6 Ways to Tame the Social Media Monster — Communications Network Report

I recently returned from Boston, where I co-presented a session titled “How to Tame the Social Media Monster” at the Communications Network conference.

Just two years ago, I moderated a similar session at the same conference. And although the focus was a bit difference (back then we recommended listening as the almost-always way to start, and talked mostly on that), the motivation for most participants to join our session was the same — fear of social media.

The greatest fear Communications Network members (staff and consultants who communicate for grantmakers) have is being talked about in a negative way (via comments, forwarding, message kidnapping) and/or overwhelmed by comments. As much as I can counter that these are the same fears I heard when grantmakers contemplated their first websites (we’ll be overwhelmed by unqualified grant applicants, we won’t be able to handle all feedback that’s generated), my take and history don’t really matter.

What does matter is acknowledging your fears and pushing through them. Here are six guidelines I shared for taming the social media monster:

  1. Be crystal clear on why you’re using social media. Define your goals and ensure they are firmly rooted in the goals you’ve prioritized in your marketing plan. Those goals double as your decision-making tools on what communications strategies and tactics to use.
  2. Know where your target audiences are, and focus your social media energies there. Your understanding of what each of your audiences is doing in each venue, and why,  is key too. NTEN’s Holly Ross talks more about that here.
  3. Focus on doing it right, not doing it a lot. Resist pressure you may feel, or get, from peers and leadership.
  4. Consider starting with a narrowly-defined, time-limited “pilot campaign.” This one-step-at-a-time approach is a more comfortable fit for many nonprofit leaders, and will give you more information for shaping future efforts.
  5. Allocate the right time, focus and skills to enable success. Despite what you may hear, social media is not free and not easy.
  6. Be prepared to manage the cultural shift usually necessary for real social media participation. Conversation is a different way of communicating for most organizations, and you’ll have to explain, train and share examples to move this shift along. Encouraging all-staff participation and develop a clear and consistent policy are key strategies.
  7. Measure results to focus your social media energies on what works, or fine-tune what’s not working so well.  Anecdotal input is valid as hard data can be hard to capture. Return on investment (ROI) and return on relationships (ROR, hat tip to Beth Kanter) are both valid.

What guidelines can you add to the list, to ease the shift to social media use? Please share them here.

Thanks much to Meg Figley, Communications Officer at the New York State Health Foundation, for inviting me to join her in presenting this session and putting together such a useful conversation!

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Nancy Schwartz on September 27, 2011 in Social Media | 2 comments
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1 Aj September 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Great post, Nancy!  These are awesome social media basics for organizations thinking about joining the conversation.  I really appreciate that you stressed that social media is NOT free- the time and training it takes to really get the most out of your social media efforts can be substantial, so it’s important for organizations to have extremely well-defined goals, be aware of the staff time necessary for effective social media participation and be able to clearly track their ROI.  Thanks as usual for your straightforward insight :)

2 Nancy Schwartz September 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Thanks for adding your own guidelines, Aj. The assumption that social media is free is one of the crippling mistakes I see organizations make time and time again. It’s labor-intensive stuff!

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