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Best-Laid Plans - 1/4/2011 -

Stepping into the social media realm? Don’t go in cold.

By Seiche Sanders

What’s the most basic thing you need when launching a social networking strategy? A smart phone? Fancy analytic tools? Knowledge of what "TTYL” means? (It’s "talk to you later,” if you care.)

The answer is none of the above. It’s something much more basic and familiar to association publishers than that: It’s a solid plan. "You have to have a strategy tied to a business plan,” said John Hergert, director, electronic media, with the Chicago-based American Dental Association. "It’s changing so fast.”

Hergert’s comments were part of his presentation, "Case Study: An Association’s Journey with Social Media,” at the recent "The Business of Association Publishing” event, offered by Association Media & Publishing in Chicago.

But while social media opens the door to communications with more people than ever before, those same benefits also produce challenges. It’s how you deal with those challenges that will ensure your success—or failure—in the social media realm. What associations often find is that the things people are saying about their organizations aren’t always what they wish they would be.

For instance, when coffee giant Starbucks put up its Facebook page, it was inundated with negative comments and criticisms. But, rather than deleting the unfavorable comments or deleting the page all together, the company embraced the feedback by directing people to a webpage where they collected the comments and put the improvement ideas to use.

They’re Tools, Not Strategies

The advantage of virtual relationships is that you can talk to hundreds or thousands of people at once; the challenge with that is creating messages that apply or appeal to all those people’s unique interests. 

Hergert cautioned that associations should be deliberate and take the time to think out their social media approaches. Don’t launch a Facebook page, for instance, solely for the sake of having a Facebook page. Hergert recommended:

  • Asking members to find out what they want.
  • Assessing the competition to see what’s already out there and what niche you can fill.
  • Assembling a small, dedicated group to maintaining, updating, and managing the effort.

About ADA’s own foray into social media, Hergert said: "These conversations are happening anyway—we want to be involved in them.”

Spread Out

With 500 million users Facebook may be the biggest social media player, but there are various other social media applications as well, including LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and Foursquare.

At its 2010 annual session, ADA experimented with posting information on a Facebook page and having designated "Tweeps” post information about the conference on Twitter. The resulting traffic made the effort a success, according to ADA’s metrics.

Hergert also recommended a "work with what you have” approach to social media. For instance, he pointed to the Wisconsin Dental Association and the Kansas Dental Association, and their success in putting together simple videos that are posted on YouTube and Facebook to drive traffic and interest. (Visit: www.facebook.com/widentalassociation for an example.)

What Success Looks Like

Success looks different to every organization, from generating a return on investment to creating increased engagement and loyalty. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to track and report some of these measures. Some of the key ways to make sure a social media effort is a success are:

(1) Monitor it.

(2) Plan for the worst, but focus on the positives.

(3) Keep actions and messages simple and concise.

(4) Have fun with the content.

And finally, remember: "It’s not a silver bullet, and it’s not a strategy.”

Seiche Sanders, CQIA, is executive editor and associate publisher at Quality Progress/ASQ. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this educational session for our members who were unable to attend. 


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