Social Media: Do We Want to Go There?
Plotting your organization's social media strategy with outcomes in mind
By: Pia Simeoni
Social media channels are relatively new to the marketing playing field, but most don't realize that people have been socializing online for decades in online communities of one type or another. There were the bulletin board systems (BBS) of the 70s and 80s, then the Web-based communities that grew along with the world wide web in the 90s. With the explosion of social media in the mid to late 00s, the concept of online community today has become central to a business' online and offline presence. People want to connect, engage, share, and learn, especially with people who have similar interests, or people they know and trust. Any type of organization, from colleges and universities, to non-profits, to large and small businesses, have the opportunity to create and foster online relationships that will support their overarching business and marketing goals, whether it's providing excellent customer service, championing a cause, gaining new customers, increasing enrollment, or increasing community or student engagement.
A Brief Explanation of Social Media Tools in the Educational Context
Most are familiar with the Facebook-Twitter-Youtube triumvirate. On Facebook, there are personal pages, groups, and company pages. Teachers may use Facebook Groups to discuss assignments and disseminate information to a class. Schools may create a Facebook Page to market their education programs or build class unity and team spirit and try to grow their following to expand the reach of their message. Twitter is a microblogging platform that allows posting of messages limited to 140 characters to a wider audience. Twitter users can follow other users who have the same interests, and gain followers by posting interesting content and engaging with other users. Twitter has been used to encourage student engagement in class discussions, or hold discussions among teachers. YouTube videos are used to deliver lectures, recordings of school events, or student projects. Social media can also be used to spread the word about offline events, such as conferences, seminars, or student events. All the great pictures taken at these events can be posted to Flickr, a popular photo sharing service, and then linked to on Facebook and Twitter. It's their nature to be interrelated, and there are scores of other social tools that can be used, depending your social media goals.
Define Your Goals for Social Media
So what is it that you want to accomplish? You can strive for increasing the number of your Facebook "likers" or Twitter followers, but what does that number actually do for you? Rather, think about social media goals in terms of your business and marketing goals - or your classroom goals. Do you want to hire new talent? Do you want to position yourself as an authority on a particular subject? Do you want to increase student engagement? Knowing your goals leads you directly to knowing exactly who your audience is, which will help you deliver the right message and encourage better quality of your interactions. Remember, depending on your goals, it's usually the quality of your engagement, not the quantity, that helps you reach them.
Evaluate the Social Ecosystem
Now that you know your goals and your audience, go find them! Conduct a discovery exercise of the relevant parts of the social "ecosystem" to find out where your audience (or potential audience) is already working and playing, listen to what they are saying and watch what they're doing. If your audience is high school students, you may find through your research that most high school students are on Facebook and rarely read their email. Based on that knowledge, you may want to drive high school students to a Facebook group, but not use email to reach them. Higher education students and educators may use Twitter more than younger students.
Also, do some competitive "espionage." Visit web sites of schools similar to yours and see how they are using social media for their respective audiences. Find out how other teachers are using these tools. How are they using YouTube to disseminate information about their school or to conduct lectures online?
Plot your Course with an Online Presence Map
Create a visual "presence map" of the social media channels in which you want to focus engagement, factoring in your business, marketing, or classroom goals, and the opportunities in the social media ecosystem that you discovered in the previous step. This presence map will give you a nice visual of the interrelationships among all of your chosen channels. Include other communication vehicles, including print pieces, email, and web site. In this example, all social media communication flows to the hub, which is your web site.
Planning Your Social Engagement
Develop a content & activity matrix to help you plan out what channels you will use for particular activities. First, list out the various communication channels you use. Then list out the various activities over a period of time. Choose which will be the primary source of information, and then choose the supporting channels that will link to it.
Now that you understand the dynamics, strengths, and limitations of your chosen social media channels, this matrix will help you instantly determine:
- Where will we post messages? Facebook? Twitter? Email campaign? Blog post? All?
- When will we engage? What is the frequency of activity? Before, during, and after?
- What are our expected outcomes? More comments? More followers?
Above I introduced the Where, When, and What of social engagement. This step answers the "How." At this point you know your goals. You know your audience. You know which social channels to use. Now for the logistics. Now you have to set up accounts on these social channels. That means usernames and passwords and emails...oh my! Be sure to document and keep in a secure place all of the accounts that you have set up, including the username or "handle," the email associated with the account, and the password. Also, if you are supporting marketing efforts for an organization, make sure your usernames that are visible to the public are in line with your overall branding initiatives and consistent across all social channels in which you are participating.
There are several tools that allow you to manage multiple social media channels in one place, whether you want to post the same message to multiple networks, or just use one tool for all of your needs. TweetDeck offers desktop and web-based versions of their software that allows posting to not only multiple Twitter accounts, if you have them, but also to Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Google Buzz, and more. Seesmic.com also offers similar desktop and web-based tools for multiple social media channels. HootSuite.com, which is strictly web-based, is another powerful tool that has similar features to TweetDeck and Seesmic. All three offer mobile versions of their software for various smartphones, including Android, BlackBerry, and IPhone.
Managing and Moderating
After the Where, When, What, and How, it's time to answer the question of Who - specifically, who is going to be in charge of posting messages and monitoring and responding to comments? Whether it's one person or many, outline some best practices for engagement. For example, specify how often to monitor and respond to comments, or how to respond to positive and negative comments.
Reporting and Measuring
Anyone using social media can measure their performance in some way, whether it's simply looking at how many followers you have on Twitter, or using a robust (and expensive) social media monitoring tool like Radian6 to measure "sentiment" and even ROI. However, if you took the time to set goals, you're going to want to know if you're meeting your goals. You can start by simply tracking hard numbers, such as weekly increase in Twitter followers, Facebook page fans, or YouTube video views, and then summarize the "sentiment" of comments and reactions (or lack thereof) in relation to specific events or activities simply by reading them. Tie your results back to your original overarching business, marketing, or classroom goals. Work with relevant teams, such as marketing or IT, to determine how social media is driving traffic to your web site, or the enrollment office, to see if there's been an increase in enrollment. Or evaluate the difference in student engagement before and after using social media. Larger initiatives require larger measures, so think ahead about all of the potential stakeholders you may want to engage to help propel your strategy as well as to help determine whether it's effective.
Regardless of the scale of your social media efforts, take the time to enjoy the opportunity that social media gives you to directly engage and interact with people! It is a truly unique opportunity to converse, lead, educate, learn, and play with others, online, and in real-time. Hopefully these online interactions will also encourage more meaningful face-to-face interactions with customers, students, co-workers, and friends.
Pia Simeoni is director of marketing for TreeTop Software Co., LLC, the creators of SweatMonkey.org, a unique social network dedicated to building partnerships between students, schools and nonprofit organizations. SweatMonkey.org provides hour tracking, crediting, and impact measurement of meaningful service learning, volunteer, and internship opportunities for students, schools, and organizations. This article first appeared in this month's issue of "K-12 Partnership Report" by Dehavilland Associates.