You and your organization have discussed a social media presence. You and staff are aware that two-thirds of Americans are currently engaged in social media and you note that almost all young people report social media use. For today’s communications needs and for those of the future, you decide to take the plunge.
Then you ask yourself very basic questions:
- What the heck “is” social media?
- What’s the purpose?
- Do we have sufficient resources?
- What are the goals?
- How do we measure success?
You could be a regional organization or a small business or a major nonprofit or national corporation and the questions remain the same. Every organization struggles with the same issues.
First, there is no definition of social media. In essence, you place materials on your website that meet user needs ranging from story-based articles to fact sheets to audio and video and more. You offer a unique perspective that no one else is doing. The theory is that people will find your materials compelling enough to return multiple times. This results in either profit or influence regarding topics of the day or memberships, donations and support.
The problem is that every organization is different and every entity will have divergent answers to the questions above. Successful social media sites is not an E=mc2 proposition. It’s not math, it’s often intuition.
Some social media sites efforts are self-evident. Car companies know their audience likes beautiful and functional vehicles. Major religions know that the faithful like direct messages from leaders. Politicians know that those signed up for social sites want a special message from the campaign and timely news that they get first.
So you offer compelling video of the new Mustang and voice chats with the engineering staff. Political insiders get the scoop first from campaign officials making members feel special. The Pope communicates with the faithful via a hashtag on Twitter.
I don’t mean to demean the social media efforts of the big and powerful but when you spend millions of dollars on measured advertising and when your audience is guaranteed, social simply means giving them more of what they “already” want (i.e., a Facebook link to existing advertising).
As for the rest of us:
As for the rest of us, it’s a confusing mess. The process of creating and marketing a social media site is simply hard work taking at least one to two years of frequent posting to make a difference in your bottom-line “if” you’re starting from scratch. Unless you’re doing lots of focus groups (formal or informal) to guide you along your way you will slowly discover for yourself through your site statistics and search terms who is coming to your site, what they want and how long they are staying.
What is social media? As stated, you offer unique materials and perspectives that no one is doing. They come to you either because you do it better than anyone else or you are the only game in town. For example, some sites offer endless pages of boring data where you offer a 10 minute video that cuts through the clutter and gets to the point quickly. An hour with them or ten minutes with you; who would you choose? You supplement your site with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and StumbleUpon.
What’s the purpose? To make money; to get donations; to increase membership; to gain influence. If you’re not doing one of those four things, don’t do social media unless it’s a hobby and you get personal satisfaction from the interactions.
Do you have sufficient resources? It will cost a minimum of $500.00 for a top-notch website and $1,000 to $2,000 for a video and audio presence (yes, I know plenty of organizations have paid much more). But its not equipment that’s the issue, its person-power. Learning how to do all of this will take hundreds of hours of someone’s time. Hiring people to do it for you is sometimes the only way to accomplish your goals. E-mail is still the heart and soul of most social sites so an e-mail client is crucial. Don’t stretch yourself beyond what you can maintain. Eighty-five percent of your time should be spent on content creation.
What are the goals? Making sufficient money; getting sufficient donations; gaining influence; increasing members. Yep, all I’m doing is restating the “Purpose” section above.
How do we measure success? If you’re spending $20,000 in social media efforts and not getting $20,000 in new donations or sales or membership, you need to evaluate whether or not to continue. Influence is harder to measure. Hobbies are self explanatory.
The social world is unfolding rapidly. Costs are declining dramatically. People really expect you to be engaged in the social world. Not doing social makes you seem like a backward entity.
There are endless complexities and unknowns when it comes to social. Everyone wants a business plan and sometimes there is none; you simply throw ideas on the internet and see what sticks.
Like the great gold rush during the 1840’s many will try and some will get rich from panning for gold. More, however, will make money catering to the social and material needs of the miners.
We are like the forty-niners headed to California. We are uncertain as to how to get there and we are unsure of the costs “but” what we are sure of is that we are creating something new and unique and we will change things forever. All we have to do is figure out what is unique to our audience, deliver it and repeat that formula consistently.
And we know that if we don’t, someone else will.