As I’ve said before, there are very few absolutes when it comes to social media.
Trust me, I’m well aware that the first word in “social media” is “social.” And there’s no question that the gold standard is to fully engage in any platform like Twitter, and that means retweeting, following others, etc. In Facebook, that means responding to questions. Some people say this is the only way to go.
But I think it’s inflexible to say that either you should hit the gold standard or stay offline, and that it denies potential benefits to the constituents of agencies that don’t have the staff or comfort level to fully engage.
I often talk of the tin standard: pure broadcasting. No, it’s not gold, but at least you’ll get comfortable with using the tool. And reluctant leaders get a chance to see the world won’t fall in. Maybe after finding some success with broadcasting, you’ll start pushing the envelope, find more staff to more fully engage, and just like in alchemy, your tin can become bronze, then silver, then gold.
Check out Maxine Teller’s Social Media Adoption Curve from 2008 – I’ve found it very useful when thinking through this stuff.
I’m speaking from experience. Our main Twitter account was fully automated until about 15 months ago. Then we changed because we had initial success, and I could justify assigning someone on my staff to putting more thought into our tweets. And we’ve seen significant growth in followership, from 6000 in January 2010 to 36,000 today. But Greenversations, our blog, is still fully automated on Twitter from an RSS feed, and it went from 8,000 to 18,000 over the same period. Yes, the main account grew quite a bit more, but it’s not true that automated stuff gets you nowhere.
In Facebook, we never really responded to questions that came in until the Japan radiation situation in March of this year. We were at 23,000 fans at that point. After two months of actively responding to comments, we’ve seen a massive increase in commenting and in the number of likes on specific posts. But the number of likes for our page has continued increasing at the same steady pace as before we started responding, now at 27,000.
In other words, there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy just receiving information from government agencies in the online places they already frequent. Not everyone is looking for more.
If you can’t find the resources to go gold, at least try tin and see what happens.