms that make it easy for you to manage multiple social media profiles from one place:

  • Bufferapp.com: Buffer is designed to quickly build a scheduled list of posts, and to automagically send them at a schedule you create. Simple and elegant interface, integrated metrics, includes mobile apps.
  • Hootsuite.com: A popular and more complex platform, with a column-based interface allowing a user to see their feeds, as well as post. In our opinion, its strength is is reading social media than in managing it. Posting is not as simple as is with Buffer or Sprout Social, but it's still worth consideration. Includes mobile apps.
  • Sproutsocial.com: Our favorite, with a dashboard approach and quick access to social media profiles (one account, such as Twitter or Facebook, counts as a profile). In 60 minutes, with help from a Sprout Social webinar, you can be up and running. Profile detail pages also display your Klout scores (if you have your accounts linked to Klout). Features comprehensive metrics, includes mobile apps.

All in all, don't over think your organization's social media involvement. What's important is that you are engaged, and if you start small, big things can happen.

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