Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Finding your voice on social media

This started out as some informal recommendations I shared with a colleague at a large not-for-profit institution. As with many large enterprises, not all areas within the organization get the online visibility they desire. My friend's area wants to earn some visibility with prospective customers -- but the "mother ship" organization's social media strategy doesn't provide the ability to promote individual departments or divisions.

Here's what I shared with my colleague:

Facebook would be an OK place to purchase ads, if that's where your target audience is looking -- and if they will take action based on your ads. When I visited (your department's) Facebook page, I saw 430 views, but just 24 "likes". You want the 'likes' to grow, because they show up on other people's Facebook feeds.

For comparison, a small local non-profit's Facebook page has 64 likes. It's much smaller than your organization, so word of that page spreads via word-of-mouth and some viral visitors who 'like' that page. The small non-profit doesn't spend money to advertise it.

Much of the advertising on Facebook is geared toward selling products or promoting services. There's nothing wrong with this strategy. But I've seen Facebook users grow annoyed at the influx of ads, and they'll download browser add-ons that effectively block most display ads on Facebook.

Connect your social media with content

If it were me, I'd devise a "feed strategy" that revamps and orchestrates your department's Twitter feed, LinkedIn, and other social media channels together to drive people to your "featured" content. Many of your department's Twitter posts should lead your followers to richer, more experiential content. That's content marketing, and those who follow your links expect a payoff in the form of useful or engaging content on your website or Facebook page.

This calls for a steady stream of posts. You can set up the Twitter feed to redirect posts onto Facebook, too. For this to "catch fire," the frequency of "rich posts" can help increase the modest number of followers for your department on Twitter.

But first, you need to answer some bigger questions:

  • What's the department head's objective of using social media? You must set goals and objectives.
  • Does he want to increase constituent engagement for networking and development? Does he want to increase the flow of new applicants? Does he want recognition from conventional news media? You need to prioritize and set expectations.
  • Does he want to get a larger share of mind among companies that may hire alumni of your organization, or offer internships? What persuasive messages will generate actions consistent with his goals?
Once you've addressed these questions, there needs to be a commitment to populate, listen, and engage via these social media channels. And make them work together to create a common voice. It's not "pay and pray," which is what much of online advertising boils down to. Social media needs to work to create relationships with the audiences it seeks to influence.
And that, my friend, means devoting staff resources to this effort. People don't build relationships with Twitter handles; they build relationships with other people.