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The SAPLING Approach to Leveraging Social Media

Everybody’s doing it. Should you?

  • Are you trying to decide whether to create a stronger digital presence?
  • Have you dabbled with social media but aren’t sure what to do next?
  • Have you experimented with different tools and technologies and find you’re disappointed by the results?

If you (or someone you know) can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you’re not alone. In fact, you have lots of company! In spite of all the media attention and exhortations from social media enthusiasts, the vast majority of individuals and organizations have not leveraged the available tools and technologies in any significant way. This is especially true when it comes to managing their careers and/or running the groups and organizations of which they’re a part. What’s holding them back?

  • Lack of understanding of social media and/or its potential benefits
  • Uncertainty where or how to begin
  • Concerns about risks
  • Resource challenges (esp. time)
  • Concerns about whether efforts will pay off

The SAPLING Approach

The SAPLING Approach provides a general guide for individuals, groups, and organizations to establish and manage a strong digital presence. SAPLING is an imperfect acronym, but a useful mnemonic for remembering the necessary steps to developing and executing a social media strategy. The approach can be used whether you’re just starting out or if you’ve already engaged and want to refine and improve your approach.

This blog post highlights some of the key elements to the approach. Please click here for a more complete treatment of these ideas on SlideShare.

(click image to enlarge)

Here are select tips from each phase in the SAPLING approach to leveraging social media.


  • Identify (or clarify) your goals and objectives, irrespective of technology.
  • Obtain a solid understanding of what social media is, as well as its potential applications.
  • Make a high-level determination whether social media can help you achieve your goals (not necessarily whether it should).


  • Critically evaluate your current practices.
  • Compare the expected utilities of both current practices and new practices that would leverage social technologies.
  • Identify the approaches that have the highest expected utilities and prioritize them based on your goals and objectives.


  • Sketch out a social media strategy to guide your planning and execution efforts.
  • Create a high-level plan that establishes things like implementation priorities, required resources, roles and responsibilities, basic operating guidelines, monitoring tools, and key success metrics.
  • You may need a master plan with subordinate plans for things like implementation, training, etc.
  • Prepare to address systemic issues that could inhibit success (e.g., skill deficits).

Lay a Foundation (can do this at any time)

  • Establish accounts on any major public social media platforms you may use in the future and acquire necessary domain names.
  • Follow individuals and organizations on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms and learn from observing their actions and interactions.
  • Learn about the evolving impact of new technologies by reading about general social media trends and trends in your industry/field.
  • Develop necessary knowledge and skills through training.


  • If your resources are limited, an incremental approach to implementation is fine.
  • Announce your digital presence to engage stakeholders, but limit fanfare until you’re better established.
  • SEED, FEED, and WEED your digital accounts.

Adjust ‘N’ Fine Tune

  • Though your actions will be guided by basic plans and rules, your success will be determined more by your responsiveness and your ability to adapt to change.
  • Be your own biggest critic, but be gentle too. Learn to forge ahead in the face of embarrassment and adversity, accept criticism and apologize when necessary, and develop a thick skin.
  • Monitor and measure your progress and successes, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Know the difference between general, long-term engagement and short-term campaigns.
  • Seek feedback from participants via comments, surveys, and other tools – and always be prepared to respond to the feedback you receive.


  • Increase the amount and/or frequency of content on existing platforms and expand your digital presence by integrating new platforms into your existing social media system.
  • Grow your membership and participation in each platform.
  • Identify and leverage key influencers and passionate participants to help you achieve your growth objectives.
  • Announce your digital presence more broadly, and promote each new platform as you expand.
  • Remember that pruning is necessary for growth. Pare back content and/or leave specific platforms that haven’t proven valuable – but don’t leave any digital ghost towns behind.
  • Close the loop by starting over. Be prepared to revisit your entire social media strategy/plan periodically to ensure it’s optimized.

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