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Are You Posting Without a Plan? - 10/22/2013 -

Associations need a structured road map to create and manage successful social media programs. Here are the essential components that a strong social media strategy should include.

To survive in today’s business world, organizations must have a social media presence —unfortunately, strategy is lagging (way) behind. In fact, a 2013 survey showed that creating a social media strategy is still a major concern of 83 percent of marketers.

"Without a social media strategy, how do you know what you’re trying to achieve, what you should be doing, how well you’re doing, what you should be measuring, and what the ROI of your social media program is?” asks social media strategy consultant Neal Schaffer. Schaffer says organizations need a social media strategy because it:

  • Standardizes messaging, determines how resources are used.
  • Defines which tactics you will and won’t pursue.
  • Serves as a road map.
  • Carries on its purpose through personnel changes.

Here, Schaffer shares the essential components of a comprehensive social media strategy:

Branding: Be consistent across all channels. Most associations already have brand guidelines (including naming, color scheme, and imagery), and these should be applied to your social media properties as well. After all, branding is all about consistency, right? The challenge, though, is that most branding guidelines don’t include any guidance for the most important part of your brand in social media conversations: your voice.

"Although your brand guidelines might make mention of tone and vocabulary for use in Web copy, social media will challenge those guidelines when you need to have a conversation with an average person,” Schaffer points out. "In most instances it’s okay to be less formal on social media channels — just make sure that your updates, statuses, comments, etc. speak with a unified voice. In the planning process, be sure to ask who represents the voice of your organization in your social media branding guidelines.”

Content: Engage in conversation. Although cynics might dub it a mindless vacuum, social media is really about the convergence of communication and information. Content provides the medium to help you engage in conversation — and creating content that is truly resourceful and shareable can have many long-term benefits to your association’s social media presence.

"Content isn’t just about blog posts, photos, and videos,” reminds Schaffer. "Presentations, infographics, memes, and even discussions (such as in a LinkedIn Group) are content that should be considered for your social media strategy.”

Curation: Share meaningful content. If you’re just talking about yourself in social media, no one wants to listen (much like regular conversation). It’s only when you begin to curate content that is of interest to your followers and promote it, together with your own content that your social media accounts begin to breathe new life.

This will often come down to content that you might already be sharing with your current and prospective member in magazines, newsletters, or webinars. It might mean sharing more photos and videos of who is using your product, stories about your brand that have never been publicly discussed, or resourceful information to nudge people into realizing they need to be a member, Schaffer says.

Channels: Join the right networks for your organization. There are currently more than 50 social networks with more than 10 million members. You can’t — and shouldn’t — have a presence on every one of them. Deciding which social networks to engage in, and creating internal best practices and tactical plans for each of these networks, will form a sizable part of your social media strategy.

Frequency: Post strategically, not constantly. No two social networks are alike, and with limited resources, you’ll need to decide how much time you are going to spend on each platform, as well as what you’ll be doing there. (This will help you to maximize your ROI for time and resources spent.) It’s also important to tweak your frequency strategy for each social network from time to time to maximize the effectiveness of your posting.

"Frequent posting doesn’t necessarily make your social media more effective,” says Schaffer. "For instance, research shows that when a brand posts on Facebook twice a day, those posts receive only 57 percent of the likes and 78 percent of the comments per post that a single post receives.”

Engagement: Be worthy of being followed. While most associations do well at proactively engaging with their own content — posting both new content and conversations, as well as the sharing of content and information from others — proactively engaging with new social media users and reactively engaging with those who comment or respond to your updates is equally important.

Schaffer suggests looking at your association’s social media profiles from the perspective of an outside observer and asking yourself, "Is our engagement with fans worthy of being followed? Would I follow us?”

Listening: Interact meaningfully. "Your company needs to have a listening and responding strategy in place,” Schaffer says. "Every engagement with a social media user is a golden opportunity because it can give you real-time feedback on what your customers are thinking, liking, needing, buying, etc. You can also utilize big social data to help understand potential future trends for your products and services.”

Campaign: Regularly introduce new ways to engage customers. Social media campaigns should not be confused with traditional campaigns that are used in marketing to promote new products or discounts. Again, in the social media world, you’re not speaking to or at customers; you’re speaking with them. That being the case, social media campaigns should leverage the social aspect of social media, combined with its viral functionality, to create events that trigger engagement from followers in a new and exciting way.

"Think of it less as a promotional marketing campaign and more of an experiment to better understand — and more effectively engage with — your social media followers,” Schaffer recommends. "Surveys, quizzes, polls, product giveaways, and crowdsourcing (of photos, videos, and other content) are all good examples of campaign types.”

Brand Ambassadors: Recruit fans to spread the word. Brand ambassadors are current loyal members and fans who help spread the word about your organization through their own social networks. Harnessing and rewarding ambassadors is a very effective way to help spread the value of your brand throughout social media because 92 percent of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing.

"This list primarily looks at the elements of creating a robust social media strategy from a marketing perspective, but some of these components can be easily expanded to help other internal departments achieve their social media objectives,” Schaffer concludes. One final piece of advice: "When formulating a strategy, be sure to look at the implications it will have on all of your internal stakeholders and include them in the planning,”he says.

Regardless of your association’s social media goals, make sure that you address these concepts individually in a written document so that everyone in your organization — now and in the future — understands what they are and how they are meant to work together. The clearer you are, the more productive your organization’s social media presence will be.

Neal Schaffer is a global speaker on social media who also teaches as part of Rutgers University’s Mini-MBA™ in Social Media Marketing Program. Schaffer, and author of  "Maximize Your Social: A One-Stop Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy for Marketing and Business Success.”


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